ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – As protests against racism and police brutality continue across the nation, there’s now a spotlight on a pending case here in New Mexico. It involves an Albuquerque man who died while being detained at the Metropolitan Detention Center.
George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis is sparking a new conversation about the death of Vicente Villela. He was killed at the Metropolitan Detention Center last February.
“When I saw the news stories of what happened to George Floyd, I couldn’t help but draw the parallel of what happened to that poor man and what happened to Vicente Villela,” said Matthew Vance, the Villela family attorney.
Video from that day shows corrections officers at MDC, trying to move the 37-year-old to a different part of the jail. Things quickly go wrong as a group of officers holds Villela down, kneel on his back, and hold down his head.
Autopsy reports show Villela suffocated to death. That was more than a year ago. “There was information available that these officers acted with excessive force in 2019. The file sat at the DA’s Office for a year,” said Vance.
Just last week, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez sent a letter to the Attorney General’s Office to look into Villela’s death, citing concerns around law enforcement’s use of the chokehold. His letter even admits the case was sent to his office last June.
“It’s shameful that DA Torrez had to have the death of George Floyd happen in Minnesota for him to finally take some action in regards to the death of Vicente Villela,” said Vance.
Vance says there should’ve never been a delay in this case. He believes what’s going on in the nation will spark positive changes here in New Mexico.
The AG’s Office says its reviewing Villela’s case and a spokesperson says it’s concerning that it sat untouched for a year. They will look into the case itself and the cause for the delay.
A spokesperson for MDC says there is an ongoing investigation into the incident. The officers involved are also still with MDC.
Last week, the AG’s Office announced they are investigating the June 2019 death of Rodney Lynch who died while in Gallup Police custody. This comes after AG Hector Balderas proposed new police reforms including making all officers wear body cameras and banning chokeholds when making an arrest.
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