Unnecessary SWAT Raid Ended in the Death of an Albuquerque Teen

This was an attempted arrest of a man wanted for questioning and parole violations, not a hostage situation.


Law enforcement in New Mexico is examining how a teenage boy wound up dead from smoke inhalation following an Albuquerque SWAT raid to catch a man wanted for parole violations and questioning.

On July 7, police converged on a home in southeast Albuquerque to arrest 27-year-old Qiaunt Kelley on a warrant for parole violations. The home was not Kelley's. When police arrived at the home, they found him outside with Brett Rosenau, 15. Kelley, rather than surrendering to police, fled into the home and barricaded himself in. Rosenau followed him in, according to the Albuquerque Police Department's public report.

In the ensuing standoff, the SWAT team deployed drones and sent in robots to "activate powder irritants inside the home to get the individuals to exit." Later they used flash-bang grenades (or, "a noise flash diversionary device," as they describe it), and that didn't get Kelley out of the house either.

Then the house caught fire, and the reasons why are not yet clear, though the flash-bang grenades or the chemical irritants could have played a role. According to witnesses, the house burned for 40 minutes before police finally entered and found Rosenau's body. A dog also died, and Kelley suffered burn injuries. The home is a total loss. A preliminary autopsy determined that Rosenau died of smoke inhalation.

That a teen died as a result of a SWAT raid on a home where the target didn't even live has inspired anger and local protests. Complicating matters further, the police department got the facts wrong when they were explaining why they had come to arrest Kelley. Police Chief Harold Medina said that Kelley was wanted on a federal warrant for probation violations after serving time for a previous armed carjacking. But that turned out to be untrue. Source New Mexico discovered that there was no felony warrant for Kelley's arrest. The claim ended up in several news reports.

There was, indeed, a local warrant for parole violations, which is not a felony. Police say Kelley is also a "person of interest" in several violent crimes, including a shooting death in June. With his history, it's not unreasonable for the police to have wanted to detain and interrogate Kelley. When they found him, they even went and got a warrant before attempting to enter the house.

But the Albuquerque police also seem to be a bit surprised that flash-bang grenades could have potentially led to such destructive consequences. Medina noted that there have been stories of their devices causing fires elsewhere, but it hadn't happened in Albuquerque.

There have been a number of terrible incidents and injuries caused by the use of these grenades. Toddlers have been burned. Completely innocent people have been injured in wrong-door SWAT raids from these devices. They are dangerous.

And so the question is not (at least at this point) whether the police should have been attempting to take Kelley into custody but how they went about it and whether there was any legitimate reason to need to use what turned out to be deadly methods to flush Kelley out.

It would seem that Medina and Mayor Tim Keller are at least aware of the reason for the anger. "If any of our actions inadvertently contributed to his death, we will take steps to ensure this never happens again," Medina said. "I've asked our Victim's Services Unit to work with the family and provide them support during this painful time."

Ah, but do the rest of the police agree? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is much less clear. When Source New Mexico published and tweeted out its piece showing how the police were mistaken when they claimed Kelley had a federal warrant for his arrest, this was the response from the Albuquerque Police Department's Public Information Officer:

This is an example of a very bad policing mindset that needs to be rejected. It's an absurd false choice to argue that the only options here were: one, engage in an intense SWAT raid that left an innocent teenager dead; or two, just walk away and let Kelley go.

As people responding to the tweets have noted, the choice that the police made also resulted in the loss of a blameless teen. The police here absolutely failed in their duty to protect public safety. If the police keep telling us that, in order to enforce the law, we have to accept violent confrontations that leave innocents dead and not even question the tactics, is there any wonder why some people continue to reject them even when crime rises? You can't keep injuring and killing innocent people and destroying their property and then turn around and insist you're keeping them safe and expect to be treated seriously.

"The community is traumatized," Barron Jones, senior policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, told Source New Mexico. "A family lost their home. A family is displaced. A young child who barely started living lost their life, which is a horrible tragedy, and there is a further erosion of trust between the community and APD."