July 25, 2018

City pays $375K to kids whose father was killed by APD officer

Andy Lyman

Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque

The children of a man shot and killed by an Albuquerque police officer will receive $375,000 in a legal settlement from the city, four years after they first sued the city of Albuquerque.

On Tuesday morning, state court judge Denise Barela-Shepherd approved the settlement agreement between city attorneys and lawyers for the three children of Mickey Owings.

Alicia Manzano, a spokeswoman for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, said her office had not recieved the official order from Barela-Shepherd.

“The city is awaiting the court order that approves the settlement and dismisses the case,” Manzano wrote in a statement to NM Political Report.

In a prior statement, Manzano noted this was one of the last few pending cases carried over from the previous administration.

One of the children’s lawyers, Joe Kennedy, said the settlement will help his clients financially, and will also provide closure to an almost-decade-old incident.

“It puts a shooting behind [the city] that was a result of a poorly supervised tactical operation that just didn’t work and resulted in a tragedy,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy filed the lawsuit on behalf of the three children in June 2014 after the U.S. Department of Justice detailed the shooting in a report that found repeated violations of the U.S. Constitution, including the use of deadly force, by APD. An APD detective shot Owings during a 2010 sting operation.

According to the DOJ report, APD was notified of a reported stolen car, which they found in a Walmart parking lot. As a group of officers in unmarked cars watched from a distance, Owings and a passenger parked next to the reported stolen vehicle, which the passenger started to enter. After police surrounded the pair and blocked the car Owings was driving with an unmarked police car, Owings backed into the police car behind him, then started moving forward towards two parked cars. A police officer drew his gun and fired into the car Owings was driving. Owings continued to drive forward, pushed the two civilian cars out of the way and eventually stopped down the road. When police got to Owings he was already dead.

A few months after the DOJ report, Owings’ children sued the city of Albuquerque and its police department for loss of consortium, or for losing the parental benefits they would have received if Owings were still alive.

In their initial response, the city’s attorneys argued that not only had the statute of limitations run out, but that there was little to no proof that Owings was a significant part of his children’s lives.

Barela-Shepherd dismissed the case in January 2015, on a legal technicality. Two years later, the New Mexico Supreme Court reversed that ruling and said that Owings’ children could indeed sue the city for loss of consortium.

About five months after the state’s high court referred the case back to state court, then-Mayor Richard Berry left office and his administration passed the case onto the  Tim Keller administration. By June, attorneys from both sides agreed to a settlement, which was not made public until Barela-Shepherd approved the agreement on Tuesday. The settlement amount is half of what a jury could have awarded the children. The New Mexico Tort Claims Act caps legal payouts at $750,000.

Kennedy said he hopes the lawsuit and settlement will serve as a reminder to city officials and APD when setting up tactical operations. In this case, Kennedy said, only one officer involved had proper training to properly block in a vehicle.

“If you don’t have the people in place, don’t do it. It’s not that important,” Kennedy said. “This is a stolen car. In the scheme of life, it’s not that important.”

Update: Added a statement from Mayor Tim Keller’s office.