Albuquerque police responded to a call Thursday afternoon from a man who said his son Max Mitnik, who is in his mid-20s and has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, wanted to be taken to the hospital because he was afraid he was going to hurt his parents.
He was shot at least once by an Albuquerque Police Department officer and is in critical condition.
According to an APD press release, officers arrived at the Northeast Heights home in the early afternoon where they made contact with Mitnik in the front yard. Mitnik said he wanted his parents to take him to the hospital instead of the police.
Shortly after, Mitnik went back inside and officers allegedly heard a woman say, "Help, he’s got a knife."
Once officers entered the home, Mitnik allegedly walked out of a bathroom and toward an officer, who "fired at least one shot, striking Max at least once."
The police shooting comes amid numerous Albuquerque protests in the past week against the police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, and police brutality more broadly. Some protesters have carried signs reading "Defund the police" and "Fuck APD."
In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Albuquerque Police Department Deputy Chief Harold Medina said that both officers on scene were trained in crisis intervention, but didn't say what deescalation techniques the officers utilized — if any — or why the officers shot Mitnik.
Medina didn't say if one or multiple officers shot Mitnik, who remains in critical condition at the hospital as of the publication of this article. No officers were injured, according to Medina.
When asked by the Daily Lobo on Friday why the officers chose to shoot Mitnik instead of using less lethal force, if the officers who shot him are still on duty and if the names of the officers would be released, APD spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos declined to comment, saying the police shooting was still under investigation.
The Daily Lobo submitted a request to the City of Albuquerque on Friday to obtain the responding officers' lapel camera footage and the 911 call that went unanswered as of the publication of this article
The shooting of Mitnik came about two months after Albuquerque police shot and killed 52-year-old Valente Acosta-Bustillos after responding to a welfare check call.
On March 30, APD officer Edgar Sandoval shot Acosta-Bustillos in his home. Acosta-Bustillos struggled with mental and behavioral health issues, which the two officers who conducted the check were allegedly aware of, according to a lawsuit filed by his family in mid-May.
"As evidenced by the large number of police shootings in Albuquerque, the City of Albuquerque, by and through the Albuquerque Police Department, has failed to adopt any meaningful strategy to protect the safety and well-being of citizens living in Albuquerque who suffer from mental and behavioral health disabilities," the suit reads.
Sandavol and officer Joseph Bush, who was also present for the welfare check, are not currently on leave, per Gallegos.
When asked by the Daily Lobo if it's fair to compare the case of Mitnik and Acosta-Bustillos, Barron Jones, senior policy strategist at the ACLU of New Mexico, said, "Yes, it is fair to draw comparison. In both situations, the police were called for help, not because of criminal activity."
"This does fit into a pattern with APD, where someone called for a welfare check and the person they are checking on ends up wounded or, worse yet, dead," Jones said.
APD has a long and well-documented history of violent — and in some cases, deadly — interactions with people with mental illness.
In 2010, Albuquerque police shot and killed Kenneth Ellis, a 25-year-old veteran who suffered from PTSD.
Then, in March 2014, two officers shot and killed James Boyd, a homeless man with a diagnosis of schizo-affective disorder.
The Department of Justice then launched an investigation into APD for excessive force in 2012. In April 2014, less than a month after Boyd's killing, the DOJ issued a public letter to the city finding that "although most force used by APD officers was reasonable, a significant amount of deadly and less lethal force was excessive and constituted an ongoing risk to the public."
Later that year, the DOJ and APD entered into a settlement agreement with stipulations aimed at reducing the use of excessive force in the department.
The crisis intervention section of the settlement states, "APD agrees to minimize the necessity for the use of force against individuals in crisis due to mental illness or a diagnosed behavioral disorder."
Bella Davis is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @bladvs