'All I know is he said, ‘Nigger,’ and that got everybody hot' -- witness
BY JOEY PETERS
New Mexico Political Report
The events of March 22 that culminated in the shooting death of an Albuquerque teenager didn’t begin at Los Altos Skate Park north of Interstate 40 at Eubank.
Albuquerque police say an investigation into Lewis’ death is ongoing. They maintain that no one from his group is cooperating but both witnesses who spoke with New Mexico Political Report recently said police haven’t contacted them since the night of the shooting.
Our investigation into the death of Lewis raises questions about the thoroughness of the police investigation, as well as the police department’s forthrightness in dealing with the dead teen’s family, which has argued that APD’s silence on the case has cast Lewis in the role of perpetrator instead of victim.
That Sunday afternoon, Brianna Keyes and Desireé Duran and several others were at Manzano Mesa Park, a few blocks south of Central, between Eubank and Juan Tabo, celebrating a send-off for Lewis. He was planning to move back to Las Vegas with his mother the following week, after his graduation from Sandia High School.
Two Albuquerque police officers approached the group, Keyes said, and noticed that some at the barbeque were drinking.
“And that’s when they told us to not drink here, to go to Los Altos,” Keyes said. “‘You can’t drink here but you can drink at the Los Altos Skate Park.’ That was their words exactly.”
In late June, police confirmed with Munah and Ethel Green, mother and grandmother of Lewis, that they did tell the group they could drink at Los Altos Park, but police say they didn’t specify the skate park in particular. Police department spokesman Tanner Tixier also confirmed this account.
It’s legal to drink alcohol at Los Altos Park between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Yet some of the people present, including Lewis, Keyes and Duran, were under the legal age to drink. According to Duran, many under 21 at the barbeque were drinking that evening.
Police watched the group for roughly 30 minutes before approaching them, Keyes said. “They should have gotten citations,” Munah Green says. “My son [was] 17 years old.”
The group left Manzano as the sun set. Some split up before going to the skate park, according to Duran. When they arrived at Los Altos, both Keyes and Duran said the atmosphere was at first laid back.
“When we got to the skate park, it felt like we were just cool, for once we could just kick it and have fun,” Duran said.
But if there was a mellow vibe, it didn’t last long. According to APD’s account of the scene, someone from Lewis’ group asked to borrow a skateboard from a person in a group already at the park.
This happened three times, Tixier said at a May press conference, but after the third time, things got rowdy.
“A young man went up and asked, ‘Can I get my skateboard back?’” Tixier said at the news conference. “For whatever reason – we don’t know – a fight ensues.”
Both Keyes and Duran said this account doesn’t fully explain what happened. Keyes said things became violent when a white man called Lewis a racial slur. This happened, according to Keyes, after Lewis returned the skateboard.
“All I know is he said, ‘Nigger,’ and that got everybody hot,” she said.
“When the fight started I was sitting in the car, then we heard them yelling and got out of the car,” Keyes said.
What happened next is in dispute. Police say four people, including Lewis, all fired guns. The rounds that Lewis fired, according to police, paralyzed a man.
Neither Keyes nor Duran said they saw Lewis using a gun that night. Keyes said she saw a man shoot toward Lewis when he was running.
“I saw a whole bunch of cars leaving,” Keyes said, adding that she didn’t see anybody to the west of Lewis, where he was walking just before he got shot.
Duran said she saw two people fire guns – the man who shot Lewis as well as a light-skinned man with dreadlocks.
Police showed the Greens, as well as their legal representative, cell phone video of the incident for the first time on June 22 – three months to the day after Lewis died. Both Munah and Ethel Green said the beginning of the video shows Lewis trying to duck away from a fight.
A white woman then punches Lewis, who punches back. After this, the video shows a white man with a buzz cut wearing a black shirt, a black belt and jeans start to pursue Lewis, according to the Greens. Soon, he turns around to hand something to a friend.
“The police said it was a wallet and a cell phone,” Munah Green said.
Green said the video shows the man continuing to follow Lewis.
“The dude just kept charging him,” she said, “kept provoking him.”
Eventually, Lewis turns around, throws his hands up and starts shouting. In May, the police department released a still from this point in the video, claiming that it shows Lewis holding a gun in his right hand. In the still, Lewis is seen from a distance with his arms up. He is wearing a glove on his right hand, but it is inconclusive whether he is holding a gun.
Munah Green said that the video shows Lewis actually yelling at the crowd, then turning around and walking into the skate park parking lot.
“Jaquise does that,” she said. “When he gets mad, he talks with his hands.”
After he turns around and starts walking away, Munah Green said the video shows Lewis’ shooter firing the first shot. Lewis falls, gets up and starts running and is then shot at again. The second time, Lewis stays on the ground.
Albuquerque police won’t release the cell phone video to the public or to the family. Spokesman Tixier said doing so would jeopardize the police’s ongoing investigation of the incident.
“When we interview witnesses, we need information that has been withheld from the general public, so we can corroborate their statement as factual,” Tixier told New Mexico Political Report in an email.
The Greens want the video released publicly. Munah said keeping it from the public perpetuates the public perception that Lewis was the armed aggressor and responsible for his own death.
Duran said she saw the man with the buzz cut shoot Lewis. “After he shot, I saw Jaquise running and he dropped,” she said.
Duran then ran up to Lewis. “I wasn’t even worried about the dude that was shooting anymore,” she said. “Honest. But he only shot once, then after that he was gone.”
She and a few others tried unsuccessfully to pick up Lewis and get him into a car, Duran said she started performing CPR until paramedics arrived.
“I was pretty much just rushing it,” she said. “I was scared. I was just doing it.”
Lewis was pronounced dead early the next morning.
Albuquerque police say that the conclusion that Lewis fired rounds and was killed in self-defense is based on the video and interviews with “approximately 10 witnesses,” according to Tixier.
“All witnesses were from the skate park group,” Tixier said. “None of the individuals from the Jaquise Lewis group have cooperated with the investigation.” Both Keyes and Duran dispute that. Both said police haven’t contacted them since the night of the shooting.
“I even called them,” Keyes said. “They gave me a card and I called them. [I was] trying to figure out what was going on with the investigation. They never called back.”
Tixier also said the self-defense conclusion was based on “numerous discussions with the DA’s office.”
Kayla Anderson, a spokeswoman for Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, said that while some attorneys at the office have spoken with the police department about the matter, everything remains preliminary.
One attorney from the office did view the cell phone video with a police officer, but the police department hasn’t yet officially submitted any material to the DA for review.
“At this point they haven’t submitted any of their reports,” Anderson said. “So the ball is in their court.”
Lewis’ autopsy report confirms that he was shot twice that night, once on the left mid-back just below his head and once “on the left posterior upper arm just above the elbow.” The autopsy found no gunshot residue on Lewis or his clothes. The autopsy states that “the range of fire for both injuries is best classified as distant.”
The autopsy records a white glove on Lewis’ right hand, but it does not mention a gun. In fact, the police didn’t recover any guns from that night, including the one used to kill Lewis, Tixier said.
Lewis’ family is exploring legal options, including a possible public records lawsuit against APD for holding back documents related to the shooting. Green said she ultimately wants to see the man who shot Lewis behind bars.
“If it was the other way around,” Munah Green said, “if the shoe was on the other foot with a black kid shooting a white kid, he would have went to jail that night.”
Joey Peters writes for New Mexico Political Report, a non-profit news organization that covers politics and policy in New Mexico. Reach him at email@example.com.