ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Preliminary findings from Albuquerque Fire Rescue (AFR) indicate a chemical irritant grenade likely caused a fire during a July SWAT call that led to a 15-year-old’s death. For the last month, Albuquerque Police and AFR have been investigating the possibility that SWAT officers may have caused the fire at a southeast home where investigators were looking to detain a man who’s since been charged with murder.
The new information came during a joint news conference with APD and AFR Friday afternoon. Captain of AFR’s Fire Investigations Division, Jason Ramirez agreed that it was “extremely likely” that the gas grenade APD used in the operation caused the fire.
“At this time the classification of that fire is ruled accidental,” Ramirez said. “We were unable to eliminate that device being an ignition source, all other ignition sources in that room were eliminated at this point.”
APD says 15-year-old Brett Rosenau died in the fire. At the time of the fire, APD suspected two people were in the home, but the department says they only knew the identity of the target of the operation: 27-year-old Qiaunt Kelley.
The department spent roughly an hour Friday describing the SWAT call and playing back evidence related to the response, which remains under investigation. The incident first unfolded in the evening of July 6, as APD was searching for Kelley. Detectives tracked Kelley to a home on San Joaquin Ave SE, near Pennsylvania and Zuni.
APD says officers first attempted to arrest Kelley at the home around 6:47 p.m. on July 6. As that happened, APD says Kelley ran to the backyard and into a shed that appeared to be connected to the house through burrowed tunnel. APD Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock said other people at the home “started to exit the home” at the officers instructions.
“This included Brett Rosenau,” Hartsock said. “Brett all of the sudden starts to run alongside of the home in the opposite direction of the occupants, into the backyard and starts to jump the backyard fence into a neighboring yard.
APD, who had an officer in the neighboring yard, confronted Rosenau as he climbed the wall. Hartsock said Rosenau then retreated back into the yard of the target home. Over the course of hours, APD says its SWAT team eventually took over the scene alongside BCSO’s SWAT team, which assisted on scene. Officers used several drones and a robot to look inside of the home and around the property, seeking to find the location of Kelley and the other person in the home, who they would later determine was Rosenau.
APD says officers spent hours making call outs on a loud speaker, telling anyone inside the home to come out. Between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m., the department says its crisis communications team made more than 80 phone calls to a police-owned phone that was tossed inside the structure. APD says crisis negotiators even left a few texts and one voicemail
Hours into the SWAT call, around 1:06 a.m. on July 7, APD and BCSO’s SWAT teams deployed several “tri-chamber” flameless gas-irritant grenades. One of the grenades was thrown into a front room of the house. That device “cannot be eliminated as a possible ignition source” of the fire, according to APD.
By 2:32 a.m., one of the responding officers smelled smoke coming from the home. Four minutes later, they called AFR. By 2:47 a.m., a drone identified smoke coming from an area around the gas grenade thrown into a front room, which had landed on a mattress. By 3:02 a.m., officers attempted to remove the grenade with a robot, but the device fell out of the robot’s grip.
Eventually, after police removed a flaming mattress at 3:04 a.m., at 3:16 a.m., firefighters moved in to fight flames, which continued to grow. Around that time, Kelley emerged from the house. He was taken into custody, telling police “my little brother’s in there.”
A preliminary investigation from the Office of the Medical Examiner indicates that Rosenau died of smoke inhalation. Police say its unclear if Rosenau had any other injuries prior to firefighters finding his body inside. They also say its unclear if anything could have prevented Rosenau from leaving the home.
Qiaunt Kelley has since been charged in the June 2022 murder of Leonard Fresquez and another unrelated case. APD says Fresquez was shot to death near Grove and Trumbull in SE Albuquerque.
Police say Kelley is not thought to be “blood related” to Rosenau. Police also said Rosenau is a suspect in a shooting said to have occurred around July 1. After the SWAT incident, police recovered a gun from a car parked outside the home. That gun was found on a passenger side of a car. Police say shell casings from the gun connect it to the July 1 shooting. Rosenau was also identified by witnesses in a photo lineup as a suspect in the July 1 shooting.
APD Chief Harold Medina said they take full responsibility for the incident, even though it was a BCSO who deployed the canister thought to have caused the fire. “It’s an APD issue,” Medina said.
APD says the SWAT call is still under investigation. It announced on July 12 that it would request the assistance of the New Mexico Attorney General to conduct an independent review of the situation, something the AG’s office has since agreed to.