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Family sues city in fatal police shooting of man who held gun to his own head

Police car (Dreamstime/TNS)

When Albuquerque police cornered Pete “Jacob” Martinez after a lengthy foot chase, he put a gun to his temple. But officers talked to the 36-year-old until he lowered it.

“I’m not going to shoot at you guys. Maybe I should kill myself,” Martinez told them in the lapel camera video. An officer replied, “We don’t want that either, man.”

Martinez asked to smoke a cigarette, the gun at his side, when an officer shot him with a less-lethal foam round. Within a second, officer Angelo Lovato fired a fatal bullet.

After a month-long investigation, it became one of the first fatal police shootings in recent years to be found out of policy by the Albuquerque Police Department.

APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said no decision has been made on discipline for Lovato as he is currently on military leave. He said Lovato is still an officer with APD.

On Tuesday, Martinez’s family filed a lawsuit against the city of Albuquerque in the November incident, alleging Martinez’s civil rights were violated through excessive force and negligence.

“This decision to deploy non-lethal force might have been life-saving if Officer Angelo Lovato had not needlessly shot and killed Mr. Martinez with a bullet at the same time,” attorney Mark Fine, who is representing the family, said in a statement. “The nearly simultaneous applications of non-lethal and lethal force against Mr. Martinez offer another tragic object lesson on how a long-standing culture of non-accountability at the top of APD undermines the City’s laudable efforts to prevent its police from using excessive deadly force against people in crisis.”

Martinez had been diagnosed with paranoid personality disorder, according to the lawsuit in 2nd Judicial District Court.

The lawsuit is seeking “a reasonable award of compensatory and punitive damages, including interest and attorney fees, and such other relief as the Court deems just.”

Additionally, according to the lawsuit, the family requests the city create, fund and staff an office or program to communicate with relatives of those killed in police shootings “to avoid unnecessarily aggravating their grief and trauma.”

In Martinez’s case, the lawsuit states that the city “failed to make good faith efforts to notify” Martinez’s wife of his death.

In a statement released by Fine, Martinez’s widow, Florence, said he had been abused as a child and battled addiction as an adult, all while suffering from “multiple physical and mental illnesses.”

“He aspired to live a sober life and to be an active and present father to his children but he was not able to accomplish these goals before his death,” she said in the statement. “… Jacob was a loyal and considerate friend with a relentless sense of humor.”

On Nov. 25, the Albuquerque Police Department had operation Sticky Fingers, targeting retail crime, underway at Cottonwood Mall. Around 3:30 p.m., police tried to arrest Martinez after he was seen shoplifting, and he took off.

The foot chase spanned multiple parking lots and even went through an ice cream parlor. At one point, Martinez pulled out a handgun and was cornered outside an office building.

Within minutes, he was dead.

APD officials have said that Lovato later told police he fired when the gun “lifted” in Martinez’s hand, fearing he was going to shoot another officer.

Video showed Martinez’s arms flared out when the less-lethal round hit him in the chest, but the gun in his hand never pointed toward any of the officers before Lovato fired.

The lawsuit states the city knew Lovato “had a history of using deadly and/or excessive force” and “lacked professional integrity,” pointing to Lovato’s name being on the District Attorney’s disclosure list of untrustworthy officers for testimony.

The District Attorney’s Office didn’t immediately say why Lovato was on the list, which is known as a Brady-Giglio disclosure list.

Journal reporting shows Lovato has fatally shot two others and been sued at least twice as an APD officer.

In 2004, Lovato killed a DWI suspect who grabbed his gun after a foot chase, and in 2007 Lovato fatally shot a man who was wielding a screwdriver.

Lovato was sued for excessive force in the second incident and exonerated by a jury.

In 2008, a jury found Lovato and other APD officers used excessive force on, and wrongfully arrested, an off-duty State Police officer after a dispute outside a bar years earlier. The jury awarded $35,000 in damages to the former State Police officer.


(c) 2024 the Albuquerque Journal

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