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Albuquerque teen killed in fire accused of unrelated shooting

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Albuquerque teen killed in fire accused of unrelated shooting

Aug 09, 2022 | 7:00 am ET
By Austin Fisher
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Albuquerque teen killed in fire accused of unrelated shooting
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People are calling for the Albuquerque Police Department to be held accountable after a SWAT standoff that started on Wednesday, July 6, ended in a house fire and the death of 15-year-old Brett Rosenau. (Photo by Bright Quashie for Source NM)

The Albuquerque Police Department last Friday accused a dead Black teenager of a crime.

Brett Rosenau, 15, died July 7 of smoke inhalation from a fire caused by a tear gas grenade thrown by a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputy, according to preliminary information from investigators with the Office of the Medical Investigator and Albuquerque Fire Rescue. The deputy, who was on the SWAT team, was called to help Albuquerque police capture Qiaunt Kelley over a parole violation.

None of the investigations into what happened are complete: Albuquerque Fire Rescue has not completed its investigation into the fire. The police department has not completed their probes into whether any of the officers who took part in the raid broke department policy or any laws. And the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office has not completed its own investigation of Rosenau’s death.

Even while investigations are ongoing, police announced recently that they had reached an unrelated conclusion – that Rosenau had shot someone.

The department held a news conference Aug. 5 in which APD Commander Kyle Hartsock said police suspect Rosenau shot someone on July 1, five days before he died.

“It was a non-fatal shooting, but had Brett survived, he would have been charged with that shooting,” Hartsock told reporters. He also gave the police’s timeline of the raid and released clips of some of the footage taken that day, while fire department investigators announced their preliminary findings into the exact cause of the fire.

Tear gas grenade thrown by Bernalillo County deputy caused deadly house fire, investigators say

Rosenau is unable to defend himself against the charge. But two days before it became public, his family sued the police department over its failure to respond to their requests for records about the July 7 SWAT raid that killed him.

“It’s incredibly frustrating that APD is controlling the narrative, but also not allowing those of us who are trying to find the truth to have an opportunity to see what exactly happened by denying our requests,” said Taylor Smith, the family’s attorney, in an interview Monday.

Smith on Aug. 3 filed a complaint on behalf of Rosenau’s mother against the police department’s records custodian, asking a judge to enforce the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.

Smith on July 12 had filed a request for a variety of records related to the SWAT raid. APD acknowledged the request four days later, said it was “excessively burdensome and broad,” and asked for more time to gather the information, but did not say how much more time was needed, according to the complaint.

He asked for an update on the records request on July 27, but the city did not respond, according to the complaint.

Source New Mexico has had a similar records request pending with the city government since July 12. The city has also deemed our request “excessively burdensome or broad,” and asked for more time to gather and redact the records. But as of Monday, they have not told us how much time they need.

Hours after the news conference on Friday, APD Police Records Custodian Christopher Cockrell wrote to Source New Mexico informing us that they had released records relevant to our request at the news conference.

“If you feel these records will satisfy your request (or part of your request), please let us know,” Cockrell wrote. “Otherwise, we will continue to process the remaining records you have requested. Please keep in mind that, due a large number of Undercover Officers and SWAT Tactics being involved, all the remaining records will require a significant time to fully review and redact before they are ready for release.”

At the time of this writing, Source New Mexico has no way of knowing if the carefully selected records released last Friday would satisfy our request, because the city has not told us anything about which records they have in their possession, or how many of them there are.

Allegation based on photo lineup, ballistics

Reached for comment after the news conference, an APD spokesperson provided a six-page supplemental report written by APD Officer Norman Shatto on July 19, a dozen days after Rosenau’s death.

Shatto asked the victim at UNM Hospital on July 13 for a description of the person who shot him. The victim told him the shooter “was a younger, black male” who was about 5-feet, 4-inches tall with black, curly hair.

The victim “also remembered the shooter having a tattoo on his forehead just between his eyebrows,” Shatto wrote, and that the victim “spoke to one of his friends via telephone who advised that the person who shot him was involved in a police raid which resulted in him dying and or being burned.”

“I also have previous knowledge of Brett and I know Brett matches the description (the victim) gave and I also know that Brett does have a tattoo on his forehead in between his eyebrows,” Shatto wrote.

Smith said he does not know if Rosenau had any tattoos. No tattoo is visible in recent photos provided by the family and shared widely in media reports.

Five days later, Shatto returned to the hospital and had the victim identify the shooter in a photo lineup. He wrote that the victim “was able to positively identify Brett as the person that shot him the night of July 1, 2022.” It is not clear how many people were shown in the lineup.

Shatto also wrote that the police department’s forensics unit told him the handgun found in the car outside the home before the SWAT raid “was a direct match to the handgun used on this shooting based off of the casings found at this shooting scene and the casings found in the handgun on July 6, 2022.”