On Saturday, Feb. 5, a rally and vigil brought together the family of Valente Acosta-Bustillos as well as community members to commemorate his legacy. A descanso, or a cross, was placed in front of his house where he was fatally shot by Albuquerque Police Department officer Edgar Sandoval in March 2020. This event allowed for not only a time and place to grieve but also highlighted ongoing issues of police brutality.

The gathering was organized by the family of Acosta-Bustillos and community activists involved with the Albuquerque branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. It served as both a time for family members to talk about their memories of him and as a call for the charging and arrest of officers Sandoval and Joseph Bush.

“We're here to honor your father with your family and our community. We will continue to fight for justice for Valente, and (for) officers Edgar Sandoval and Joseph Bush (to) be fired and charged with murder,” PSL organizer Ramona Malczynski said.

On March 30, 2020, officers Sandoval and Bush were sent by a family member to make a wellness check on Acostas-Bustillos after family had been unable to get in touch with him for nearly a week and he hadn’t reported to work. During the check, the officers discovered that he had an outstanding warrant and attempted to arrest him.

They forced their way into his home, and, after a failed tazing attempt by Bush, Sandoval fired twice at Acosta-Bustillos initially, then, after he didn’t go down, several more times at him. Acosta-Bustillos was transported to a hospital following the shooting, where he later died from the gunshot wounds.

Sandoval said the shots were fired in self-defense as Acosta-Bustillos was carrying a long shovel throughout the encounter and made several attempts to swing it at the officers, according to a prosecutorial review. This review determined there was not sufficient evidence to prove the officers were not acting under belief of “the threat of great bodily harm.”

“They used force to threaten him and manipulate him and to scare him. They're here to protect us, not let us live in fear of them,” Acosta-Bustillos’ son Rafael Melendez said. 

Acosta-Bustillos’ family wore shirts in his memory, adorned with individualized messages on the back that expressed their remorse.

“My dad would want us to remember the good things,” Acosta-Bustillos’ daughter Veronica Ajanel said.

Ajanel talked about how he always took her out for dinner on her birthday and recalled one year where Acosta-Bustillos took her out three times during her birthday week. Melendez spoke about how he was a loving grandfather among many other things.

“He could go up to the biggest person and still make them lose their breath when he hugged them. That's how much love he had to give,” Melendez said.

With no justice received yet for Acosta-Bustillos, PSL is aiding the family in continuing to advocate for him.

“They're amazing people (PSL) — they were encouraging. I just love the way they work and organize stuff, and they gave me more strength to go out there and speak for not just myself, not just for my dad … everybody out there in this,” Melendez said. 

A few community members also spoke during the gathering, including local carpenter José Enriquez who talked about the prejudice against working-class individuals like Acosta-Bustillos, who was a construction worker. He said working-class minorities, specifically Latinx workers, are often vilified by the police. 

“People who are poor and have to work are targeted as criminals,” Enriquez said. “We are not criminals. We are trying to work hard to provide for our families like anyone else.”

Another community member and former member of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency Mickey McConnell talked about the ineffectiveness he observed during his time as a member of the oversight agency within APD.

“(The agency) would almost make a joke of it. You had no power whatsoever to do anything, except listen to them,” McConnell said.

As more community members called for justice and awareness to be brought to both Acosta-Bustillos’ case and all victims of police brutality, his family remained at the center of the gathering and grieved their beloved family member. 

“I will forever miss my dad and always feel like part of my heart (is) missing, all because of two officers who were not trained on how to respect the community they said they would protect,” Melendez said.

Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @maddogpukite