Protesters take to the streets in downtown Albuquerque following the mistrial of two Albuquerque officers accused of killing a homeless campers in Albuquerque's foothills.
A fight between two groups celebrating birthday parties at Los Altos Skate Park in Northeast Albuquerque exploded into gunfire Sunday night, leaving 17-year-old Sandia High School student Jaquise Lewis dead in the parking lot and six others shot and injured.
One person remains hospitalized in critical condition after what police say they suspect was a gang-related clash.
Richard Brandon, a longtime skater who was at one of the parties, said his friends confronted a man in the other group, claiming someone had stolen a skateboard. Not long after, he said, punches and shots started flying from both sides.
Brandon said he saw his friend whose birthday it was get hit by a bullet and go down.
“He was bleeding out of his stomach,” he said. “The only thing I could think of is it’s like fight or flight.”
Seven people were struck by bullets, including Lewis, who died at the scene. Several cars in the parking lot also were struck by bullets.
Lewis had recently returned to Albuquerque to live with his grandparents after living with his mother in Las Vegas, Nev. He had previously attended Highland and Manzano high schools.
“He loved sports, he loved electronics and computers. He was very high skilled with electronics,” said his mother, Munah Green. “He could get a computer taken apart and put it back together.”
Green jumped in her car and drove to Albuquerque as soon as she heard the news.
“It’s just so senseless and so pointless,” she said. “I will see to it that they be brought to justice.”
Officer Tanner Tixier, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, said officers were called to the skate park just before 10 p.m. Sunday. They arrived to find a large crowd, with Lewis dead on the sidewalk and others injured. Three people were rushed to a local hospital.
Three others injured by the gunfire walked into area hospitals on their own, he said.
The shooting and its aftermath drew a large crowd, prompting officers to concentrate on crowd control, police spokesman Fred Duran said.
He described the park area as a “large and complex crime scene.”
Two vehicles were towed from the scene so police can search them, Tixier said,
He said the police don’t have any suspects to identify at this time and said police aren’t sure if race played a part in the shooting. Lewis is black and the group he was with was mostly African-American.
“The early indication is it was somehow gang-related. We’re still trying to make sure that was the case,” Tixier said.
Cody Langdon, a longtime regular at the park, said the skateboarders he knows are not involved in gangs.
“Nobody here is part of any gang. And if they are, they are not bringing that into the park,” he said.
Tixier said he doesn’t believe the park has security cameras
“I know there’s a highway camera at I-40 and Eubank, but it was pointed in the wrong direction,” he said.
Langdon said the park is usually peaceful.
Tixier agrees. “I just pulled the calls for service there for the past three years and it didn’t seem like an overwhelming number,” he said.
When fights do break out, Langdon said they are solved without guns.
“If any of us has a problem with each other, we’ll just go into the parking lot and fight,” he said. “I don’t know why people have to shoot each other.”
Journal staff writers Nicole Perez and Jon Swedien contributed to this report.
These are some of the images taken across two evenings and one morning after what we consider to be a snow storm. For Albuquerque it was a big deal and I took advantage of hitting the streets with two Nikon FX cameras: D750 and D600 with a 50mm f/1.4 lens and a 70-200mm f/2.8. There is something special of seeing our desert environment with a fresh blanket of snow. The moment that brought it all in perspective for me was seeing a coyote galloping along a snow-packed field at the local Nature Center. It was more beautiful when it stopped to take a look at me with curiosity. Nature is amazing. Enjoy.
APD officers respond to a possible active shooter near the Air Force Base forcing a local elementary school to go on lockdown.
Linda Ortega chose to buy a house next door to a centuries-old South Valley church that she once considered her spiritual home.
San Jose Church sprang to life during the Christmas season, on certain feast days, and especially during Lent, when as many as 100 people crowded into the tiny church, Ortega recalled.
But the church at 2100 La Vega SW has remained silent since early 2013 when it was closed by the nonprofit that owns the property.
“They locked the gates and removed everything, including the bell of the church,” she said. “It was quite abrupt. It was shocking.”
Before the church was closed, a group of Penitente brothers say they opened the church regularly for religious services and welcomed the community to attend.
Today, the nonprofit that owns the property bars the Penitentes and plans eventually to reopen the church as a venue for public events other than religious services.
The church’s contents – including pews, life-sized santos carved from cottonwood, and even a wood-burning stove – were removed, people familiar with the church said.
Fences that surround the three-acre property do little to stop trespassers, Ortega said.
“Sadly, the property has been vandalized with graffiti, trash – lots of unsavory things going on behind the church,” she said.
The property recently showed evidence of visits by drug users, who left used syringes and other paraphernalia near a rear wall of the church.
The property today is fenced and locked while the legal dispute simmers between a group of Penitente brothers, who claim the church as their heritage, and the Atrisco Heritage Foundation, which has owned the property since 2006.
The Sociedad de Nuestro Padre Jesus, a group of Penitente brothers, filed a lawsuit last year in state District Court against the foundation, challenging the nonprofit’s legal right to bar Penitente brothers from the church.
The Penitente Brotherhood is a lay fraternity of Catholics that provided spiritual leadership for centuries in New Mexico and southern Colorado.
Even San Jose’s name is the subject of dispute. Court records refer to it as San Jose Church, but Penitentes call it the Morada de San Jose – the Spanish word for a Penitente church.
A spokesman for the Atrisco Heritage Foundation called it a Catholic church that for centuries was owned in common by heirs of the Atrisco Land Grant, who settled in the area more than 300 years ago.
Archbishop of Santa Fe Michael Sheehan called it a “chapel,” long used by Catholics as a place of worship. But the Roman Catholic Church does not own the property and has no stake in the outcome of the legal dispute, he said.
Eager to renovate
Peter Sanchez, executive director of the Atrisco Heritage Foundation, said the nonprofit is eager to renovate the church and open it to “the entire community” rather than a small group of Penitente brothers.
“Their argument is that five or six people should be able to use this church exclusively,” Sanchez said of the Penitentes, whom he called “tenants” of the church in recent decades.
“Our argument is that the community should be able to use this church. When we say the community, we mean the whole community.”
Sanchez contends that the Penitentes controlled access to the church and largely closed it to the broader community. Sanchez also contends the church is in good condition and that the foundation is maintaining the property.
Ortega and others reject the contention that the church was closed.
“It was open to the community as it was,” she said. “Anybody could come and participate, or just observe, if they didn’t want to participate in the prayers.”
The Atrisco Heritage Foundation was formed in 2006 by the now-defunct Westland Development Corp. to preserve cultural properties, including San Jose Church and three cemeteries. Westland was the successor to the Atrisco Land Grant.
A key issue in the lawsuit is the validity of a 50-year lease that Westland granted to the Penitente brotherhood in 2006, giving it use of the church, according to the lawsuit. The Atrisco Heritage Foundation in its response denied that the Penitentes have a legal lease with Westland.
Sanchez said the nonprofit intends to restore the church and develop the property into an asset the community can use for a wide variety of events.
The foundation is working with a group of University of New Mexico graduate business students “to develop a strategic plan and feasibility study to develop the property in a way that is more beneficial to the community,” Sanchez said.
He said the project is modeled on the Old San Ysidro Church, which is owned by the village of Corrales and leased for events ranging from weddings to performances, but not as a church.
The foundation also wants to register San Jose Church on the National Register of Historic Places, he said. The designation makes owners eligible for investment tax credits to pay for rehabilitation of historic structures.
Religious artifacts removed from the church “are stored safely under our control,” Sanchez said. The foundation would not oppose handing the artifacts over to the Penitentes if a judge determines the rightful owners.
“We simply want the courts to decide,” he said.
Tension between the Penitentes and the Atrisco Heritage Foundation led to a confrontation Oct. 4 when foundation board members opened the gate to allow UNM students to view the church and a Penitente leader tried to enter the property, according to a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office report.
The conflict began when Jose Maria Perea, a spiritual leader of the Penitente group, drove his motorized wheelchair through the open gate when board members ordered him to leave, according to the report. Perea told a deputy that board members grabbed him and his wheelchair in an attempt to force him off the property.
Sanchez said of the incident that Perea was “trespassing onto our property, trying to disrupt a meeting between our organization and UNM. We had to call the police and have him escorted off.”
Neither Perea nor the board members sought criminal charges.
Perea, Ortega and other South Valley residents say they oppose the foundation’s plans to use the church for nonreligious purposes, such as community events.
San Jose is among the oldest churches in the region and should be used exclusively as a church, said Jerome Padilla, president of the board of directors of the town of Atrisco grant, a political jurisdiction composed of Atrisco heirs.
“We want to protect the traditional practices on that land,” he said.
Perea called the church a “cultural sanctuary” that for decades served both the Penitente brothers and the larger community.
Generations of Penitente brothers are buried there, both on the grounds of the church and under the church’s floor boards, Perea said during a recent visit to the church. Many of the graves are unmarked, he said.
“Every inch that you dig under this, there are bones of our ancestors,” he said.
One woman chained herself to an art case.
Others strung up crime-scene tape and shouted that the police chief should be fired.
It all happened inside the mayor’s suite on the top floor of City Hall on Monday, triggering the cancellation of the City Council meeting scheduled to start two hours later, which was to include discussion on a variety of bills centered on the Albuquerque Police Department.
Mayor Richard Berry was out of town, but his top administrator, Rob Perry, watched and later confronted protesters as they continued their sit-in.
The demonstration ended with the arrests of 13 people charged with criminal trespassing, unlawful assembly and interfering with a public official or staff. One person, University of New Mexico assistant professor David Correia, was charged with a felony for allegedly pushing a member of the mayor’s security detail.
Police quickly cut the chains that protester Nora Tachias Anaya had looped around a display case.
“All we asked is to talk to the mayor,” she said just before officers cuffed her with plastic ties.
The confrontation came four days after an autopsy report revealed police had shot a homeless man in the back in March. The shooting of James Boyd, who struggled with mental illness, triggered protests throughout the spring after police released video of officers firing at Boyd after he appeared to have agreed to surrender.
“We want answers,” Mary Jobe, whose fiance was also fatally shot by police, said in an interview. “We’re tired of the mayor hiding from us.”
The sit-in lasted about 90 minutes and triggered a lockdown of City Hall.
City Council President Ken Sanchez issued a statement saying the council meeting was canceled. He said that because City Hall had been locked down, holding a meeting would violate state rules that guarantee people can watch public meetings. He said he also had safety concerns.
Gilbert Montaño, the mayor’s chief of staff, said he expected councilors to meet later this week or next to take up Monday’s agenda, which included a tax increase for mental health and homeless services and legislation to overhaul civilian oversight of APD.
Members of the Coalition Against Police Brutality and the Answer Coalition, among other groups, who were gathered outside at the entrance to City Hall blasted the mayor for not meeting with them.
“We need answers and the police chief and the mayor does not give them to us – they hide, they hire people to do their talking for them. Where was the mayor for eight days after James Boyd was shot? He couldn’t face anybody because he’s a coward,” said Mike Gomez, father of Alan Gomez, who was fatally shot by police.
Police shot Boyd during a standoff in the Sandia foothills on March 16. Berry was out of town for a few days, and his first publicly reported statement on the incident was on March 24.
It was the third disruption at City Hall in a month. In early May, protesters tried to serve a “people’s arrest warrant” on Police Chief Gorden Eden during a City Council meeting, and they took over the council chambers to hold their own meeting as the chief and city councilors left.
Protesters later held a silent demonstration during a council meeting. Several signed up to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting, then stood quietly when it was their turn to address the council. Security escorted them out.
Protesters and the mayoral administration offered different explanations for how Monday’s protest started.
Montaño said Correia pushed his way through the interior door as other people were going in. Correia “rammed through the door and pushed one of our officers,” Montaño said.
The mayor’s suite, on the 11th floor, features a public lobby, with two aides behind a counter to greet visitors. A glass door prevents people from entering the mayor’s suite of offices without permission. Usually, the aides will press a button to unlock the door when people arrive.
Inside the mayor’s suite is a complex of individual offices and conference rooms. The protesters held their sit-in amid a reception area just outside the mayor’s individual office, where he has his own desk and conference table.
Barbara Grothus, one of the people arrested, said protesters didn’t have to force their way into the mayor’s suite. “There was no lock,” she said. “We just opened the door and walked in.”
Montaño said Correia was charged with battery on a police officer. Correia has led other demonstrations at City Hall over the past month. He said some of the tactics are modeled on historic demonstrations by land-grant and Chicano activists. The university has issued statements saying Correia does not represent UNM.
Monday’s sit-in led to an odd scene. Perry, the mayor’s chief administrative officer; Montaño; and a few police officers watched as protesters read from letters they’d intended to deliver in person to Berry. At one point, protesters sat quietly on the floor and read from a U.S. Department of Justice report that found APD had a pattern or practice of violating people’s civil rights.
The door to Berry’s individual office was closed, and a security guard stood watch.
Perry engaged protesters and appeared to use his cellphone to film them. “Did you force your way through that door?” he asked at one point.
Later, he urged them to leave peacefully. “You’ve made your point,” he said. “Why don’t you take off?”
Protesters responded that they weren’t leaving until the mayor came out to talk to them.
Montaño, at one point, said Berry wasn’t present, though he didn’t mention that the mayor was out of town. It wasn’t clear whether the protesters heard Montaño or simply didn’t trust him. Several kept asking if the mayor was shut in his office or if he’d escaped out a back door.
A police van that took arrested protesters from City Hall to the Public Safety building was met with a small crowd shouting messages such as “no justice, no peace” and “killer cops.” A cordon of police made a barrier between them and the van as the arrestees were led in.
Afterward, Montaño said the mayor welcomed civil, productive comment from the community. Berry was in New York on Monday for a conference, he said. Montaño said the arrests came only after protesters made it clear they weren’t leaving unless forced.
Today was a great day to cover the Veterans Day ceremonies in Albuquerque.