Previously published at Common Dreams
Civil rights advocates on Monday demanded justice after a 15-year-old boy was killed by a fire during a police attack on a home in New Mexico’s largest city.
Brett Rosenau—whose father was shot dead by police before he was born—died after Albuquerque Police Department (APD) officers threw tear gas grenades into a home in Southeast Albuquerque during a Wednesday standoff in which the teen was a bystander.
“Any time a police encounter leads to the death of a person in our community, we must demand a full and unbiased accounting of how it happened,” Barron Jones, senior policy strategist at the ACLU of New Mexico, said in a statement. “It is especially heartbreaking when our community loses a child in an interaction with local police.”
“This latest incident is another tragic example of an extremely deadly year for the Albuquerque Police Department,” he continued. “New Mexico regularly ranks first or second nationwide in the rate of people killed by police. This is a systemic statewide problem mostly affecting people of color who are disproportionately victims of police violence.”
“The loss of yet another young, and by all accounts, innocent Black boy during a police encounter is a story all too familiar and should trigger scrutiny from the highest level.” Jones added. “Rosenau’s loved ones deserve answers and our community must be assured that proper accountability will be applied to fatal police encounters like this one.”
According to the Albuquerque Journal, officers with APD’s Investigative Services Unit were attempting to serve felony warrants to 27-year-old Qiaunt Kelley at a house in the 8100 block of San Joaquin SE on Wednesday evening when Rosenau followed Kelley into the residence.
As the standoff drew on for hours, a SWAT team was called in, and in the early morning hours of Thursday, officers attacked the home with an unknown number of Flameless Tri-Chamber tear gas canisters and rounds of powder-based chemicals in a bid to force Kelley outside.
“They started throwing gas bombs in there,” Elizabeth Fields, whose sister owns the house, told the Journal. “The whole house went up in flames.”
According to the Journal, more than an hour passed between the time police used tear gas and when smoke began billowing from the house. Suffering from burn injuries as flames engulfed the home, Kelley eventually came outside. Rosenau and one of two dogs in the house never made it out alive.
APD spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos said Sunday that “the preliminary results of an autopsy cited the cause of death as smoke inhalation,” while APD Chief Harold Medina said earlier that “we’re working to determine” if a tear gas grenade “caused the fire.”
Speaking of APD officers, Fields remarked: “They said, ‘Well, we were trying to negotiate.’ It’s 2022! These are Black men that fear the police. You really thought you were going get them to come out the house?”
One of the home’s residents, Deja, told Source NM, “I don’t have nowhere to go now, and I don’t know where my son is going to live. I don’t know where my mom is going to live.”
Medina acknowledged that tear gas canisters have a history of sparking fires and said that if an investigation proves APD actions caused Rosenau’s death, “we will take steps to ensure this never happens again.”
Rosenau’s killing sparked protests in Albuquerque’s International District and on the campus of the University of New Mexico, where Moneka Stevens, a member of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, told the Daily Lobo that “they had a different bar for this child’s life.”
“They took his body from the home and they left it outside—his burnt body—and the community had to demand and beg to have the dignity to cover him up,” she added.
“When the family told [officers] repeatedly there was a child in the house, they did not care. You know why? Because he’s African. They do not care for our lives…They did not care for that home. They use war weapons in our communities that created a fire that burned a child alive.”
APD has been slow to comply with court-ordered reforms after a U.S. Justice Department investigation completed in 2014 found that it engaged in “a pattern or practice of use of excessive force” after 20 people were killed by officers in a four-year period.
In contrast, APD officers have encouraged right-wing militias, including some whom officers described as “heavily armed friendlies” who harassed racial justice protesters in the wake of the 2020 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.