Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Las Cruces, NM: Man shot, killed by police

By Ashley Meeks
Posted: 07/14/2010 12:24:53 AM MDT

LAS CRUCES - A man shot and killed by a Las Cruces police officer Tuesday morning left a suicide note behind when he confronted officers with a samurai sword, according to family members.
Lance Hummell, 23, who was known to friends and neighbors as "Lizard Man," earlier had the 4-foot sword confiscated by police after he held his pregnant girlfriend hostage with it - an incident that ended in his hospitalization, said sister Carisue Flores.
"They had just given it back to him three weeks ago," said Flores, of Silver City. Since Hummell's recent diagnosis with bipolar disorder, the couple knew the sword was trouble to have around. "She called his counselor and the police department, saying 'He is going to hurt himself.'"
Brittney Burgess, who is eight months pregnant with Hummell's son, was spending time with family in Albuquerque when Hummell's mood became even darker.
"He called her (Tuesday) morning saying he was writing a suicide note, saying he couldn't imagine life without her or the baby," Flores said. In turn, Burgess called 911, Hummell's mother and Hummell's counselor - who had switching his medication last week - and reported the suicide threat.
It was 8:30 a.m. By that time, officers were responding to calls reporting an agitated, shirtless man waving the sword in a hostile manner on the grounds of the Mesilla Manor apartment complex, at 1101 E. Boutz Road, according to Las Cruces Police Department spokesman Dan Trujillo. When two officers - whose names have not been released - ordered him to drop the weapon, he instead "closed distance, very quickly," Trujillo said.
Medical assistant Evelyn Terry, 47, jumped to her bedroom window when she heard the officers shout "get down!" and saw the shooting happen right across the street, in the Mesilla Manor parking lot at Alamo Street and Montana Avenue.
"When I opened the blinds, I saw the officer shoot him three times - bam, bam, bam!" Terry said. After Hummell fell, the officer went to him and kicked the sword away from Hummell. "The (sword) was up and (Hummell) had it in his hand."
Family couldn't get to the apartment fast enough, Flores said.
"By the time (relatives) got there, it was already taped off," Flores said. "He had already been shot."
Police told them Hummell had told the officer to leave him alone and swung the sword at the officer, leaving them no choice but to shoot, Flores said.
Flores decried the shooting as "excessive" given Hummell's mental state, saying her brother and his girlfriend had been going to counseling and working to get him help.
"She called the police for help, not to take his life," Flores said, "I don't know how she's going to get through this. This was the last thing she ever expected to happen."
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, LCPD Chief Richard Williams presented Hummell's sword - its curved blade measuring 35 inches long - to cameras.
"This is most definitely a deadly weapon," he said.
The investigation, he said, would be thorough and presented for review to the 3rd Judicial District Attorney's Office.
"We have officers who go out each day and risk their lives to protect their community," Williams said. "I'll tell you this - this is the last thing any officer wants to do."
Hummell's aunt, Chris Chapman, disagreed, lashing out at what she called a pattern of police "insanity."
"The family got there and wanted to talk to him. His grandma and his mom had dinner with him a week ago. He was doing fine," said Chapman, who was acquainted with another man killed in a police shooting - Antonio Medrano Jr., who was killed in January after coming at officers with a kitchen knife and baseball bat, urging them to shoot.
Between 2004 and 2008, there was one fatal officer-involved shooting per year in Do-a Ana County - three involving Las Cruces police, one involving state police, one involving a Do-a Ana sheriff's deputy and one involving Hatch police. In 2009, there were two fatal officer-involved shootings, one involving an Otero County sheriff's deputy and one involving state police. So far in 2010, there have been three such shootings, two - Medrano's and Hummell's - involving Las Cruces police and one, March 29, involving a Do-a Ana County sheriff's deputy.
Hummell needed help, said Chapman, who said officers - even faced with threats and a suicidal suspect - should have used Tasers.
"Our policemen have got to be trained better than that, and if that's the way they're trained, they need to be re-trained," she said. "There are other options for someone who just needs help. It's a tragedy and it keeps recurring over and over in this town. When someone has a domestic problem, they're going to be afraid to call the police. They will come and kill your loved one."
Others, however, said officers were faced with a horrible situation and handled it in the only way they could.
Hummell, known as "Lizard Man" for his collection of snakes and other reptiles, had been going through stressful times recently, said friend Shannon Stecher, the owner of Awesome Reptiles, which is now housing his animals.
"He was a loving guy, he loved his girlfriend," said Stecher, who'd known Hummell for about two years. "He was great with people, great with animals."
Still, while he felt shock at the shooting, Stecher knew his friend was feeling extraordinarily downtrodden.
"He had a great work ethic, great personality, he was a great guy, you know, but like I said, we all have these closets," Stecher said. "He was a good friend of mine ... but I believe the police did the right thing. Did I want it to happen to my friend? No. Whatever demon he was fighting right then and there, that was his demon. But cops are trained ... and I think they handled it correctly."
Hummell's body was transported Tuesday to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Albuquerque for autopsy. As is standard procedure, a multi-agency task force will investigate the shooting, during which both officers who responded will be placed on paid leave.
Ashley Meeks can be reached at (575) 541-5462.

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