ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – What started as a welfare check turned into a man being fatally shot by Albuquerque Police Department officers last year. Now the victim’s family is filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

The death of 27-year-old Keshawn Thomas at the hands of APD officers sparked protests in Albuquerque. In August of last year, police responded to a call at a west side gas station to find Thomas in the car. He admitted to drinking but since the car was off, he couldn’t be charged with drunk driving. Officers told him he needed someone to pick him up.

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After back and forth and growing tension, officers allowed Thomas to go back to his car to get a cell phone. At this point, all three officers claimed they saw Thomas grab a gun and they opened fire. Thomas later died after paramedics arrived.

“In speaking with them, the family is still reeling from these events. You know, it’s just as if it was yesterday that Keshawn was taken away from them,” said Taylor Smith, one of the attorneys representing Thomas’ family. The family is now filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Police Department, APD Chief Harold Medina, and the three officers involved: Dustin Ketchum, Marcos Flores, and Kenneth Skeens.

“We’ve gotten no movement in terms of any type of criminal prosecution so this was the next step,” said Smith. “I think this case is important because it highlights exactly what APD should not do when interacting with the general public.

The lawsuit claims the officers made a number of mistakes including not securing weapons in the car and not rendering life-saving efforts while waiting for paramedics. The lawsuit also claims all three officers at the scene had a history of unreasonable use of force.

“Officer Skeens and Officer Flores were under investigation at the time that this happened. They should’ve never been at that gas station, they should’ve been placed on administrative leave,” said Smith. “This is just a perfect example of when you hire bad people to be police, these are the disastrous consequences.”

All three officers claim they saw Thomas grab hold of a gun but the lawsuit claims video evidence disputes that. Police say they found this loaded gun on the floorboard of the car.

KRQE reached out to APD for comment on the lawsuit. A spokesperson for APD said the department will respond in court. But, at the time of the shooting, Chief Medina said the officers were right in not trying to force an arrest but he admitted they could’ve better controlled their frustrations and should’ve used better communication.

“It’s that mixture of firearms and alcohol. When you have a firearm, you have to be responsible and not put yourself in these positions,” said Chief Medina at the time.

Officer Skeens has since been fired from the department for an unrelated incident. Officer Flores and Ketchum are still employed with APD.

Smith sent this statement to KRQE on behalf of the Thomas family:

Our family has been devastated by the loss of our beloved Keshawn. Life will never be the same for any of us, as we are forever left without our son, brother, and friend. He was the rock and cornerstone of our family, especially to his best friend and younger brother. Keshawn was also loved by many friends and members of his community. He had nothing but kindness and respect for any person that had the opportunity to meet him.

We are fortunate to have those memories of Keshawn but are completely and utterly devastated knowing that we will never have the opportunity to watch him grow into maturity and the bright future that lay ahead of him.

On August 28, 2022, Keshawn needed help, and in that time of need, he was met by three officers who treated him as a criminal and antagonized him. Rather than treat him with the appropriate professionalism and decorum that is expected of officers, they behaved like thugs and escalated the situation in violation of their own policies and procedures.

Despite Keshawn being honest with officers and informing them that his lawfully owned firearm was located in his vehicle, the officers allowed him to return the car only to murder him without justification or provocation.

There is no other way to say it, Keshawn’s death was completely avoidable and could have been prevented had the officers followed their policies and adhered to their oaths to uphold the constitutions that we hold sacred.

It is for these reasons that we ask for our community’s support and solidarity to ensure that this does not happen to others and that our son’s life was not lost in vain. It is important that we hold these officers and the leadership within APD, including Chief Harold Medina, accountable to make sure that other families are not destroyed by losing their loved one as we have.

The changes that we are seeking begin with hiring officers that can be trusted, properly training them to deal with situations like the one with Keshawn and making sure that officers—who have a record of excessive use of force or pending investigations against them—are removed from their positions and not given the opportunity to injure or kill those who they meant to serve and protect.

No amount of money will bring back our son. We still wait for the day that he will come through our front door and greet us with his infectious smile. We have been forever robbed of this beautiful soul who touched many.

Please support our family through these trying times and help us bring justice for Keshawn

Thomas Family