ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Bernalillo County authorities announced Wednesday that prosecutors won't seek charges against an Albuquerque police officer who fatally shot a man reportedly holding a black plastic spoon during a 2011 confrontation with police.
In a statement, the Second Judicial District Attorney's Office said an internal review found that officer Sean Wallace was justified in shooting Alan Gomez, 22, in May 2011. "We have found no probable cause to believe that Officer Sean Wallace committed a crime, and thus we will not present charges against Officer Sean Wallace to a charging grand jury or preliminary hearing," District Attorney Kari E. Brandenburg and Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Drebing wrote in a letter to Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz.
Wallace shot Gomez 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 officials 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 reportedly holding only a black plastic spoon when shot in the back while walking into the house.
Police have shot more than two dozen people since 2010, killing 18 and sparking protests and outrage among activists in the city. The Gomez shooting was widely criticized because he was reportedly unarmed and shot in the back.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating claims of excessive force by Albuquerque police.
Michael Gomez, the father of Alan Gomez, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he was "gravely disappointed" about the district attorney's decision but not surprised. "She's just there to cover up whatever they do," Gomez said. "She's ruled that all police shootings are justified, so I'm not shocked at all."
Brandenburg has been criticized for her office's controversial, decades-old practice of using grand jury panels to affirm decisions that no probable cause existed to charge police officers in shootings. Most district attorneys in New Mexico and around the country resolve police shooting cases with an internal investigation.
Under a revamped system, county prosecutors decide whether there's probable cause that a crime was committed and then present the case to a grand jury to decide. But all shootings reviewed have been ruled justified.
The Gomez family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Wallace and the police department. The lawsuit said the department hired Sean Wallace despite two previous excessive force claims against him while a state police officer.
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.
In January 2010, he shot Wayne Cordova, who was on an Albuquerque rooftop crying and asking to be killed. Cordova survived.
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