ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Albuquerque Police Department should never have hired an officer whose career was “marred by fraud and by excessive force claims, including deadly force,” according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of an unarmed man the officer fatally shot in May.
The Albuquerque Journal reports (http://bit.ly/vNn9NC) that the recently filed lawsuit said the department hired Sean Wallace despite two previous excessive force claims against him while a state police officer.
But the department was in the middle of a “concerted effort” to grow its ranks in April 2007, when Wallace came on board as a hire from state police, according to the lawsuit filed this week by attorneys Mark and Joe Fine on behalf of Alan Gomez’s family.
Gomez, 22, was the third man Wallace had shot while in uniform.
The lawsuit names as defendants Wallace and Police Chief Ray Schultz, individually and in their official capacities, and the city of Albuquerque. Seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees, it claims wrongful death, negligent hiring and supervision, and civil rights violations, including excessive force.
“The main thing we’re trying to accomplish (with the lawsuit) is accountability, police accountability,” Mike Gomez, Alan’s father, said in a telephone interview with the Albuquerque Journal.
“My son had just turned 22 years old,” Gomez said. “He was a good person, and he was well loved. Alan didn’t deserve to die.”
The city does not comment on pending lawsuits.
Wallace shot Gomez on May 10 after Gomez allegedly held his brother and his brother’s girlfriend against their will at an Albuquerque house. His brother, Eric Gomez, later said he hadn’t felt as though he was being held prisoner.
Officers were dispatched to the home after Eric’s girlfriend reported that Alan had a gun and she was being held inside, according to the initial 911 call provided by police. The woman told the dispatcher she didn’t know what was wrong with Alan and asked her to “please hurry.”
Police had also received reports that Gomez was armed and had fired a rifle outside the home, but he came out to talk to officers and was holding only a black plastic spoon when shot in the back while walking into the house.
Gomez was one of 20 men shot by Albuquerque police officers from January 2010 through late August of this year. He was one of 14 who died.
The shootings sparked outrage among civil rights leaders who called for a U.S. Department of Justice probe.
Wallace, now a K-9 officer with Albuquerque police, was a New Mexico State Police officer when he shot and killed Leo Lopez of Chimayo in 2004. He was cleared by a grand jury, but the state paid $235,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.
And, in January 2010, he shot Wayne Cordova, who was on an Albuquerque rooftop crying and asking to be killed. Cordova survived.