Community outraged after a SWAT standoff leaves a teen dead and a home destroyed: report

Demonstrators marched in Albuquerque’s International District Thursday night to protest police violence after an hours-long SWAT standoff ended in a home burning down and the death of a teen who was inside.

“That young man lost his life … because the police did not stop and think about what they were doing,” said Sundra Coleman, who lived in the house. “That was somebody’s son.”

Protesters and initial news reports said the boy was 14 years old. Police have since said they aren’t certain of his age and haven’t yet identified him.

But the family who lost their home are keeping him in their minds. “Remember him,” Coleman told protesters.

Police said they don’t know the cause of the boy’s death, though information from the Office of the Medical Investigator is expected soon.

“What happened from the get-go was unacceptable,” said another resident of the house, Deja, holding her toddler in one arm and gripping a mic with her other hand. “I don’t have nowhere to go now, and I don’t know where my son is going to live. I don’t know my mom is going to live.”

Her mom worked two jobs all her life, Deja said, to raise her. When the house burned down, “they took everything,” she said.

The family was telling police a 14-year-old boy was still in the house, she said, “and they let him die, and burn.”

On Wednesday, officers were following Qiaunt Kelley, who had warrants out for his arrest, one for “unlawful taking of a vehicle out of the city of Santa Fe” and one for a probation violation, according to a police lieutenant at a news conference Thursday.

The warrants

APD says the warrants were found in the National Crime Information Center, an internal police database. Source New Mexico has asked APD for copies of the warrants, and we’ll update this story when we know more.

Kelley and the teen went to the house where a friend lived, according to police, and when detectives tried to arrest Kelley, he ran inside. Then SWAT was called in, Police Chief Harold Medina explained Thursday.

Copwatchers and other observers there that night attended the demonstration and said munitions SWAT officers shot into the home started the fire.

“Different types of munitions were used,” Medina said. “It is unknown exactly where in the home the individual was.”

The Albuquerque Police Department and city’s fire department said they’re investigating whether tear gas and pepper spray canisters ignited the fire — such weapons have done so when used in similar SWAT situations elsewhere.

“At the end of the day,” said Coleman’s niece before the march began, officers are “going home to their home, and my Aunty Sundra’s not going to a home.” She pointed to other relatives. “She’s not going to a home. He’s not going to a home.”

It’s unclear who gave orders preventing Albuquerque Fire Rescue from extinguishing the fire more quickly or saving the person inside. “It took time for us to turn off the fire,” Medina said. “We have to remember that the fire department, they are not police officers… It is a challenge for us to get them into an unresolved situation.”

According to a fire department news release, firefighters had to battle the flames from outside the house “in coordination with APD” because Kelley was still inside.

When Kelley came out, fire crews went inside and found the teen dead, according to the news release.

Demonstrators said the teen was brought out of the burned house and laid in the street while people demanded he be given some dignity.

“A 14-year-old Black man — Black child — a child,” Clifton White corrected himself standing in the intersection of Central and Wyoming as night fell and the protest wound down, police lights flashing behind him. “They didn’t know who he was. He could have been a 9-year-old. They didn’t care. They used their toys. They burned a house down.”

Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Marisa Demarco for questions: Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.

Congressional oversight panel to investigate after Trump supporters launch a 'vigilante' election audit

Canvassers have been knocking on doors in Otero County as part of what they say is an attempt to verify voter rolls and the results of the 2020 election.

On Thursday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform announced a probe of possible voter intimidation in the southeast New Mexico county as part of a larger investigation into the rise of partisan “audits,” nationwide.

In a letter to EchoMail, the company hired by the Otero County Commission to guide the audit, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) are asking for all communication materials. They are also seeking the canvass questionnaire, payment and funding information, a list of funders, subcontract agreements, and details about who has interest in and control of the company.

Maloney and Raskin head up the oversight committee and the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, respectively. They write to EchoMail CEO Shiva Ayyadurai that the door-to-door audit could be a violation of federal law under the Voting Rights Act, which spells out that no one can intimidate, threaten or coerce anyone for voting or trying to vote.

“Your company’s proven lack of knowledge about the details of election administration, your personal advocacy of election conspiracy theories, and your partnership with a conspiracist volunteer group to canvass voters raise serious concerns that your actions will damage election integrity in Otero County and beyond,” the congressional leaders write, “including by intimidating voters in violation of federal law.”

Not the first time:

The Arizona Mirror reported in October that EchoMail CEO Ayyadurai demonstrated little knowledge of elections policies and procedures as he testified about his findings in Maricopa County before the state’s Senate. The Maricopa County Elections Department later released a report taking down EchoMail’s claims.

By early March, the “vigilante” audit in New Mexico brought on a deluge of complaints from people being canvassed, said Secretary of State’s Maggie Toulouse Oliver. Along with the Attorney General Hector Balderas, her office released a risk advisory for voters on March 2.

N.M. election administrators have verifications and audit procedures in place to ensure the accuracy of all elections, Toulouse Oliver and Balderas pointed out in their advisory, and the state uses only paper ballots — voting machines are not connected to the internet.

The state’s officials alerted voters that:

  • Your ballot is secret
  • You don’t ever have to provide info about who you voted for
  • You don’t have to participate in the Otero County audit

The Secretary of State’s Office released a statement to Source NM Thursday saying she appreciates that Congress is treating the audit “with the seriousness it deserves.” Balderas also said Thursday that he welcomes the congressional review, emphasizing that “election security is a priority.”

The 60 canvassers knocking on doors earlier this month had not been given background checks, the N.M. officials said. The canvassing campaign is being carried out by a conspiracy group called the New Mexico Audit Force, which is not a legally incorporated entity or overseen by any government agency, according to the congressional letter.

The representatives write that NM Audit Force is loosely organized via Telegram, a messaging app with privacy features that could make oversight by a government entity difficult. The group is led by people promoting what’s become known as The Big Lie — that ex-President Donald Trump really won the 2020 election. He didn’t.

Trump was victorious in Otero County, though, and by a significant margin, too. So questions have been raised about why the County Commission would spend $50,000 on this door-to-door operation.

State Auditor Brian Colón’s office investigated whether that’s an appropriate use of public money and whether it was legal to create the contract without letting other companies bid on it first. In an initial letter to the Otero County commissioners issued Monday, Colón noted possible legal violations, including an inability to ensure compliance with the contract.

Colón said in a written statement to Source NM that he applauds the congressional committee for its investigation into the audit, and he’s ready to cooperate and assist. “The Otero County Commission appears to have entered a contract that is a waste of taxpayer dollars,” he said. “They did so in a manner that may have been an abuse of power, and despite warnings of their own counsel.”

Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin defended the $50,000 expenditure, telling KUNM Reporter Alice Fordham that it’s worth it, because the audit will create a “blueprint for other counties to be able to follow.”

Griffin was in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021, and promised more violence in a video posted to social media that day, saying “there’s gonna be blood running out of that building,” according to the Department of Justice. He is facing federal charges and his one-day bench trial is scheduled for next week.

Reps. Maloney and Raskin also sent a second letter to the DOJ calling for an urgent review of potential civil rights violations stemming from the audit.

Back in May, the Civil Rights Division of the department warned the Arizona Senate that a similar door-to-door plan for Maricopa County could result in voter intimidation and a violation of the federal voting rights law. At the time, the division said such efforts nationally can target minority voters. The same could be true in Otero County, the representatives point out, where the population is nearly 40% Hispanic and 8% Native American, according to census numbers.

As Erin and David Clements presented the New Mexico Audit Force plan to the County Commission on Jan. 13 they said canvassers would not indicate that they represent the county as they question voters. Though a video posted to TikTok filmed as someone was being canvassed seemed to indicate otherwise, according to the Alamogordo Daily News.

Erin Clements spoke against a New Mexico Senate bill that aimed to expand voting rights during the recent legislative session. Both Erin and David Clements were mentioned several times during hours of public comment decrying the legislation.

The Alamogordo paper also reported that the Otero County Clerk said she didn’t know where the canvassers got a list of voters in the area. The Secretary of State’s Office on Thursday echoed that point.

“Our office continues to have questions and concerns about where the NM Audit Force obtained the data they are using for their so-called ‘audit,’” spokesperson Alex Curtas said, “as they did not request and receive it from us, and illegally obtaining such data is a felony in New Mexico.”

Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.), whose district includes Otero County, did not respond to requests for comment about the congressional investigation before this article was published on Thursday, March 17. We’ll update this story if we hear back.

Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Marisa Demarco for questions: Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.