Las Cruces, NM — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico is calling for an investigation this week after police shot and killed a 75-year-old woman in her home during a dementia-driven episode.
Amelia Baca, 75, was killed by an officer with the Las Cruces Police Department on April 16, according to family members. The department took several days to release her name, however, her family confirmed with the Las Cruces Sun News that it was Baca who was killed.
On Tuesday, three days after killing Baca, the city responded and released the following statement:
"Any loss of life, no matter the circumstances, is tragic and unfortunate," wrote Ifo Pili, a city manager, in a statement. "On behalf of the City of Las Cruces, we extend our deepest sympathies to Amelia Baca’s family and to those who are mourning her loss."
According to her family, Baca suffered from dementia and was having an episode that day. When police arrived on the scene, they claimed Baca had a knife and resorted to deadly force.
"On arrival, an LCPD police officer encountered a female who was armed with at least one knife. The incident resulted in the officer firing at least one round at the female," a news release stated.
Family members disagree, however, and told reporters that Baca was not holding a knife and only had knives near her when she was shot. Even if she was holding a knife, she is a 75-year-old grandmother going up against an officer with a taser, a baton, pepper spray and a bullet proof vest. The idea of using deadly force against such a person is reprehensible.
The ACLU said a crisis intervention team should have responded to the incident. Senior Policy Strategist Barron Jones said LCPD has a crisis intervention team meant to prevent these types of incidents, according to Sun News, but unfortunately, they were not deployed.
"If this team had been deployed to de-escalate the situation, (Baca) may still be alive today and receiving the help she needed," Jones said.
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According to the Sun, the officer who killed Baca was wearing a body camera and they have requested the footage.
Jones told the Sun that police in New Mexico have been on a seeming killing spree and demanded a "comprehensive statewide use of force policy reform and increased oversight to ensure the public can rely on police following protective protocols already in place.
"Our communities will not be safe until police officers are held accountable to a clear and uniform standard," he said.
“It’s like we lost a leader," said her grandson, Michael Gutierrez. "She was the top of everybody and now we just have to carry on and stay strong.”
“I always imagined it was going to be old age," he said. "She lived this long. She went through so many things and survived, so what happened was not even in our minds."
Because police officers have a tendency of attacking and abusing those with mental disabilities, including the elderly, the Alzheimer's Association of America puts out a guide, specifically designed for law enforcement on how to deal with people suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia.
According to the guide, those suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia will not respond like mentally healthy individuals. "Confronting the person is not recommended."
Frail, non-violent elderly women with dementia would likely be the easiest folks to deal with in these situations and it would be very easy to follow the above recommendations to the letter. Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be the case in Las Cruces.