A Black life ends in a New Mexico police shooting

Rodney Applewhite, 25, was driving through New Mexico late last week on his way to Arizona to spend Thanksgiving with his mother and other family members.  Just outside of Los Lunas, on the last leg of a trip that started in South Bend, Indiana, a New Mexico State Police officer attempted to pull Applewhite over […]

A Black life ends in a New Mexico police shooting

Rodney Applewhite, 25, was driving through New Mexico late last week on his way to Arizona to spend Thanksgiving with his mother and other family members. 

Just outside of Los Lunas, on the last leg of a trip that started in South Bend, Indiana, a New Mexico State Police officer attempted to pull Applewhite over for what was described as a traffic stop. It was 8:32 a.m., a NMSP press release said. About 10 minutes later, two state troopers tried to arrest Applewhite. When an altercation occurred with the first officer, the second officer shot Applewhite, firing “at least one round,” the NMSP said. Applewhite, unarmed, died that day in the hospital. 

“I can’t sleep, I can’t eat. I’m heartbroken,” Applewhite’s mother, Katrina Cox, said by phone. “Why is it always shoot to kill? Because he’s tall and he’s a black man?”

This story was written for and originally appeared on Searchlight New Mexico and is republished with permission.

Cox said she did not find out about her son’s death until nine hours after the Nov. 19 incident. At that point, Applewhite was overdue to arrive in Phoenix, and they were worried that he hadn’t answered their calls. When his aunt saw an online news report about a shooting on a New Mexico highway, she sent it to his sister and his mom. 

“My aunt thought it couldn’t be him, because the man was dead and we hadn’t heard from the police,” said Baysia Cox, Applewhite’s sister. “But I knew it was Rodney when I saw that it was his car.” 

At about 5 p.m. Applewhite’s mother called the NMSP but was told she needed to email them proof of her identification before they could speak with her. She did so, and then spoke to NMSP officer Charles Volk. 

“I said, ‘Is that my son?’” Katrina said. Volk “asked for my information, and then he said, ‘Yes. He’s dead. He died at the hospital.’  

“What am I supposed to do now without my son?” Katrina said. “What am I supposed to do?”

Hoping for more information, Katrina called again on the morning of Nov. 20 and was told that the police would follow up with the family. But since then, they’ve heard nothing. As of press time, state police had not even released Applewhite’s name. 

In a Nov. 24 email to Searchlight New Mexico, the NMSP said it had no new details to provide, adding that the incident was under investigation. Family members have been left with only the barest details offered in a press release

“We just want the truth, and to know everything was done the correct way,” Baysia Cox said. “But we haven’t heard anything, and it just didn’t feel right to us.” 

According to the press statement, Applewhite was driving his grey Chrysler 200 on the Manzano Expressway, a barren two-lane road east of I-25, when the first officer tried to pull him over. He fled and the state police pursued him, using tire-deflation devices to try to stop him. About seven minutes later, a dispatcher described his whereabouts and the two officers involved in the shooting incident found him standing outside the car. When they tried to take him into custody, Applewhite resisted arrest and grabbed one officer’s gun, the report said. The second officer shot and killed him. 

Applewhite is the second Black American to be fatally shot by police in New Mexico in the past five years. The first, 40-year-old John Bailon, was also killed in Los Lunas — shot 12 times by Valencia County deputies in January 2018. Bailon’s estate brought a wrongful death suit against the county, which recently settled the case, said Philip Davis, a plaintiffs’ attorney in the proceeding.

Excessive use of force is a serious problem today in New Mexico law enforcement, as it always has been, Davis said. “If you ask communities of color, they’ll tell you it’s been bad for 100 years, or 300 years. We give officers an awesome amount of power to use force, and too often they abuse that force.” 

There have been 114 fatal police shootings in New Mexico since 2015, according to a Washington Post database of police shooting deaths. Body cameras, which help document possible law enforcement abuses, were used in only 16 of those cases, the data show. (Searchlight New Mexico asked the NMSP for body camera recordings of the Applewhite shooting; an answer has not yet been received.)

Trying to change his life

Applewhite was on probation, stemming from an incident in 2015, when two of his friends robbed a drug dealer during a party, carrying an unloaded gun. Applewhite was waiting outside in the getaway car. At the time, he was in the National Guard and attending college at Indiana University South Bend. 

“He knew he was on probation and just freaked out. You know, [with] police behind you. Anyone would freak out,” his mother said, referring to the disproportionate numbers of Black men who have been killed by police officers. 

Since January of this year, Applewhite had been working two jobs — at a factory in Elkhart, Indiana, as well as at a Mexican restaurant, Hacienda, in Elkhart.  

“He was just trying to figure out how he could change his life so he wouldn’t end up back in jail,” said Rhamon Mallard, a close friend of Applewhite’s.

“The thing that I really didn’t like about the police report,” Mallard added, “is that they didn’t want to put his name out there. But they did say that he was a criminal.” 

A personal connection

Over Facebook, one of Applewhite’s Hacienda co-workers described how much she appreciated him, passing along a message she got from him when they first met. “I drive a forklift in Elkhart for a carpet company and I plan on doing online classes for accounting and finance because I’m really good with numbers,” Applewhite wrote her. “I like to play basketball and write poems on my free time. I’m a firm believer that beauty and riches comes within. LOL I’m an open but closed book.” 

It was through Facebook and texts that Searchlight New Mexico learned about the shooting. This reporter grew up in South Bend and went to high school with Rodney, playing with him on the same football team. Rodney was a linebacker, a talented and hardworking athlete who was known for his cheerfulness. His dimples made it look like he was always about to smile. 

Instead of celebrating Thanksgiving with him, Applewhite’s family is answering call after call from loved ones across the country, and organizing his funeral. 

“I’ve lost my only sibling,” his sister said. “What am I supposed to be thankful for?” 

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

The proposed strategic water supply had a rocky road this legislative session that ultimately resulted in it not making it through even one chamber.…
Bill to end detention of immigrants in New Mexico fails soon after new report on poor conditions

Bill to end detention of immigrants in New Mexico fails soon after new report on poor conditions

A bill to prohibit immigration detention in New Mexico failed a few weeks after an organization issued a report regarding the conditions for a…
Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

House Speaker Javier Martinez said that the Paid Family and Medical Leave will return to next year’s legislative session. SB 3, sponsored by state…
Utility regulators approves PNM’s transportation electrification program

Utility regulators approves PNM’s transportation electrification program

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission unanimously approved a plan from the state’s largest utilities for increasing adoption of electric vehicles this week. The…
Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

The proposed strategic water supply had a rocky road this legislative session that ultimately resulted in it not making it through even one chamber.…
Hearing examiner recommends that PRC reject controversial LNG storage facility

Hearing examiner recommends that PRC reject controversial LNG storage facility

New Mexico Public Regulation Commission Hearing Examiner Anthony Medeiros recommended that the commissioners deny New Mexico Gas Company’s request to build, own and operate…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican A challenging task awaits New Mexico lawmakers in the next 30 days: Reconciling three very different…
Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee discussed a potential constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the governor’s executive powers. The committee approved…
Supreme Court censures attorney over conduct in anti-COVID policy suits

Supreme Court censures attorney over conduct in anti-COVID policy suits

The New Mexico State Supreme Court censured a New Mexico attorney because of her “misconduct” in two unsuccessful cases pushing back on COVID-19 regulations…
Guv outlines some health priorities on state spending

Guv outlines some health priorities on state spending

During her state of the state address on Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told legislators that one of her legislative priorities is a request…
Referendum on Edgewood’s anti-abortion ordinance moves forward

Referendum on Edgewood’s anti-abortion ordinance moves forward

The town of Edgewood is moving forward with its ballot referendum on its anti-abortion ordinance at a cost of more than $35,000. The town…
2023 Top Stories #1: Anti-abortion efforts go local

2023 Top Stories #1: Anti-abortion efforts go local

Note: Every year, we count down the top ten stories of the year, as voted on by NM Political Report staffers. Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court heard oral…
NM Supreme Court to decide if local anti-abortion ordinances are legal

NM Supreme Court to decide if local anti-abortion ordinances are legal

The New Mexico Supreme Court will decide whether anti-abortion ordinances passed by local governments in eastern New Mexico over the last 13 months can…
AGs want FDA guidance on heavy metals for the baby food industry

AGs want FDA guidance on heavy metals for the baby food industry

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez and a coalition of 19 other attorneys general called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue…
Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

House Speaker Javier Martinez said that the Paid Family and Medical Leave will return to next year’s legislative session. SB 3, sponsored by state…
Paid Family Medical Leave bill dies in the final days of the session for a second year in a row

Paid Family Medical Leave bill dies in the final days of the session for a second year in a row

A bill that would have provided paid leave for several weeks died on the House floor when 11 Democrats sided with Republicans to vote…

Bill to require disclosure of use of AI in campaign materials goes to governor

The Senate approved a bill aiming to require the disclosure of the use of artificial intelligence or other changes made by computers to campaign…
House amends, passes bill banning firearms near polling places

House amends, passes bill banning firearms near polling places

The House narrowly approved a bill that would ban firearms near polling places. The House voted 35-34 to pass the bill following an extensive…
Manny Gonzales doesn’t qualify for Senate GOP primary ballot

Manny Gonzales doesn’t qualify for Senate GOP primary ballot

Nella Domenici is the lone Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, after Manny Gonzales III failed to qualify for the ballot. Gonzales did not file…
Utility regulators approves PNM’s transportation electrification program

Utility regulators approves PNM’s transportation electrification program

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission unanimously approved a plan from the state’s largest utilities for increasing adoption of electric vehicles this week. The…
Stansbury talks infrastructure issues at roundtable

Stansbury talks infrastructure issues at roundtable

Democratic U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury discussed infrastructure issues and grants that could help fix those issues during a roundtable discussion at Rio Rancho City…
Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

The proposed strategic water supply had a rocky road this legislative session that ultimately resulted in it not making it through even one chamber.…

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report