Black and Hispanic man killed by APD over lawfully owned firearm

Victim had concealed carry permit, history of respect for police

By: - September 15, 2022 4:29 am

Albuquerque police shot and killed Keshawn Thomas on Aug. 28, 2022. (Courtesy of the Thomas family)

A trio of Albuquerque Police Department officers shot and killed a Black and Hispanic man who was lawfully keeping a gun in his car and was cooperative with them during what was supposed to be a welfare check at a gas station in August, according to a witness and an attorney for the man’s family.

Keshawn Thomas had “always been respectful with police officers,” and by all accounts was a responsible gun owner.

He had a concealed carry license, always carried his magazine for his gun in his trunk, and would keep the gun in the cab of his vehicle, said Taylor Smith, one of the attorneys representing his surviving family.

Thomas would always let police know that there was a gun in his car, Smith said. He is one of the attorneys representing Thomas’ mother in a newly filed lawsuit alleging that the department is withholding video evidence in the case.

His family and girlfriend are “just shocked by what happened — and not knowing exactly what happened, there’s just more confusion, because he’s been so respectful of authority figures in the past,” Smith said.

Dispatchers sent police to the Valero gas station on Coors NW after a clerk reported a car with someone inside parked in one of the gasoline bays had not moved for four hours, according to an affidavit for a search warrant for the car written by APD Det. Bryan Carter.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico on Sept. 2 called for the immediate release of the bodycam footage “so that Thomas’ family and the community has a transparent accounting of how a routine police call led to his death.”

“Once again, a New Mexico family is grieving the unnecessary and preventable death of a loved one at the hands of Albuquerque police officers,” said Barron Jones, senior policy strategist with ACLU-NM.

Thomas’ family deserves a fair and transparent investigation into his death, starting with the release of bodycam footage to shed light on what happened that night, Jones said.

“Thomas’ tragic death is also further proof that our current use-of-force laws have completely failed to protect our communities, especially people of color who are disproportionately victims of police violence,” Jones said.

Smith thinks there is inherent racial bias in how police interact with gun owners. Whenever Smith, a white man, gets pulled over, he tells police he has a gun in his glove box, “and they always seem to be cooperative.”

“It’s usually because, I think, because I have a white privilege, essentially,” Smith said. “They deem me to be more trustworthy because I’m Caucasian, whereas, I think if any person of color has a weapon is immediately suspect.”

It seems like there’s a sense of danger just because a person of color has a weapon, even though they’re doing it lawfully, Smith said.

APD Spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos declined to answer questions about the incident.

“We have not yet had a formal briefing on this incident,” Gallegos said. “We will provide a media update soon.”

The New Mexico Department of Public Safety issues concealed carry permits and investigates all police shootings in the state including this one. A spokesperson for DPS declined to release any information about Thomas’ concealed carry permit, citing state law making the information confidential.

Thomas was a pillar of his community, an older brother, and a high school athlete, Smith said. He played football at Del Norte High and attended Central New Mexico Community College, according to his obituary.

“Thomas had a special way of bringing a smile to everyone who crossed his path,” his family wrote. “He always stayed positive and kept hope. He had a special bond with every person that knew him. He was the life of the party and his contagious laugh will be greatly missed.”

The incident

A witness at the Valero gas station on Coors NW could hear Thomas interacting with the police on Aug. 28, and told the attorney representing the family that “everything was respectful.”

Thomas was sitting in his car when the police showed up and he followed their instructions to get out of his car, according to the witness. One of the officers searched the vehicle while another officer was speaking to him, they said.

“When he was shot, he was instructed by the officers to go back into his vehicle, and then was shot after he sat down in the vehicle,” Smith said.

Carter wrote in the affidavit that he watched the police bodycam footage and that it shows Thomas handing a magazine to the police and telling them he has a gun in the trunk.

Thomas got into his vehicle “and is observed reaching around the seat and console area,” Carter wrote. The police tell Thomas to get his phone and get out of the car, Carter wrote.

“One officer, standing near the driver’s side door, walks up to the driver side of the vehicle and yells ‘Gun’ approximately three times before all three officers fire their weapons” at Thomas, Carter wrote.

Police told dispatchers two minutes later that Thomas’ firearm “was removed from his person and placed on the trunk” of his car.

“A firearm was located on the trunk of the suspect’s vehicle by Major Crime Scene Team (MCST) personnel,” Carter wrote. “MCST personnel also located one or more magazines on, in or nearby the suspect’s vehicle.”

APD Chief Medina told local media police got into “some kind of confrontation” with Thomas but the family still has no information about it, Smith said.

“Why is it taking this long for the city to actually let us know what exactly happened and transpired leading to Keshawn’s death?” Smith said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.