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Mayor Condemns Violence, Escalation by Armed Vigilantes at Protests

City of Albuquerque leaders outline sequence of events, next steps in investigations, and call for common-sense gun regulation

June 16, 2020

Following weeks of peaceful protests, overshadowed at times by the presence of armed vigilantes, violence erupted last night when a protester was shot. At a Tuesday press conference, Mayor Tim Keller and other City leaders condemned the violence and announced that the statue at the center of the protests has been removed.

Mayor Keller said, “This kind of violence has no place in our city. Our hearts go out to the victim and his family. Last night, this sculpture became more than a symbol, it became a matter of public safety, and today we removed it from its place in front of the Albuquerque Museum until the appropriate civic institutions can determine next steps.”

Chief Michael Geier said, “Let me make it clear again: APD opposes vigilante action and discourages anyone who would come to one of these protests armed. It has the potential to escalate violence, not prevent it—and we saw that last night.”

After a partial and preliminary criminal complaint was released last night, the public raised concerns about whether the investigation would fairly examine the full timeline of events. The Mayor addressed those concerns head on, saying, “It appears the perpetrator was agitating at the protest well before the shooting, and multiple witnesses have come forward to report that he violently threw a woman to the ground before the fighting broke out. This investigation will include a full accounting of last night’s events based on all relevant witness statements and video. We have the suspect in custody, and we will continue to give the State Police who are leading the investigation and the District Attorney information as we pursue the strongest possible prosecution and justice.”

In addition to the District Attorney, the City is working closely with federal authorities to hold both the shooter and the armed extremists at the scene accountable, up to and including federal hate group designation. Mayor Keller also called for action from the State Legislature to give cities more tools to ensure safety of protesters and prevent armed agitators from escalating peaceful protests into violent confrontations.

Both the Mayor and Police Chief made clear that APD officers are prohibited from coordinating with members of any outside groups seeking to interfere in lawful protests. Investigations into officers who violate or may have violated that policy at recent protests are underway.

Chief Michael Geier said, “Protests have been peaceful, but the continued involvement of agitators is resulting in violence. Our Department does not work with these groups, and we will not allow that to happen.”

Commander Art Sanchez gave a detailed briefing of APD’s staging and response as the evening went on. As they do for every protest action, APD staged Emergency Response Teams in the area to monitor without interfering in the exercise of first amendment rights. When officers became aware of armed individuals at the protest, a Quick Response Team was also placed on standby and staged nearby.

Commander Sanchez said, “As the situation on the ground became more dangerous, and particularly when someone sprayed mace into the crowd, one team deployed from its position to intervene. Within minutes, shots were fired, at which point a second team, which included a trained EMT, was immediately deployed toward that specific scene. They began to detain people and initiated life-saving measures on the victim.”

In addition to arresting the shooter and detaining several other armed individuals, officers recovered more than a dozen guns from the crime scene. Commander Art Sanchez said that officers on site used crowd control measures only to secure evidence on the scene and to provide emergency medical assistance to the victim when protesters who remained on site began advancing. “Our concern was that someone would get their hands on one of the guns and further escalate the violence.”

City officials were also clear that despite the desire to intervene sooner, state and federal courts have interpreted current law in a way that legally permits armed individuals to attend protests without interference. Mayor Keller and City Attorney Aguilar called on the State Legislature to change that law as soon as possible.

City Attorney Aguilar said, “We need action from the State Legislature—up to and including State Constitutional amendments if necessary—to give local communities the tools to proactively stop this kind of escalation, intimidation, and violence, to allow our City to do what makes sense for our community.”

Cultural Services Department Director Shelle Sanchez closed the press conference with a call to the community to come together around a positive path forward: “It is heartbreaking that the peaceful prayer vigil I attended last night was overshadowed by senseless violence. On Saturday, we invited the public to be part of a conversation bringing together various perspectives about statues like this one and others in our community—and that dialogue is more important than ever. If you want to be part the effort to reconcile our history and heal our city, please reach out to [email protected].”

To view the full press conference, click here.

For more information about the City’s efforts to create a dialogue around the La Jornada sculpture and reconciling conflicts in Albuquerque’s history, view the press release by clicking here.