SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Activists on Friday rallied in person and online to bring attention to the case of a young Black man who was shot by a New Mexico state police while on a road trip from Indiana to Arizona, while investigators finally provided more details about what led to the deadly encounter.
Rodney Applewhite was on his way to Phoenix to visit family for Thanksgiving when he was shot following a police pursuit and an altercation in which authorities say he grabbed an officer’s gun.
It’s been two weeks since the shooting, and New Mexico State Police on Friday finally confirmed Applewhite as the man who died. His family had said they were notified of his death but still had questions about what happened that November morning.
State police in an update released Friday said an officer fatally shot Applewhite after he grabbed another officer’s gun as they tried to take him into custody.
The confrontation followed a complex pursuit along a 12-mile stretch of road in Valencia County. Police said Applewhite was traveling more than 90 mph, or more than double the posted speed limit, before abruptly pulling over and stopping. He then sped away as an officer tried to walk up to the vehicle.
Police said the driver was weaving in and out of opposing lanes of traffic on the Manzano Expressway, a road that ranges from two to four lanes and meanders from Interstate 25 into rural areas east of the village of Los Lunas, about 45 minutes south of Albuquerque.
At one point, officers tried to stop the vehicle with tire deflation devices, but authorities said the driver avoided them by heading into oncoming traffic, nearly hitting another vehicle. After police decided to stop the pursuit, they said the suspect was later spotted standing in the middle of the road trying to stop traffic.
As officers tried talking to Applewhite, he kneeled on the ground and made the symbol of a gun with his right hand toward his head, according to police.
Authorities said Officer Gene Gonzales fired twice when Applewhite grabbed another officer’s gun and tried to pull it from the holster. Moments later, they said, the suspect can be heard on an officer’s body-worn camera saying, “Can you finish me, please?” to which Gonzales replied, “No.”
Officers asked the suspect why he tried to take the sergeant’s gun and he responded, “That’s what I thought you were supposed to do,” authorities said.
Authorities also said that while officers were aiding Applewhite, he tried to stand up and directed expletives at them and called them Mexicans, saying “that’s why I am coming for all you all.”
State police also reported that Applewhite was suspected of trying to break in to a home in the nearby community of Belen earlier that morning. The homeowner told police the man had asked if it was his home and if he was in South Bend, Indiana.
Applewhite’s aunt, Sherian McCray, lives in a suburb of Phoenix and was one of the family members looking forward to seeing him for the Thanksgiving holiday.
“We want to know exactly what happened. Because who they are describing and who we know - they’re two different people. And he’s not here to give his side of the story,” McCray said.
She said she wished police would have deescalated the situation before it came to gunfire.
In Santa Fe, protesters gathered Friday and caravanned in their vehicles toward the governor’s mansion. Organizer Selinda Guerrero said the group in about 50 cars planned to “make some noise” to make sure Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham heard them.
“We are here to ask you to intervene,” Guerrero said as she stood outside the governor’s residence.
Just a week earlier, another drive-in protest was held in Albuquerque in which people carried signs that read “Justice for Rodney,” and “Black Lives Matter.”
State Police say the investigation is ongoing and once complete the findings will be forwarded to the district attorney’s office for review.
This article has been corrected with the name of the protest organizer. She is Selinda Guerrero, not Solinda Guerrero.
Associated Press writer Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report.
Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.
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