June 12, 2018

City of Albuquerque agrees to settlement in police shooting suit

Andy Lyman

Albuquerque City Hall

The City of Albuquerque agreed to a still-undisclosed settlement in a four-year-old lawsuit filed by the minor children of a man who was shot and killed by police. The agreement came Friday, just two days before a jury trial for the lawsuit was set to start.

Three children of Mickey Owings filed a lawsuit against the city in 2014 after the U.S. Department of Justice included Owings’ death in its scathing report of the Albuquerque Police Department and its use of excessive force.

A spokeswoman for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller confirmed the city and the children’s attorneys agreed to settle, but she declined to provide details before a state district court judge approves the agreement.

“The parties reached an agreement on the Owings case, which is one of the last few remaining cases still pending from the previous administration listed in the DOJ report,” the mayor’s spokeswoman Alicia Manzano said.

The settlement agreement may still take several weeks to finalize.

The guardian ad litem, a lawyer who separately represents the children’s best interest, still must produce a report with his recommendations. The judge is expected to review that in a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing.

The children’s lawyer, Shannon Kennedy, was unavailable for comment, but her husband and law partner, Joe Kennedy, told NM Political Report it was a “fair settlement for everyone,” and said settling was a “good decision by city.”

“Nothing replaces the love of a father, but hopefully that settlement will enable the children to pursue their educations and get any counseling that they need,” Joe Kennedy said.

The family filed the lawsuit filed four years after Owings was killed by APD during a sting operation in 2010. A group of unmarked police cars parked near and watched a reportedly stolen car found in an Albuquerque Walmart parking lot. Security footage shows a car driven by Owings, with a passenger, pull up next to the stolen car. As the passenger exited the car and approached the stolen car, a handful of unmarked police cars surrounded the pair in an attempt to block them from driving away. Owings backed up the car, hitting one of the unmarked cars. At that point, a plainclothes police officer, Kevin Sanchez, shot Owings through the passenger-side window. Simultaneously, Owings drove forward and used his car to push two unoccupied cars out of his way and drove from the scene. According to the DOJ report, Owings’ car came to a stop shortly afterward when he appeared to lose consciousness. When officers reached  Owings he was dead and unarmed, according to the DOJ report, which was part of a civil investigation by the federal agency into whether there was a pattern of excessive force and unconstitutional policing by APD.

According to the 2014 DOJ report, Owings’ death was an example of APD’s engagement, at the time, “in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force.” It also noted that while Owings damaged cars while he fled the scene, he “did not pose a threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or anyone else.”

“This damage to property, as serious as it was, did not justify taking Owings’ life,” the report read.

Further, the report noted: “The detective who shot Owings could very easily have missed and hit one of the innocent civilians walking through the parking lot; moreover, after Owings was shot, the probability that he would injure someone with his car increased dramatically.”

Two months after the DOJ released its report, Owings’ children sued the city for loss of consortium, or the loss of benefits and personal relationships they might have with him if their father were still alive.

A state district court judge ruled in January 2015 that Owings’ children could not sue for loss of consortium due to legal technicalities involving the statute of limitations for wrongful death suits. The case ended up in front of the New Mexico Supreme Court, which decided the case could be reopened in state court.

The second incarnation of the case began in the fall of 2017 just before Albuquerque voters were set to elect a new mayor, whose administration would inherit the lawsuit.