Suit Alleges Excessive Force by Albuquerque Police

December 19, 2012

A mentally disabled man who was shot by an Albuquerque, N.M., police officer has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the lawsuit filed last week by Russell Tenorio alleges, among other things, that the police department used excessive force and seeks unspecified damages.

It marked second lawsuit against the Albuquerque Police Department to come out of the November 2010 shooting.

Last November, three Tenorio family members who witnessed the shooting sued the city in federal court for civil rights violations, including unlawful detention.

The city settled the case for $275,000 without admitting liability.

Police were called to Tenorio’s home after getting a call that he had been drinking and was threatening to harm himself with a knife.

Tenorio was shot by Officer Brian Pitzer, who had announced before entering the residence that he was “going lethal.” Immediately after the bullet struck Tenorio, he was shot with a stun gun by another officer.

Pitzer later said the confrontation in the home was the most fearful moment of his career. He said Tenorio was walking toward him, with a blank look on his face, carrying a knife and ignoring commands to drop it.

Tenorio survived but lost a kidney and part of his intestines. He was later arrested on various charges such as assault on a police officer, but those charges were dismissed because prosecutors had given improper instructions to the grand jury.

Pitzer was cleared by a special grand jury.

Attorneys for Tenorio, who has fetal alcohol syndrome, said events unfolded so quickly that he didn’t comprehend, or have time to comply with, officers’ shouted, conflicting commands.

The City Attorney’s Office said it will review the latest lawsuit once it’s served with a copy of the case.

Albuquerque police officers have shot at 26 men since 2010, striking 24 and killing 17.

The shootings and other use of force incidents have led to a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the city’s police department. Federal investigators aim to determine whether a culture exists within the police department that leads to officers using excessive force.

Prior to federal officials announcement of their investigation last month, Police Chief Ray Schultz had already implemented a number of policy changes to address various aspects of the way his officers use force, such as a requirement that supervisors respond to all scenes that have a high probability to become volatile. The intent behind the change was to slow down fast-moving situations that could result in the use of deadly force.

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