Two years after the death of Valente Acosta-Bustillos, family members and community activists gathered together for a press conference on the morning of Wednesday, March 30 as well as a vigil later in the day to continue to call for the reopening of the investigation into Acosta-Bustillos’ death at the hands of two Albuquerque Police Department officers.

Officers Joseph Bush and Edgar Sandoval were called for a wellness check on March 30, 2020 when Sandoval shot and killed Acosta-Bustillos in his own home following the discovery that Acosta-Bustillos had an outstanding warrant. Special prosecutor Ralph Trujillo reviewed the case and determined there was not sufficient evidence to charge the officers because they were not acting under threat to bodily safety due to Acosta-Bustillos’ behavior toward the officers and Acosta-Bustillos swinging a shovel at the two officers.



“What those officers did to my father was wrong. There were more ways to approach the situation that could have prevented the death of my father. They came into contact with him multiple times knowing his mental health issues. They knew him and they should have been more sensitive,” Rafael Melendez, son of Acosta-Bustillos, said. 

Acosta-Bustillos’ children Rafael Melendez and Veronica Ajanel were among the speakers at the press conference in the morning, giving testimonies on who their father was and their continued fight against police brutality and justice for him during the past two years.

The evening of March 30, the family held a vigil at the descanso that was set up as a memorial for him outside of his home. Family members gathered to celebrate his life and share fond memories and attest to his character. Son Acosta Jr. spoke how he gave the best hugs and, in the mornings, would come out dressed up and say he did it to look at himself in the mirror.

“We're doing this so the cops can hear it and so they know what they put us through, and all the pain that we have, and especially my dad, me and all my family. They took my grandpa away from us,” Antonio Malendez, Acosta-Bustillos’ grandson, said.

Munoz talked about how even if the officers are sent to jail and forced to be away from their family, they will still only be a phone call away, while her family will never be able to talk to Acosta-Bustillos again. 

“All we want is justice. Let them sit in jail. A jail cell away from their families alone, and think about what they did and missing their families next to them. But, that they still will be able to hear their voice over the phone, something that my brothers and sisters will never be able to hear (him) say: ‘I love you,’” Munoz said.

Since Acosta-Bustillos was killed, his family has been calling for the officers to be charged. Acosta-Bustillos' step-daughter Angel Munoz spoke about racial profiling at the press conference and the fact that many families in poverty never see the justice they deserve from police violence, which is why it is so important the two officers are held accountable. 

The family is calling for District Attorney Raúl Torrez, who is currently campaigning for the attorney general position, to reopen the case if he were to be elected. The attorney general is the only person with the power to reopen the case because officer-involved cases are contracted out to special prosecutors to avoid conflicts of interests, district attorney spokesperson Lauren Rodriguez told the Albuquerque Journal

However, attorney general spokesperson Jerri Mares told the Journal that the district attorney’s office has jurisdiction over the case.

It is within Torrez’s power as the district attorney to reopen the case “if the second judicial district attorney determines that there are clear, articulable facts about or matters of law regarding the underlying shooting incident that the special prosecutor did not address,” according to the district attorney’s office on-scene shooting incident protocol.

Acosta Jr. feels as though the two offices are “passing the buck.”

After the conference, Munoz spoke more about how her sister had a baby after Acosta-Bustillos was killed and all that he continued to miss out on because of the actions of the officers.. 

“My father taught me to be so respectful, so loving and caring, and that's the person he was. And, if I'm gonna be like that, (like) he was, then I'm gonna be out here to speak for him,” Acosta Jr. said.

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