Trial begins for APD officer accused of using excessive force

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The civil trial for Brian Pitzer’s officer-involved shooting of Russell Tenorio back in 2010 began Monday in federal court.

It’s one of the cases that prompted the Department of Justice to take an in-depth look at the Albuquerque Police Department’s use of force and demand big changes. This case is also different from all the other excessive force cases.

“He’s saying he’s going to slice his throat and I’m afraid that he’s going to hurt his wife,” said a 911 caller.

The 911 call came from a home on Alamo Road on the night of Nov. 11, 2010. Police say 38-year-old Russell Tenorio was holding a knife to his throat and threatening to harm himself, something his wife said had happened before.

“She told the officers she is normally able to calm him down when he gets like this, but this particular night she could not do that,” former Public Safety Director Darren White said back in November 2010.

About 10 minutes after the call came in, four officers entered the home with their weapons drawn. Officer Doug Moore was the first one inside; he had his taser out. Next was officer Brian Pitzer; he had his gun out.

Investigators say Pitzer and Moore both fired their weapons. Tenorio was hit with one bullet in the stomach and tased, but investigators don’t know who pulled the trigger first. 

Tenorio filed a lawsuit against Pitzer and the city of Albuquerque two years later, claiming excessive force. Now, more than eight years later, his case is going before a jury.

This case is different than other officer-involved shootings in that this trial will actually be held in two parts.

“What the city does not want to do is have Brian Pitzer’s actions analyzed by a jury in a context, frankly whether those actions belong in the context of being deployed by a department that we contend does not provide adequate training for people who are mentally ill,” Tenorio’s attorney, Rachel Higgins, said back in April 2017.

Officer Pitzer’s case will be heard first to see if he used excessive force in the shooting; then the second part will be if the city of Albuquerque holds any liability. The trial is set to last about five days.

Officer Brian Pitzer was one of the officers honored in November for his bravery in the Ben E. Keith warehouse shooting that injured three people. They went in to pull out the victims before knowing where the shooter was.

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