Albuquerque police sued after officers shoot, kill concealed carry holder

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The family of an Albuquerque man shot and killed by police last month have filed a lawsuit against the department, alleging its withholding video evidence that could show Keshawn Thomas wasn’t posing a threat to officers when he was killed.

Late in the evening on August 28th police were called to a gas station after someone reported that there was a man in a car who appeared to be unconscious. Minutes after the first officers arrived on scene, Thomas had been fatally injured after three officers opened fire. Albuquerque police chief Harold Medina told the media that Thomas exited his car and was speaking with officers when he returned to the vehicle and re-entered it, which apparently led to a “confrontation” between Thomas and law enforcement.

Bodycam footage from the shooting has yet to be released, and this week Thomas’s family filed suit seeking access to the footage, which they believe will show that the 27-year old concealed carry holder was cooperating and complying with police when he was shot and killed.

Keshawn Thomas had “always been respectful with police officers,” and by all accounts was a responsible gun owner.

He had a concealed carry license, always carried his magazine for his gun in his trunk, and would keep the gun in the cab of his vehicle, said Taylor Smith, one of the attorneys representing his surviving family.

Thomas would always let police know that there was a gun in his car, Smith said. He is one of the attorneys representing Thomas’ mother in a newly filed lawsuit alleging that the department is withholding video evidence in the case.

His family and girlfriend are “just shocked by what happened — and not knowing exactly what happened, there’s just more confusion, because he’s been so respectful of authority figures in the past,” Smith said.

According to authorities, the car that Thomas was driving had been parked in front of one of the gas pumps for four hours, which is definitely cause for concern. Still, according to eyewitnesses who’ve spoken with the family, it doesn’t appear that Thomas was threatening officers when he was shot.

Thomas was sitting in his car when the police showed up and he followed their instructions to get out of his car, according to the witness. One of the officers searched the vehicle while another officer was speaking to him, they said.

“When he was shot, he was instructed by the officers to go back into his vehicle, and then was shot after he sat down in the vehicle,” Smith said.

[APD Det. Bryan] Carter wrote in the affidavit that he watched the police bodycam footage and that it shows Thomas handing a magazine to the police and telling them he has a gun in the trunk.

Thomas got into his vehicle “and is observed reaching around the seat and console area,” Carter wrote. The police tell Thomas to get his phone and get out of the car, Carter wrote.

“One officer, standing near the driver’s side door, walks up to the driver side of the vehicle and yells ‘Gun’ approximately three times before all three officers fire their weapons” at Thomas, Carter wrote.

Police told dispatchers two minutes later that Thomas’ firearm “was removed from his person and placed on the trunk” of his car.

“A firearm was located on the trunk of the suspect’s vehicle by Major Crime Scene Team (MCST) personnel,” Carter wrote. “MCST personnel also located one or more magazines on, in or nearby the suspect’s vehicle.”

You can understand why the family has some questions, given that the eyewitness testimony doesn’t exactly correspond to the chief’s description of events. The eyewitness reported that Thomas was complying, not confrontational with officers, and that Thomas had told officers that his firearm was in the trunk of the car, not on his person. Why did Thomas return to his vehicle? Does the bodycam video actually show the pistol in question being recovered from Thomas after he was shot? Could it be that the officer who first shouted “gun” have been mistaken, and that Thomas had a phone and not a firearm in his hand?

I have no idea, but the release of any and all bodycam footage, at least to the family if not the public at large, could go a long way towards answering these questions. Based on the limited set of facts and competing accounts of what transpired, it’s far too early to come to any conclusions about whether or not officers were justified in firing, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Thomas’s family deserves to know as much information about his death as possible. Releasing the bodycam footage is the right thing to do here, not only for his loved ones’ peace of mind, but in the interest of accountability and transparency as well.