BERNALILLO COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg announced she won’t pursue criminal charges against two APD officers who shot and killed a man who was mentally ill in his own backyard.
The family of Christopher Torres says the officers’ story is bogus – and they still have a big lawsuit against APD on the table.
It was a controversial APD shooting from the beginning.
In April 2011, APD Detectives CJ Brown and Richard Hilger, wearing street clothes, hopped a fence into a backyard to serve an arrest warrant to a young man with schizophrenia. Within five minutes, Torres was dead.
Brandenburg says there’s no probable cause the officers committed a crime.
“It’s almost impossible to prosecute a police officer in an officer-involved shooting if he fears and if there’s any evidence that supports he fears his life,” said Brandenburg.
Brown and Hilger maintained they did fear for their lives that day.
They say when they hopped into Torres’ backyard on the Westside, Torres resisted arrest. As the three wrestled, they say Torres grabbed Hilger’s gun – so Brown shot Torres three times in the back.
Torres’ DNA was found on the gun, but not his fingerprints.
Brandenburg says they found nothing to contradict the officers’ story – except one eyewitness.
A neighbor witnessed the struggle and called 911 – thinking Torres was being robbed.
“One of the officers was on him with all of his weight on his back,” the neighbor is heard in the video walk-through of the scene as part of the investigation. “One of the officers was on that side, punching his head and his side.”
“I heard them yell that they were going to shoot him,” she said in the video. “That’s when I backed up and ran to call police.”
She maintains she never saw Torres with the gun, but Brandenburg says her statements didn’t add up.
Brandenburg said there were problems with APD’s own investigation of their officer-involved shooting – including the fact that they never interviewed the neighbor – the only eyewitness – as part of the investigation.
“That’s one of the things that makes the case complex – there were a number of things that we believe should have been done in the investigation that weren’t done,” she said. “So we were in a position of having to go back in time to have to figure out some of those answers.”
She says why APD never interviewed the neighbor is a mystery.
“The fact that she wasn’t interviewed – she called 911 and gave her address and she was known,” she said. “She reported their was a shooting. Why she wasn’t interviewed – I have no idea.”
Brandenburg says they requested an interview be done – and by that time, it was nearly two years after the shooting.
Still, she says the evidence did not present beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers committed a crime.
She added that her office has a narrow focus when they investigate; they’re not making a judgement call on whether officers followed standard operating procedure to begin with.
“That’s all civil,” she said.
Brandenburg’s decision was disappointing to the family.
Torres’ mother believes the officers are lying about what happened and wonder why then-Chief Ray Schultz refused to give them polygraph tests.
“I think again – it goes to the culture and the big reason the DOJ is here – is you need some oversight with this police department because there is no regard for human life,” said Renetta Torres.
The family still has civil lawsuits against APD in state and federal court.
“When you look at the facts at their totality, you’ve got an officer on top of Christopher – two officers – and we are expected to believe the officers didn’t have control of the scene,” Renetta said.
Torres was wanted for a road rage incident at the time. The autopsy report showed he had been smoking spice.
APD could not be reached for comment after the close of business Friday on the DA’s decision.