The events of March 22, 2015 that culminated in the death of an Albuquerque teenager didn’t begin at Los Altos Skate Park.
They began when a group of friends threw a barbecue for Jaquise Lewis three miles south of the skate park at Manzano Mesa Park, according to two witnesses who recently spoke to New Mexico Political Report about the shooting. While Albuquerque police say an investigation into Lewis’ death is ongoing and maintain that no one from his group is cooperating, both witnesses said police haven’t contacted them since the night of the shooting.
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Brianna Keyes and Desiree Duran were at Manzano Mesa Park late afternoon that Sunday with several others, celebrating a send-off for Lewis, who was gearing up to move back with his mother in Las Vegas the following week.
Two Albuquerque police officers approached the group, Keyes said, and noticed that some at the barbecue 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.”
Last week, police confirmed with Munah and Ethel Green, the mother and grandmother of Lewis, that they did tell the group they could drink at Los Altos Park, although police say they didn’t specify the skate park in particular. Police department spokesman Tanner Tixier also confirmed this account with New Mexico Political Report.
That suggestion from the officers doesn’t contradict city law—city statute allows alcohol drinking 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. And, according to Duran, many under 21 at the barbeque were drinking that evening.
The police told the group to go to Los Altos Park after watching them from the parking lot for roughly 30 minutes, Keyes said.
“They should have gotten citations,” Munah Green says. “My son is 17 years old.”
The group left Manzano as the sun set. Some of them split up before going to the skate park, according to Duran. When they arrived at Los Altos skate park, 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.
If there was a mellow vibe, it didn’t last long. According to the Albuquerque Police Department’s account of the scene, someone from Lewis’ group asked to borrow a skateboard from a person from a group already at the park.
This happened three times, Tixier said at a May press conference, but after the third time, things became rowdy.
“A young man went up and asked, ‘Can I get my skateboard back?’” Tixier said at the 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 that that the mob violence began after 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.
As the commotion began, Duran said she was in a car on the west end of the skate park.
“When the fight started I was sitting in the car, then we heard them yelling and got out of the car,” she said.
What happened next is widely disputed. Police say four people, including Lewis, all fired guns. The rounds Lewis fired, according to police, paralyzed a man.
But 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 lightskinned man with dreadlocks.
The police showed the Greens, as well as their legal representative, an obtained cellphone video of the incident for the first time on June 22—three months to the day after Lewis died. Both Munah and Ethel Green say the video begins showing 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 cellphone,” 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 evidence of a gun in it appears inconclusive.
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 of the incident to the public. 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, on the other hand, want the video released publicly.
Duran said she witnessed the man 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.”
Her and a few others tried to pick up Lewis and get him into a car, but when they weren’t able to, 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 officially 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 notion. 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 the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said that while some attorneys at the office have spoken with the police department about the matter, everything still remains preliminary. One attorney from the office did view the cellphone video with a police officer, but the police department haven’t yet officially submitted any material to the district attorney’s office 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, stating that “the range of fire for both injuries is best classified as distant.”
The autopsy did report finding a white glove on Lewis’ right hand, but not a gun. In fact, the police haven’t recovered any guns from that night, including the one that was used to kill Lewis, Tixier said.
Currently, Lewis’ family is exploring legal options, including a possible public records lawsuit against the police department for holding back documents related to the shooting.
But 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.”