“The Officer Who Killed My Son Got 3 Days Paid Leave; Then He Tried to Take Part in a 'Killer Cop' Competition"
Around 3am one night in May 2011, 22-year-old Alan Gomez was outside his brother Eric’s house in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Nervous because she believed Gomez was acting erratically, Eric's girlfriend called the police. After about an hour, Albuquerque police officer Sean Wallace arrived.
Wallace saw Alan Gomez leave the house and then turn to go back inside. According to a subsequent Department of Justice report, Gomez was unarmed and did not pose an immediate threat to the officers or anyone inside the house. Sean Wallace, however, fired a shot, striking Gomez in the back. Gomez died on the scene, while Wallace was never punished.
“He was never indicted, never suspended, nothing,” Mike Gomez, Alan’s father, said. “It was like it never happened.” The officer was given three days of paid leave and $500 from the police union to decompress after “stressful events."
Wallace is a K-9 officer, part of a team that works closely with paramilitary SWAT units. He doesn’t have a reputable record. In 2004, he shot and killed an unarmed man while with the New Mexico State Police. The victim’s family received $235,000 from a wrongful death lawsuit. By 2007, Wallace made a "lateral transfer" to the APD—meaning he wasn’t required to undergo background checks or psychological evaluations. (Last March, the APD officer who shot and killed James Boyd, a homeless man suffering from mental illness, was also a lateral transfer.) In 2010, Wallace wounded another unarmed man.
When Mike Gomez heard Sean Wallace was going to represent the Albuquerque Police Department in an annual National Rifle Association-sponsored tournament this week, he was horrified. The Albuquerque Police Pistol Combat Tournament, which is being held September 10-18, is designed for public and private law enforcement, as well as select U.S. military members, to compete against each other, shooting human silhouette targets in a wide range of scenarios. Past scenarios include “Drunk Buddies,” in which friends of a drunk individual getting arrested approach the cop wielding knives and “shouting ‘kill the cops.’” Another scenario, “School Gang Violence” takes place in a high school. The event also includes a weapons expo show and concludes with an awards ceremony in which officers are given trophies and certificates.
The NRA describes the tournament as filled with “days of shooting challenges, lots of fun and a chance to meet fantastic law enforcement professionals from all over the United States and international shooting team members.”
But Mike Gomez, and other anti-police brutality organizers in Albuquerque have dubbed it the “killer cop competition.” “Having this competition here is a slap in the face to the people here who want reform,” Gomez said.
While the NRA has hosted a police shooting tournament in Albuquerque for the past eight years, this is the first year activists are speaking out about it. A few weeks ago, Gomez and other protesters rallied outside of City Hall demanding the mayor cancel the competition. They also wrote a letter to him, which stated:
"It shocks the conscience of all good people to know that you allow an aggressive and violent police department to organize a City-hosted competition designed to test proficiency in aggressive policing skills, militarized police tactics, and sniper-like precision in the use of lethal weaponry. And it tells us all we need to know about the APD that it would select Sean Wallace to represent it in this tournament. … With official competitors such as Sean Wallace involved, it is not an overstatement to call this a ‘killer cop’ competition."
The protest made its local news rounds. Mike Gomez said that as of last week, the APD stated that Wallace had withdrawn from the competition.
“But we can’t trust anything that APD says or does around here,” Gomez said. “So they can say he’s out of it, but until we show up there and find out if he’s shooting in there or not that’s a different thing.”
Even if Wallace doesn’t attend the tournament, Gomez claims that some of the more than 500 officers expected to attend might also be “killer cops.” Regardless, he said, this competition is exactly the type of militarized behavior that breeds these cops and becomes normalized.
“I’m upset that they even considered putting Wallace in because if we didn’t find out, he’d still be in there,” Gomez said. “But it’s also the culture, it’s their way of thinking that has to be changed. That’s the hardest thing to do is to change a culture that’s been happening for years that they don’t think is wrong.”
While aggressive, paramilitary-style policing has become a nationwide trend, it is especially prevalent in the APD. Since 2010, in a four-year period, APD officers shot and killed 27 people—a higher rate than police departments in New York City and Chicago. None of the police involved in these fatal shootings were indicted. The APD’s conduct triggered a Department of Justice investigation, which slammed the APD for its continuous use of excessive force and violation of people’s Fourth Amendment rights.
Gomez is a member of organizations such as APD Forward and ABQ Justice that are pushing for police reform and working to make sure the tournament doesn’t return to their city. Last Friday, Gomez and others marched into the Crowne Plaza hotel, which will be housing the officers attending the competition, and put leaflets under every door. Gomez said they were planning on organizing protests and an anti-police brutality potluck for this past weekend near the city’s Shooting Range Park, where the shooting competition is being held. He said they want the police and the NRA to know they are not welcome.
Gomez said this strategy may be more feasible than putting pressure on the recently re-elected mayor, Richard Berry, who hasn't taken meaningful action to address APD brutality. Berry has repeatedly refused to meet with community members, and fully supports the police competition.
Breanna Anderson, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said in a statement about the competition:
We welcome the opportunity to host law enforcement professionals from around the world here in our beautiful city and we thank them for their commitment and service at the local, state and federal levels to keeping our communities and nation safe.
Gomez said he recently sent a letter to the mayor and the police chief, asking for the results of the internal investigation of his son’s killing three and a half years ago. He was told they had not done the investigation yet. That lack of accountability and responsibility is what keeps pushing Gomez to fight for a reformed Albuquerque police force.
“I love and miss my son. He was only 22 years old. He was my baby. And he didn’t deserve to die,” Gomez said. “I do this for the future for our kids and our grandkids. We don’t want this culture to continue. We want them to have a safe, nice place to live because Albuquerque is a beautiful place.”