KUNM Reporting Series
Using audio and video files obtained from the Albuquerque Policy Department, KUNM's public health project is investigating officer-involved shootings with an eye on mental health, substance abuse, poverty and post-traumatic stress disorder. It's part of a larger conversation about where health intersects with the criminal justice system and public policy.
The goal is to understand some of the broader issues behind the high rate of shootings in Albuquerque. There's more to come. Here's some of our coverage so far:
Len Fuentes And Mental Health: You’ve heard of James Boyd, the homeless man who was killed by Albuquerque police last year. But you might not have heard of Len Fuentes. He, too, was mentally ill when he brandished a knife and was shot and killed by APD.
Fuentes’ mom said she had found mental health care for her son, but it was three days too late.
The 911 tape from Monday night, July 16, 2010, has two clear gunshots on it. Next on the tape—and on all the audio officers recorded during the incident—are the harsh, raw cries of Fuentes’ fiancée, Gwendolyn Dalton. It takes a long time for them to calm her down.
Sylvia Fuentes, Len’s mom, says police killed her son when they didn’t have to. She set up our meeting at the apartments where he died. She walked me through his death. “... In three days was also going to be his first appointment with a psychiatrist,” she said. “I had been trying to get one for him since he had gotten out of prison, and I never could.”
Alan Gomez And Substance Abuse: Substance abuse treatment is not available for everyone who needs it in New Mexico, and this shortage is at the root of some tragic altercations with police. Mike Gomez met me in a park in Albuquerque, holding a framed photo of his son Alan. “He was a good kid, a normal kid,” he said. “He graduated high school on time. He was a Little League All-Star.”
Peter Bochert is the coordinator of the state’s Drug Court. It’s a criminal justice track that requires addicts to get into heavily monitored treatment. “National data tells us that about 50 percent of those in jails and prison are clinically addicted,” he said.
But, Bochert added, you have to have a fully functioning behavioral health system for Drug Court to really work. “There are tremendous needs and gaps statewide that our behavioral health system is just unable to address. We have a lack of nurses and substance abuse care in many of our communities.”
Mike Gomez agreed. “There’s nowhere to hardly go in Albuquerque.”
Officer Mental Health And Daniel Tillison: When the Department of Justice report on the Albuquerque Police Department came out last year, it highlighted that interactions between officers and people with mental illnesses can be volatile. It also pointed to limited services. But what about the mental wellbeing of the officers?
On March 19, 2012, the call that came in to Albuquerque police was not an emergency. “Yeah, I want to report a suspicious person,” the caller said. “I was walking out to go to school. There’s a guy sitting in a black Mitsubishi Montero. And he asked me if I knew anybody that wanted to buy a car system.”
Officer Martin Smith responded and within moments, shot and killed the man in the Mitsubishi SUV. “He was looking at me the whole time. And he was like, I don’t want to say, like, the warrior stare. Or I’m-going-to-hurt-you type stare.”
Mary Jobe is the mother of Tillison’s three children. “What officer is going to tell another officer that somebody gave them the warrior stare unless they were in PTSD mode?” she asked. “What is a warrior stare? How can you feel threatened by the way somebody looks at you?”
Ex-APD Officer On How Police Cope: Paul Ielacqua was an APD Aviation officer from 2001 to 2008 but has worked in law enforcement—at the Bernalillo County jail and Conchas Lake—since 1996. He talked to KUNM about how police handle their own mental wellness in high-stress situations.
IELACQUA: It seems like when you put that uniform on, you don’t have a friend in the world. And it’s really hard, and it’s unfortunate, too, because a lot of times your only friends—or you feel like—the only person that you can trust is the person wearing the uniform next to you.
KUNM: Do police officers kind of look out for each other’s mental health and wellbeing?
IELACQUA: Yeah, they do. And it’s kind of an interesting culture, because so many times you’ll see something horrific on the news, and you’ll see police officers looking at each other laughing and giggling. Well, a lot of times they’re doing that because that’s their way of venting or getting it out. Probably, I would say sometimes, the officers are more in tune with each other than their own family members are with them. And they know their moods and their feelings.