Undercover Albuquerque police officer was critically wounded last week after being shot by a fellow officer during a drug bust gone awry.
According to local media reports, the wounded offer was taking part in a large-scale narcotics bust that involved other undercover and plain-clothed officers. The wounded officer, whose name has not been officially released, was in a vehicle with two drug suspects when he was injured.
A criminal complaint against two suspects arrested at the scene reveals an elaborate undercover sting operation several days in the making that involved undercover police officers posing as potential drug customers. According to the complaint, two undercover detectives — identified in the complaint as Officers Jacob Grant and Holly Garcia — agreed to meet two drug suspects on Friday to arrange a $60 sale of a methamphetamine byproduct called “shards.”
On Friday, Grant and Garcia picked up the suspects and drove them to a low-budget motel. Narcotics officers followed the four in an unmarked van.
After a brief visit to the motel, the detectives took the suspects to a nearby McDonald’s restaurant to arrange the drug sale. Following the sale, an arrest signal was initiated to the awaiting narcotics team who moved in for an arrest.
Details about what happened next are not listed in the criminal complaint, but it is now known that something went wrong during the arrest, resulting in at least one officer drawing his firearm to shoot. The shots critically injured Grant and wounded Garcia.
Both suspects, identified as Damian Bailey and Edmond Vestor, were booked into jail on charges of trafficking a controlled substance identified in court records as cocaine. It is unclear if the drugs given to the undercover officers tested positive for cocaine despite being sold as meth.
Also unclear is whether either man had a weapon, which would have presumably led officers to open fire. Neither man has been charged with a weapons violation.
“This is a tragic day in our city and for this department,” Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry said at a news conference. “This is not a police call any family ever wants to get … this is an all-too frequent example of how dangerous police work can be.”
Critics say it is also an example of the department organizing a large-scale police response to deal with relatively low-level drug offenses. The incident on Friday was the third such incident to draw a violent police response over the past several years, and just one of dozens to involve a large police response, according to Albuquerque television station KRQE-TV.
The shooting also raises questions over the police department’s use of force when responding to non-violent incidents. Last year, the department faced scrutiny after a video surfaced showing officers fatally shooting a mentally ill homeless man who appeared to be surrendering to police. The incident was one of dozens of police shootings since 2010, more than half of which resulted in fatal injuries to citizens.
The incidents triggered a civil rights inquiry by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The inquiry found Albuquerque police had engaged in excessive force against civilians in situations that didn’t warrant such action.
Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.