ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – One week after a shooting during a protest of a Juan de Oñate statue, Albuquerque Police offered a more detailed explanation of the agency’s response and why they didn’t intervene before shots were fired. The shooting happened around 8 p.m. last Monday, leaving one person injured and the shooter, Steven Baca facing multiple charges.
At a news conference Monday afternoon, APD revealed the department received more than a dozen 911 calls about the protest before the shooting. The department also says it had undercover officers stationed nearby and a live video feed of the protest around the statue. However, APD says officers involved in the response didn’t think things were getting violent before the shooting and they didn’t want to escalate the situation with their presence.
“It seems that at a certain point, without any warning, it becomes the hostility of the crowd comes towards law enforcement,” APD Deputy Chief Harold Medina said, speaking generally about recent protests in the context of how APD responded to the Oñate statue incident. “And that’s what we’re trying to prevent and that’s some of the stories we’ve seen nationwide.”
APD played several shortened clips of body camera video during Monday news conference. One of those clips showed officers first interactions with the crowd of about 100 people after the shooting. One officer in riot gear can be heard saying, “I’m trying to help her,” as a protester sitting on the sidewalk appeared to have been injured.
APD Lieutenant Joe Veirs explained during the news conference how two teams of officers responded to the scene of the shooting about three minutes after shots were fired. The first team of officers arrived in an armored car. APD says those officers tended to the shooting victim and detained several heavily armed members of the New Mexico Civil Guard.
A second team of officers was dressed in riot gear. APD says those officers tried to establish a perimeter around the scene. During that time, APD says one person grabbed an APD officer’s wooden baton as the officers attempted to physically push the protesters back.
APD says that action lead to officers using smoke canisters to disperse the crowd. The department says officers also fired a total of seven “sponge rounds” at the group during their response. APD says officers didn’t use tear gas.
In response to questions about why they didn’t intervene earlier, Deputy Chief Harold Medina said in part Monday that they only wanted to send officers in when there was a clear threat to life or widespread property damage. Medina said APD’s “executive team” decided on the rules of engagement before the protest.
“That statue is not worth the relations to the community for the years to come, and that statue had been spray-painted and vandalized in the days previously,” Medina said. “I just… we were not ready to make a commitment to the statute itself being the tipping point where we would go into conflict with a crowd of peaceful protesters because of a few agitators.”
APD also acknowledged Monday that officers didn’t talk to any witnesses on scene after the shooting. The department inferred that officers were instead focused on dispersing the crowd and securing the scene.