Video released: Albuquerque police turn welfare check into a homicide

Fifty-two-year-old Valente Acosta-Bustillos had not answered his phone in a few days. He had not shown up for work. Concerned, his family asked Albuquerque police to perform a welfare check on March 30. Acosta-Bustillos’ daughter “call[ed] APD to check on her father, and it ends up [that] APD is the cause of his death,” stated family attorney Mark Caruso, now preparing to sue the department.

Lapel camera footage released last week shows how two officers, Joseph Bush and Edgar Sandoval, turned a welfare check into the latest APD homicide.

Racist “welfare checks” 101

Acosta-Bustillos was doing yardwork when police walked onto his property and told him that they were there for a welfare check. Holding a gardening shovel, Acosta-Bustillos stated in Spanish that he was fine. 

The cops opened up a line of distrustful questioning. “You guys shouldn’t even be here,” said Acosta-Bustillos. As they stood less than 4 feet away from him, crowding him into his doorway, Acosta-Bustillos calmly and reasonably asked if the officers had a warrant. “This is the property I live at, and it ends over there by the sidewalk.”

The questioning of their entitlement to total authority rattled the officers. Ignoring their original and sole reason for being there — a welfare check — they decided to run his name. They discovered an outstanding warrant resulting from a failure to show up for a recent court hearing. 

Officer Sandoval told Acosta-Bustillos that they were going to arrest him.

The police sentenced him to death. Why?

Acosta-Bustillos responded, explaining that he was confused by the letters he got from the court. No doubt, court procedures can be confusing, especially amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the widespread closure of government offices and cancellation of services.

Weeks earlier on March 8, Acosta-Bustillos was arrested and charged with aggravated assault. A hearing was scheduled for later that month. However, on March 13, the District Court of New Mexico announced new protocols to minimize the spread of COVID-19, including the cancellation of many court hearings. It is possible that Acosta-Bustillos thought that this hearing was canceled, but the cops did not offer this benefit of the doubt.

Acosta-Bustillos also stated that he thought the court papers could be fake. Why would he think that? One reason may be that Acosta-Bustillos suffered from a substance abuse disorder and substance-induced psychosis. The psychological side effects of addiction to certain substances are psychotic experiences very similar to paranoid schizophrenia that can last hours, weeks, months, or even years, depending on use. Medical personnel diagnosed Acosta-Bustillos after a December 2019 incident where he was “taking metal out of the doorknobs, taking apart electronics, and worried that his neighbors were somehow spying on him.”

The Albuquerque police department has confirmed that they were fully aware of this diagnosis.

Nevertheless, when Acosta-Bastillos slowly stepped backwards into his own home, disengaging from the conversation and probably very fearful of arrest, officers Bush and Sandoval suddenly charged the door and rushed in, weapons drawn, screaming in English and Spanish. They did not do this because they were threatened, as the lapel video makes crystal clear.

They drove Acosta-Bastillos into his bedroom. Cornered in his own home, standing rigid, and holding his garden shovel at his side with its scoop resting on the ground, the cops proceeded to tase Acosta-Bastillos. Seconds later, officer Sandoval opened fire on him.

The partners stood there together and watched for nearly eight minutes while Acosta-Bastillos bled out. Sandoval, the gunman, claimed he did not have medical gloves handy to try and stop the bleeding.

Bush wasted no time blurting out a completely made-up cover story: Acosta-Bustillos attacked them with his garden shovel.

The released video footage, along with the preliminary autopsy, totally contradicts the officers’ story. The unarmed Acosta-Bustillos was shot in the back.

When is a reform not a reform?

In 2014, after the high-profile murder of homeless camper James Boyd and the large protest movement that developed in response, the Department of Justice placed the Albuquerque Police Department under a court-enforceable “consent decree” that was supposed to change the way the APD operates. Specifically, it was supposed to overhaul APD’s “use-of-force” policies which were investigated and found to be violating the constitutional rights of the city’s residents.

Six years have passed. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent. What are the results?

In 2013, the year prior to the implementation of the DOJ consent decree, the “unreformed” APD had eight officer-involved shootings. In 2019, the new, bright and shiny “reformed” APD once again had eight officer-involved shootings.

The year 2020 is not looking any better. Six days into the new year, an APD gunman senselessly killed 28-year-old Orlando Abeyta, a homeless Native American man shooting at pigeons with a BB gun. Valente Acosta-Bustillos is the third person shot by APD this year.

The 10th report on the status of APD reform implementation, filed Nov. 1, 2019 by a DOJ appointed independent monitor, says it all: “Put simply, at this point, supervisory processes and command oversight remain basically unchanged, or actually moving backwards…. What “corrective actions” that do occur [for policy violations] are often executed at the lowest levels of the disciplinary process, e.g., verbal or written reprimands, regardless of the seriousness of the violation. … APD is effectively blind to in-field violations….” (Page 2-3)

In other words, the new “reformed” APD is just like the old “unreformed” APD was.

It should come as no surprise then that even before the administrative and criminal investigations have been completed on their latest killing, APD has already returned the criminal suspects, officers Joseph Bush and Edgar Sandoval, to duty.

Bush and Sandoval do not belong on the street, they belong in jail. The DOJ’s APD-makeover will clearly not put them there. Only pressure from a people’s movement can get these threats to public safety off our streets!

Justice for Valente Acosta-Bustillos!

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