August 11, 2015

APD interrupts house cleaning, shoots dog with beanbag, arrests family

What began as a search for suspects in the case of a stolen vehicle in Albuquerque ended with two adult siblings, who were uninvolved in the crime, detained by police and a family dog shot with a beanbag round.

Now, two years later, the brother and sister are suing APD for alleged wrongful detention.

Albuquerque Police Department and Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department Photo Credit: Andy Lyman

Andy Lyman

Albuquerque Police Department and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department Photo Credit: Andy Lyman

On the morning of June 6, 2013, the Albuquerque Police Department received a call from a man who reported his company-issued truck was stolen. According to police reports, the man was trying to jump-start his personal vehicle with the truck.

According to his written police statement the man, Abraham Villegas, went inside once he started his wife’s car. While inside his house, Villegas heard tires screeching and went outside to see the truck was gone. In his statement to police, he said that he jumped in his wife’s car and followed the stolen vehicle.

While following the truck, Villegas called police to report it stolen. As he was following the suspects, Villegas noticed a second car following the truck. He followed the truck until the driver abandoned it and proceeded on foot.

What followed was a search by police for suspects in both vehicles. The search led to two different houses, one being the home shared by the Allison and Wade Best, who are siblings. About a mile away, at the other house, police arrested some of the car theft suspects.

New Mexico Political Report obtained police reports on SWAT situations that unfolded both at the Best’s house as well as another residence where the suspects in the car theft were found. According to an account from at least one APD officer, a police helicopter followed the suspects to the Best household. Police reports consistently follow a narrative of officers arriving to the address, announcing their presence and attempting to clear the home of any suspects.

The address was a townhouse, the Best residence. They lived in the townhouse, owned by their father, with a dog.

From one officer’s report:

Shortly after announcements there was movement seen at the front windows by high ground. The subject was cleaning the blinds. Shortly after several subjects exited the residence and were taken into custody.

This, at least, is consistent with the story from the Best family. Hannah Best, the mother of Wade and Allison Best, told New Mexico Political Report she was driving by the house and stopped when she saw her son in handcuffs.

She said her son and daughter were home, cleaning the townhouse they shared and were not involved in any illegal activities. Now, the Best siblings are suing the City of Albuquerque, APD chief Gorden Eden and eight police officers. The suit alleges that the Best’s were wrongfully detained.

Hannah Best, who is black, said she doesn’t think racism was to blame for the detainment, but instead improper training.

“It’s always easy to say it’s racist, but I’m not so sure, though,” Best said.

She went on to blame the whole incident on “stupidity.”

According to the complaint, police not only detained Wade in “flex-cuffs,” but also shot the family’s dog with a beanbag gun, an event consistent with police reports.

One officer wrote that the dog seemed aggressive and agitated.

Public announcements and sirens were directed toward the home; a male exited the home and I placed him into flex-cuffs. A woman exited next and while I was cuffing her I heard loud and aggressive barking. I looked toward the home and observed a large black dog running at entry with his muzzle wrinkled up and his teeth exposed. An officer deployed a less-than-lethal bean bag round at the dog successfully pacifying it.

The officer who shot the dog with the beanbag round had a similar story and added that the dog became agitated when the officers started making their arrests.

The dog initially exhibited excited behavior, tail and ears up and high level of energy. When the arrest team made physical contact with the female subject the dog turned towards entry and began to run directly towards the arrest team with tail up and ears back while bearing it’s (sic) teeth. In order to protect the arrest team and the female subject I engaged the dog with a .12 GA beanbag shotgun round when the animal was about 15 feet away, striking the dog in the intended target area of the front right shoulder. The beanbag round had the intended effect of deterring the dogs (sic) path of travel away from entry.

What is still unclear is if any of the car theft suspects were actually in the home with Wade and Allison.

Hannah Best said she was told by one of the officers that they were concerned about a hostage situation. One officer’s report mentions that four subjects exited from the home and were detained, though it does not mention who exited the house. According to Hannah Best, one officer told her that someone was observed running out of the home’s back door. Hannah said that couldn’t happen.

“That’s impossible there is no backdoor,” Best said of the home.

Regardless, SWAT moved in on the townhouse in a southwest Albuquerque neighborhood and proceeded as if there were hostages.

Four subjects finally exited the residence and were secured. They were released to investigating officers. To ensure that nobody else was inside being held against their will, officers entered the residence and ensured that nobody else was there.

At least two other reports mention an “elderly man” being in the house, but does not mention his identity.

Upon my arrival I was advised that an elderly man was walking his dog and also entered the residence.

Police reports related to the original stolen vehicle case also mention at least one suspect being detained at the Best home, something the court filing does not mention. Hannah Best told New Mexico Political Report that one other woman who was visiting was also detained, but that she was unaware of who the woman was or what she was doing there.

Now, more than two years later, Hannah Best said she would like to see APD apologize for the incident. She maintains that her children have never had major run-ins with police and did not deserve to be treated as suspects in the stolen car case.

Court documents have not specified any specific damages that the Bests are seeking. The city and APD were recently served with a summons, but a court date has not been set.

When asked for more details about the case, APD spokesman Tanner Tixier would only say, “We cannot comment on pending litigation.”

Hannah Best said she hopes the lawsuit will set a precedent. She described APD as “too quick” when dealing with these types of cases and added that “SWAT doesn’t have any clear direction.”