A lapel camera on an Albuquerque police officer captured the moment that he fired eight shots at a fleeing suspect, including shots fired after the suspect tossed a gun.
A robbery suspect in Albuquerque appears to toss his gun into the air while fleeing a police officer who shot at him eight times from behind, newly released video shows. Four of the shots are heard after the gun is in the air.
The video, which includes audio, was captured in October by the officer’s lapel-mounted camera.
The case of robbery suspect Joaquin Ortega, 35, is one of the most recent controversies surrounding the Albuquerque Police Department’s use of force.
The city has paid out millions of dollars in lawsuits related to alleged police misconduct in recent years. Since November 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating whether Albuquerque officers engage in excessive force, “including use of unreasonable deadly force.”
“Unfortunately, this is par for the course for the Albuquerque Police Department,” Ortega’s attorney, Kari Morrissey, told the Los Angeles Times. “You have an officer who’s demonstrated an inability to handle the job, but I’m guessing they are worried about showing any weakness by firing him and admitting they mistakenly hired him.”
The department didn’t respond to requests for comment, and a phone number for the officer involved couldn’t be found.
Last year, police had initially reported that Ortega pointed a gun at the officer. Interim Chief Allen Banks later said that Ortega did no such thing, but that Officer Brian Pitzer was justified in perceiving a threat and opening fire.
I didn’t see Ortega point the gun—which appears to be a Smith & Wesson Sigma—at Officer Pitzer during the short foot chase.
What I did see is that Ortega repeatedly refused to listen to Pitzer’s commands to stop and decided to flee, and Pitzer fired his first two shots as Ortega ran between two minivans. I can only assume that Pitzer saw the gun, which is why he fired.
As Ortega cleared the second vehicle (above) he tossed his gun back and to the left. Pitzer fired an additional six shots from this angle as Ortega tried to round the corner of a chain link fence and run down the sidewalk. One of those six shots hit him in the shoulder, and he dropped to his knees and surrendered several yards past the corner.
In looking at the video, I try to put myself in Officer Pitzer’s shoes. Would I be justified in shooting at someone who was running away from me if they had a weapon? Would I be justified in shooting someone after they tossed a weapon?
While law enforcement has a substantial amount of latitude to use force, I’m having a hard time seeing where Pitzer was justified in shooting Ortega, but I caution that I didn’t see what he saw, I only saw what a grainy, bouncing camera documented.
Playing Devil’s Advocate
If Officer Pitzer saw a gun in Ortega’s hand as he ran between cars, perhaps he was justified in firing the first two shots. As the gun was clearly in Ortega’s hands for shots three and four, I think theses shots could be justifiable as well.
The final four shots after he tossed the gun are a bit harder to defend, and it appears likely that it was one of these shots that actually hit Ortega.
Should Officer Pitzer be given the benefit of the doubt here? The entire shooting part of the incident took place in less than six seconds, and Ortega did have possession of the pistol until the last 2-3 seconds.
Is this a “good shoot” or “bad shoot” in your opinion, and why?