4 Investigates: Unseen video in BCSO Elisha Lucero shooting
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Two previously unseen cellphone videos from the July 2019 night Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputies shot and killed Elisha Lucero raise questions about the law enforcement response. They also sharpen criticism of the way Albuquerque area police agencies investigate their own shootings.
“We had a perspective from Elisha’s perspective this whole time. Nobody’s known about it,” her sister Elaine Maestas said. She criticized the department for not releasing the videos in the four years since Lucero’s death on July 22, 2019.
They reveal that the 28-year-old woman asked deputies to send a female deputy to talk to her more than half an hour before her killing. The department’s post-shooting report does not indicate deputies on scene asked dispatchers for a female deputy. It’s not known if a female deputy would have been available.
Maestas said she’s not certain the two videos are all that exist from that night because when she got the phone back from evidence, it was missing a memory card.
Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen told 4 Investigates he did not think his department had the missing card.
A BCSO detective assigned to be the primary investigator of the shooting completed his report less than five months after the shooting. It did not reference the contents of the phone, though the detective alluded to the fact that the Samsung – one of two cellphones deputies say they found outside the RV – was likely her primary phone. The other phone, an LG, was downloaded by BCSO before investigators finished the report.
In the videos, Lucero appears sweaty and nervous about the male deputies knocking on the door of the RV where she lived. She speaks as though the camera is live or the video will later be made public.
“Look, ladies and gentlemen. I’m naked in my house. And these officers, they want to come in,” Lucero says into the camera on her cellphone. “And all I’m doing is sleeping. Guys, all I’m doing is sleeping and they just want to come in and rape me. They just want to come and rape me and look at me.”
That is not why deputies were at her uncle’s South Valley home that night. Lucero’s cousin called 911 asking for help, saying she’d hit her uncle when he came out of the bathroom. Lucero had her RV parked outside the home and relatives allowed her to use the restroom. Deputies determined the uncle wasn’t seriously injured and went outside to try to speak with Elisha.
The video shows deputies shining flashlights through the space between window coverings in the RV. Lucero is unclothed.
“Come on, guys. Somebody help me,” she says.
Outside, a deputy warns another nearby officer: “She’s got a pair of, like, scissors in her hand.”
“Cause you guys are trying to come into my house [while I’m] naked. I’m a woman,” Lucero shouts.
“I’m a (expletive) woman. Tell ’em to bring a woman in, not a man.”
Deputies do not respond.
“I keep using the word hindsight,” Sheriff Allen said in an interview. “Anything would help that’s an extra resource. She probably felt uncomfortable being a female alone, and there was a bunch of males around in her trailer.”
Allen said he did not know about the videos. The sheriff was a sergeant that night, and though he was initially in charge of the unit that reviews shootings by deputies, he said then-Sheriff Manny Gonzales removed him from the squad because of differences between the two, including the need for body cameras that deputies did not have at the time of the shooting.
That night, deputies knew Lucero was taking videos. William Foster, a deputy who tried to shoot but couldn’t unholster his gun, said in his interview with investigators that he could see Lucero holding scissors and her cellphone.
“I have my light shining into the window on the door,” Foster said in the interview. “She keeps filming and looking at us. She walks back, we lose sight again. She comes back…and every time she comes back she’s holding the scissors, holding her phone. Filming.”
4 Investigates reviewed the extracted data from Elisha’s Samsung phone. The two videos appear to be the only ones from that night.
While they change what the public knows about Elisha’s state of mind, it’s difficult to know if they change anything about the actual shooting – half an hour after the videos were taken – because of the missing memory card.
“I know that the phone is handed to me without the SD card because we just sent them off (to be extracted). You know, I didn’t mess with the phone,” Maestas said.
“Still looking into that,” Allen said. “We don’t have it. Was it lost going to the FBI? I don’t know. That’s something that we have to look into. The problem is the perception of the public that we have evidence that we’re not submitting.”
It’s a problem made more complex because the detective’s shooting report says Lucero didn’t jump from her RV with only a knife much larger than the small scissors she had earlier – it implies she was also holding both the Samsung phone and the LG.
Asked if he was concerned – given the two phones she must have been carrying, the missing SD card and Elisha’s penchant for recording herself – that there was a video of the shooting, Allen told 4 Investigates:
“That’s always going to be a concern of what are we missing? Did we miss something? Was something inappropriately misplaced? Was something taken out of evidence that shouldn’t? That’s always a concern that you have when you’re a leader of an agency and you look into your own policies and protocol. That evening, I couldn’t tell you why she would have two phones or if there was a video on there. Anything’s possible.”
BCSO said it sent the damaged Samsung cellphone to the FBI in October 2021, nearly two years after it closed its own investigation but while the Attorney General’s Office was still deciding whether to charge deputies in the case.
The phone, though, wasn’t extracted until June 2022, and it’s not clear it was ever sent to the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia. The phone was instead downloaded at a specialized regional forensics lab in Albuquerque. And while the person who extracted it was apparently qualified by the FBI to perform the procedure, he is also a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s detective.
“You see the shooting happen. It’s displayed that a multi-agency task force is doing the investigation and you think, ‘Oh, it’s being investigated,’” said Elaine Maestas. But in the Albuquerque metro, that task force is led by the shooting agency.
“They spearhead the investigation And so they conduct all the interviews, they collect all the evidence. Everything that’s submitted to the DA’s office is done through them. So the full report is completely done by the agency whose deputies or officer killed that person,” said Maestas.
It’s a system she feels unfairly prejudices investigators.
Former Attorney General Hector Balderas and his successor, Raúl Torrez, both favor the creation of an independent state agency to investigate shootings by law enforcement. At different times, the pair has urged lawmakers in Santa Fe to create a more equitable investigative framework. It depends on legislators, Torrez said in a statement, “to provide permanent funding for an independent group of investigators and prosecutors.”
Sheriff Allen agreed.
“Make sure that we have the public’s perception and trust that it was investigated properly; that it’s the same thing going on all around the state, not just the metro area. It has to be a consistent investigation no matter where you’re at in each corner of the state,” he said.
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina, whose officers have shot an increased number of people in recent months, also agreed.
While withholding comment on Elisha Lucero’s case, Medina said, “Having an independent group that investigates these would only increase the trust level from the public in these situations.”
Public trust, the chief said, is a valuable commodity in policing. It’s easy to draw down, but hard to replace.
Former Sheriff Manny Gonzales did not return multiple requests for comment.
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