ALBUQUERQUE (CN) - Albuquerque police, who have been under scrutiny by city residents and the federal government, were hit with four police abuse lawsuits in a single day, two involving civilian deaths, and one alleging retaliation against a high school principal.
In Rachael Hernandez v [Officer] Raymond Schultz
, 15 named officers are accused of using excessive force, including explosive devices, tear gas and an armored vehicle, in an incident that ended with a man shooting himself in the head.
The late Santiago Chavez, 20, "had a history of mental health problems, including depression and drug use," according to the lawsuit in Bernalillo County Court.
On June 20, 2012, police received reports that he had been throwing rocks at cars and houses, and that he "displayed a gun in his waistband."
Chavez "retreated into his house," which is owned by co-plaintiff Kathy Wujick.
Whereupon, according to the complaint, Albuquerque police surrounded the house, with snipers and other officers, "breached all three doors of the house with explosive devices," shot chemicals agents and bullets into it, as well as a "tri-chamber explosive," shot wooden batons into or through the doors, and rammed through the front door with an armored vehicle.
Chavez shot himself in the head during the melee. The house suffered $57,000 worth of damages.
The plaintiffs seek damages for negligence, negligent training and supervision, assault and battery, wrongful death and pain and suffering. They are represented by Rachel Higgins.
In the second case, Bruce Thompson v City of Albuquerque
, an Albuquerque cop who was looking for a stolen car is accused of shooting to death a man who had parked next to the car that was stolen.
Thompson sued as guardian ad litem for the late Mickey Owings' three minor children. He also sued former Police Chief Ray Schultz and the officer who allegedly killed Owings, K. Sanchez.
According to the lawsuit in Bernalillo County Court, "In March of 2010, defendant Sanchez shot and killed Mickey Owings after Mr. Owings' car was boxed in by an unmarked APD vehicle driven by an APD officer in a commercial parking lot."
Police had received information that a stolen car was parked in the commercial lot, according to the complaint. So "several officers positioned unmarked cars in the lot around the suspected stolen car."
Owings drove into the lot "and parked next to the alleged stolen car."
The complaint continues: "A passenger got out of Mr. Owings' car and moved toward the alleged stolen car."
An officer blocked Owings' escape path with a car, while Sanchez approached Owings on foot. Owings backed into the blocking car and Sanchez shot him, according to the complaint. Owings, who was unarmed, drove away and died on a nearby road.
His children seek damages for wrongful death, and loss of consortium caused by negligence, battery and unlawful deadly force. They are represented by Shannon Kennedy, with Kennedy, Kennedy & Ives.
The complaint adds: "Of the 20 plus officer-involved shootings resulting in fatalities [in Albuquerque] from 2009 to 2012, the United States Department of Justice has found that a majority of these shootings were unconstitutional."
In the third case, Sandra Jo Sloan v City of Albuquerque
, Sloan, who is the principal of Del Norte High School, says she called police on March 25, 2011 because a student had told the school nurse "about possible physical abuse at her home."
Police told Sloan that the public school resource officer "was too busy to respond," but they would send "Officer Lehocky in his place."
Lehocky is not named as a defendant in the header of the lawsuit, but he is referred to as a defendant in the body of the 6-page complaint.
"Officer Lehocky's pending involvement caused great concern to plaintiff because Officer Lehocky was at the same time pursuing criminal charges on an unrelated case against Ms. Edwards [the school nurse] resulting from a similar call," Sloan says in the complaint.
"Ms. Edwards had expressed fear of Officer Lehocky and that she felt bullied by him.
"Plaintiff was concerned for her employee's well-being as well as the potential legal consequences of an interaction between Ms. Edwards and Officer Lehocky.
"Plaintiff also had previous negative interactions with Officer Lehocky,"
Sloan says that on June 5, 2011, she "was noticed as a witness of behalf of Ms. Edwards regarding the other criminal charges brought by defendant Lehocky against Ms. Edwards.
"On June 6, 2011, Officer Lehocky filed a criminal complaint against plaintiff charging her with obstructing the reporting or investigation of child abuse or neglect.
"These charges were dismissed with prejudice.
"Lehocky additionally filed a complaint with the Public Education Department against plaintiff in an attempt to revoke plaintiff's occupational license.
"This complaint was dismissed, finding that Lehocky's complaint was without evidence and was a further attempt to harass plaintiff."
Sloan claims that Albuquerque "had knowledge that defendant Lehocky would violate the constitutional rights of civilians whom he came into contact with."
She seeks punitive damages for civil rights violations and malicious prosecution. Former Police Chief Ray Shultz also is named as a defendant.
Sloan is represented in Bernalillo County Court by Joseph Kennedy with Kennedy, Kennedy & Ives.
In the fourth case, Rose Gonzalez v City of Albuquerque
, Gonzalez claims she fell and broke her hip because officers did not properly assist her out of a police car in which they put her, handcuffed.
She seeks more than $25,000 in damages. She is represented by David Elias Idinopulos, also in Bernalillo County Court.
Thirteen people were arrested and jailed last week after they tried to occupy the Albuquerque mayor's office to protest the string of police shootings. These protesters were outraged that an autopsy revealed that James Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man, had been killed by being shot in the back.
The Department of Justice raked Albuquerque police over the coals in an April report on 23 police killings in the previous four years. The Justice Department found a "pattern or practice of unconstitutional use of deadly force."
Since the report was issued, Albuquerque police have killed three more people.