On the surface, it seemed like a case where police had no choice but to respond with deadly force: A man barricaded himself inside an Albuquerque home on Saturday night, reportedly threatening his wife and their two children with a gun.
Police sent a SWAT team and a department psychologist to get Armand Martin, a 50-year-old Air Force veteran, to peacefully surrender during a long standoff.
Three short video clips released Tuesday show Armand Martin brandishing a handgun as his family rushes out of the house. An officer shot and killed the man after determining Martin was a threat to neighbors, Albuquerque Deputy Chief Eric Garcia said. In two helmet camera clips, Martin lies lifeless in his driveway next to two handguns.
Even though the video clips seem to support officers' use of force, the shooting generated outrage around this city of 550,000 and sparked another angry protest. Some residents said they've all but lost faith in the police, and angry demonstrators took over the regularly scheduled city council meeting Monday night, chanting for the ouster of the police chief, shouting at council members and causing so much disruption that the city council president adjourned the meeting.
Albuquerque police are under tough scrutiny following a harsh report from the U.S. Justice Department over use of force and its interaction with suspects struggling with mental illness. The report also faulted how the police SWAT team resolved conflicts.
Critics say the weekend shooting is another example of persistent problems in the city's police department. It is the department’s 25th officer-involved shooting to end in a fatality since 2010, and is the second fatal shooting since the DOJ report was released April 10. In that report, the DOJ singled out the SWAT team as one of the department’s problematic units.
"They just can't resolve these engagements peacefully," said David Correia, an American Studies University of New Mexican professor who helped shut down the city council meeting Monday. "Saturday's shooting just demonstrates the way this department operates."
Tension over the department's use of force escalated in March after police shot and killed a homeless camper in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains during a long standoff. Video from an officer's helmet showed police fired on the man, James Boyd, 38, as he appeared to be preparing to surrender. Just over a week later, police shot and killed Alfred Redwine, 30, after a standoff. Last month, an officer shot and killed an auto theft suspect, Mary Hawkes, at close range after a chase.
In May 4 shooting, officers said they tried to use all necessary options to resolve the situation, including bringing a psychologist trained to negotiate in hostage situations and trying to get information about Martin's mental health from the Veterans Administration, which wasn't available because of federal law, said Garcia, the deputy chief.
Police responded because Martin's wife, Gail, called 911, saying in an interview with KOAT-TV on Monday that her husband suffered from depression and for some unknown reason "just went crazy." She said he demanded that she and their two children get out of the house, then pulled a gun.
"The kids got so scared and started running and telling me to go," Gail Martin said.
Garcia says more than a dozen bullet casings were found near Armand Martin after the shooting. Police identified the officer who opened fire as 12-year veteran Daniel Hughes.
Correia said he believed the SWAT team actually escalated the conflict with Martin by throwing flash bangs into his home rather than working to end it without the use of deadly force.
"These tactics and procedures are exactly what the DOJ criticized in its report," he said.
Nora Tachias-Anaya, another advocate who took part in Monday's protest, said Martin was alone in his home and posed no harm to anyone.
"It would have been to their advantage to just let him fall asleep," she said.
Police said the wife and children were in danger, and once Martin started shooting, they had no choice but to return fire.
But some observers say Albuquerque police will have a hard time convincing people that they are sincere in adopting reforms.
"It seems like a threshold has been passed," Timothy Krebs, a University of New Mexico political science professor, said. "Now, it doesn't matter what the facts are."
Al Jazeera and wire services