- Suspect: Kevin Sanchez, Albuquerque Police Department
- Victim: Mickey Owings, 26
- Agency: Albuquerque Police Department
- Date of incident: March 29, 2010
- Incident type: Police shooting
- Status: Settled, no criminal charges
- Investigating Agency: Unknown
- Incident Location: Walmart parking lot, 2550 Coors Blvd NW, Albuquerque
- Judicial District: Second Judicial District
- Defense attorney: Stephanie Griffin, deputy city attorney
- Plaintiff attorney: Joseph Kennedy
- Manner of death: Homicide
- District Case number: D-202-CV-2014-03843
- Appeals court case number: A-1-CA-34427
- Supreme Court case number: S-1-SC-35974
- Personal Representative: Julio Romero
On March 29, 2010, Albuquerque Police Det. Kevin Sanchez fatally shot Mickey Owings, 26, as he fled from a Wal-Mart parking lot and after police tried to surround his car. According to police accounts, Owings drove into unoccupied police cars before Sanchez shot him.
The case was named in the federal Department of Justice’s civil rights investigation into the Albuquerque Police Department’s use of force. In the report, federal investigators wrote that Sanchez was driving into unoccupied vehicles in his bid to get away and damage to property did not justify killing him.
Owings’ family sued the city after the report came out and in 2018, the case settled for $375,000, according to the Albuquerque Journal. A state district court judge initially dismissed the lawsuit, filed for a loss of consortium, but that decision was reversed by the Appeals Court and reaffirmed by the New Mexico Supreme Court.
According to the report
In March 2010, a plainclothes detective shot and killed Mickey Owings after Owings’ car was boxed in by an unmarked APD vehicle in a commercial parking lot. The encounter began because officers had received information that a stolen car was located in the parking lot. Several officers positioned unmarked cars in the parking lot around the suspected stolen car. Owings then drove a different car into the parking lot and parked directly next to the stolen car. A passenger got out of Owings’ car and started to get in the stolen car, and officers drove one unmarked car directly behind Owings while the plainclothes detective approached Owings’ car on foot. Owings backed his car into the unmarked police car and another civilian’s car, and as he did so, the detective drew his gun, pointed it at Owings, and ran closer to Owings’ car. Owings then drove straight forward into two parked cars. As he did so, the detective shot Owings. Owings continued driving forward and actually pushed the two empty, parked cars in front of him out of the way. Owings then drove out of the parking lot but soon seems to have lost consciousness on a nearby road. His car slowed to a stop, and when officers got to him, he had died. Owings was not armed.
The department’s use of force policy permits officers to fire at the driver of a moving vehicle only when the car itself poses a threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others. (As noted below, the better policy, followed by many departments, is to prohibit officers from firing their weapons at cars altogether.) The use of force policy limits the circumstances in which officers may shoot at drivers because of the substantial risks that are involved: the officer may miss and hit an innocent civilian or fellow officer, or the driver may become incapacitated, leaving the moving car completely out of control. Owings did not pose a threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or anyone else; he was driving straight into unoccupied, parked cars when he was shot. This damage to property, as serious as it was, did not justify taking Owings’ life. The detective who shot Owings could very easily have missed and hit one of the innocent civilians walking through the parking lot; moreover, after Owings was shot, the probability that he would injure someone with his car increased dramatically. Brosseau v.Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 199-201 (2004) (collecting federal appellate cases on police shootings at moving cars and acknowledging that such shootings can be unreasonable); Vaughan v. Cox, 343 F.3d 1323, 1333 (11th Cir. 2003) (“[A] reasonable officer would have known that firing into the cabin of a pickup truck, traveling at approximately 80 miles per hour on Interstate 85 in the morning, would transform the risk of an accident on the highway into a virtual certainty.”). But see Scott, 550 U.S. at 382-84 (2007) (noting that a car can itself be a deadly weapon that can justify the use of deadly force).
False police narrative
Even though Owings was unarmed, and he tried to push through to unoccupied vehicles, that did not stop the Albuquerque Police Department from painting their actions as justified at the outset.
The police narrative is captured by an Albuquerque Journal story from March 30, 2010, as noted in one of the two online headlines:
“Armed Robbery Suspect Fatally Shot by Albuquerque Police”
The unbylined story has a second headline, “ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Shooting occurred as man fled in a vehicle from a Walmart parking lot on city’s West Side.”
The lede, or first sentence, sums up the false narrative:
“Albuquerque police fatally shot an armed robbery suspect in the parking lot of a busy Walmart on Monday after the suspect rammed police vehicles and shoppers’ cars in an effort to get away, authorities said.”
The police chief at the time, Ray Schultz, said Owings actions were “very violent.” He made no mention that the police cars he was ramming into were totally unoccupied, a lie by omission.
The Department of Justice report states that the police department’s policy at the time was that officers could only shoot at cars if “when the car itself poses a threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”
NM Political Report posted the surveillance footage from the killing. See below:
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