Alibi V.29 No.35 • Aug 27-Sept 2, 2020 

News Feature

Community Looks for Answers In Death of Ken Reiss

A murky timeline, strange actions and a video add up to confusion with friends

The last photo Ken Reiss uploaded to his Facebook.
The last photo Ken Reiss uploaded to his Facebook.
Ken Reiss
When a community faces the loss of someone who was well-loved, it’s palpable. The moments and memories they shared with those around them become something held by one less person, with more untold and lost forever. On the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 11 citizens of Albuquerque woke up to the news of just that. Ken Reiss, a local bartender at Carraro's & Joe's Place in the University area, was shot and killed by officers from the Albuquerque Police Department.

Initial reports from local media outlets said that during a break-in at his home, Reiss had called APD after shooting two intruders. Police then said Reiss had fired at them upon arrival, at which point they returned fire, killing him. Following protocol, APD held onto the footage from officers in order to conduct an internal investigation. But to many who knew him and who lived in his neighborhood, they felt the situation didn’t add up. If Reiss had phoned police in the first place, why would he ever fire at them?

An (Almost) Brief History of Albuquerque Police Department

If you were to only know about Albuquerque from “Breaking Bad,” then you would assume that the city is a hotbed for constant gang violence. It has its fair share of it, that’s for certain, but it isn’t constant gun fights over meth. In 2014, however, officer-involved shootings and use of excessive force by APD had reached a level that was enough to draw attention from the Department of Justice. It was during that year, and specifically after James Boyd was killed by APD in the Foothills, that a DOJ investigation was launched, finding “a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing” from our local police department.

It’s easy to look at early episodes of “Cops” that were filmed in Albuquerque to get a picture of what our police force looked like roughly 20 years ago, until Mayor Marty Chavez banned the documentary series from filming here in 2004 because of the negative light in which it painted the city. It showed how crime in our city looked, but in terms of problems with APD, was not the root issue that came to a head in 2014. There are a handful of reasons for a decline in citizen satisfaction with APD that could hold some credence, but arguably the most important one comes from the early ’00s. Mayor Chavez, in an effort to help make the city safer, made a campaign promise of hiring over 200 new police officers. The problem at the time was that no one wanted to be one. According to city documents, in 2008 Chavez made several changes to the department's hiring policy. Officers no longer needed a university degree, a several thousand-dollar signing bonus for new hires offered, and allowed lateral hires. This meant officers hired from other departments would be allowed to skip the training process when joining APD. Officers who had been ineligible for hire at APD found ways to get in at smaller departments outside the city and would then transfer to the Albuquerque department after their base one year was completed.

These changes to the hiring process began showing problematic signs. Officer-involved shootings went on the rise, culminating in the DOJ investigation. The highest profile case came in 2014 in the form of James Boyd, a homeless individual camping in the Foothills without a permit who was subsequently shot to death by officers. The officers involved, Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez, were charged with homicide—though Sandy was allowed to retire and Perez remained on the force and their case ultimately ended in acquittal.

According to a press release from the DOJ, that federal executive department investigated the Albuquerque Police Department’s internal affairs against negative accounts from the community after public outcry over the James Boyd shooting and amidst multiple past officer-related shootings. In the report the DOJ stated that, “The use of excessive force by APD officers is not isolated or sporadic. The pattern or practice of excessive force stems from systemic deficiencies in oversight, training, and policy. Chief among these deficiencies is the department’s failure to implement an objective and rigorous internal accountability system. Force incidents are not properly investigated, documented, or addressed with corrective measures.”

How have those recommendations to address the problems of the department been going? In the federal monitor’s tenth report, “Compliance Levels of the Albuquerque Police Department and the City of Albuquerque with Requirements of the Court-Approved Settlement Agreement [CASA],” it was found that overall, things were improving. Released in November of 2019, the main findings said that, “As of the end of the tenth reporting period, APD continues to make progress overall. … APD is in 81 percent Secondary Compliance as of this reporting period, which means that effective follow-up mechanisms have been taken to ensure that APD personnel understand the requirements of promulgated policies, e.g., training, supervising, coaching, and disciplinary processes to ensure APD personnel understand the policies as promulgated and are capable of implementing them in the field … APD is in 64 percent Operational Compliance with the requirements of the CASA, which means that 64 percent of the time, field personnel either perform tasks as required by the CASA, or that, when they fail, supervisory personnel note and correct in-field behavior that is not compliant with the requirements of the CASA.”

These numbers show massive growth for APD based on the issues laid out to them by the DOJ. That being said, the city is only five years in on this project. Change of an entire department is difficult, especially for those in long-established positions.

How the Night Went (As Told by APD)

A rough map based on the police report and eyewitness accounts.
A rough map based on the police report and eyewitness accounts.
There are a lot of factors that played a part in making this story catch as much attention as it did. Arguably, the most important factor at play was that Reiss was the one to call APD and request their presence, which makes the fact he died in an officer-involved shooting very shocking to the community. The other factor is that there are videos from the scene of the incident that were released to the public from a neighbor who lives across the street from where the shooting occurred which show everything that happened from when Reiss made his way out of his house and onto Princeton Ave.

Alibi reached out to Gilbert Gallegos, Director of Communications for the Albuquerque Police Department, asking for the body camera and police vehicle camera from the evening. In response Gilbert told us, “Officers walked into a dangerous situation where shots had already been fired and an individual fired at those officers. Tragically, a life was lost and people are grieving that loss. There is a thorough investigation underway into all of the facts and evidence, including the handgun and bullet casings found at the scene. As with all shootings, APD will provide a review of the preliminary investigation that includes video and audio captured from officers’ body-worn cameras. The results of the final investigation will also be available to the public.” As of publication, the date of the media briefing in regards to this incident is scheduled for Sept. 4, though that could be subject to change.

Currently, the official stance by APD is that Reiss discharged his weapon at officers. Unfortunately, the video from the doorbell camera on Princeton Ave. only shows what happened once Reiss reached that street and began moving south. After canvassing the neighborhood and asking people who were there the night of the incident about what happened, multiple people wanted to remain anonymous but felt their story was important and were willing to share. The interviews we did with individuals living in the neighborhood began five days after the incident, and some took place a full two weeks after the incident. Additionally, most people we spoke with said they hadn’t been interviewed by APD; those that were said it was very brief, and they weren’t given a way to contact officers further about the investigation. Only two of the 12 people interviewed in the immediate area of the incident had been involved in any communication with APD, which they described as conversations lasting less than two minutes.

Weekly Alibi obtained a copy of the search warrant, and the pertinent facts are that a call was made to 911 by Reiss around 12:24am on the morning of Aug. 11, stating that two subjects had broken into his house with guns, and that he shot one of them, a male, in the process. APD dispatched officers. Following the discharged weapons, more calls came into APD from other people in the neighborhood, stating that a man and woman were outside the home, yelling, with more gunshots being fired. Reiss identified himself on his 911 call and claimed that he only shot one person, with the other being in the home still. Reiss told APD he was carrying his weapon at the time and mentioned there had been a fight the weekend prior involving the woman.

This is where we have to make an inference on what APD is talking about, but the report states Reiss mentioned that the woman was still in the house, and that he shot one subject three times and the other once. What is unclear is if the woman was one of the two people who broke into the house or if she was already there prior to the break in. The way the warrant report is written makes it seem like she was not one of the individuals involved in the break in. But that might be an issue with the way it is worded in the report, and she could be the second individual. By 12:28am Reiss mentioned the individuals were armed and he was speaking to someone on the scene while still on the phone. A minute later Reiss spoke out loud, saying, "By the car, get down," followed by, "Get behind the car right now, don't worry about that."

According to the warrant, APD arrived at 12:30am, where they heard additional shots go off. What isn’t clear in this next part is if officers were speaking about one or two people, saying the officer, “advised there was a subject running southbound on Princeton from Garfield. Officer Smith also advised that there was one subject fleeing who was bleeding and firing shots.” As stated in the warrant, officers who arrived on scene did not know who was firing shots. The subject who they observed running down Princeton was Reiss, who they state fired toward officers at this point, whereupon they surrounded him, returning fire and ultimately ending his life. Officers investigating Reiss’ home found no one inside the residence but did find evidence that guns had been discharged inside.

How the Night Went (As Told by Witnesses and a Camera)

Let’s get a few things cleared off the plate currently. As of now, no one has been named in the break-in, we have no current information to share about the woman inside and, as a whole, have next to nothing regarding the break-in that preceded the shooting. For the most part, witness testimony and video evidence matchup with most of what is in this warrant report.

Speaking to Rocky Pedroncelli, a neighbor of Reiss’ who lives next to his apartment and shares the same back courtyard, Pedroncelli said he saw the arrival of officers, east of the cross streets Vassar Dr. and Garfield Ave., near where the incident took place. They had parked farther up the street and walked to the scene on foot. Pedroncelli said he saw seven officers approaching with weapons and flashlights. By this point in time, Reiss would have been outside his house, still on the phone.

According to an Albuquerque Journal report, a woman named Linda Johnson said she and her ex-husband, “saw Reiss run and crouch behind a vehicle with a gun in his hand. Johnson said Reiss looked ‘wide-eyed and terrified,’ saying he shot someone who broke into his house—describing them as ‘professionals.’ She said police vehicles showed up within minutes and Reiss said, ‘If that’s not Albuquerque police, we’re in big trouble.’ ” Using the timeline laid out in the APD search warrant report and other testimonies, this was very near to when the shot was fired that officers say was aimed at them. Alibi reached out to speak with Johnson multiple times, but were not been able to reach her by publication.

This moment, the shot made when APD arrived, is arguably the most important one, as it is the point where APD says they were fired at, which gave them the grounds to pursue and fire back. There are two points that stick out. First, Reiss was on the phone with dispatch still, as evidenced in the APD report, so dispatch should have been able to inform him those were officers arriving on scene. Secondly, according to the earlier interview conducted with Johnson, she mentions, “She went back to her home when another shot rang out. She looked out the window and saw Reiss holding his side as he ran around the corner, down Princeton.” Additionally, Johnson mentions her ex-husband was approached by officers, whom he informed that Reiss was the one who called them for help in the first place. Up until this point, at least from what is contained in the police report, Reiss had not mentioned being injured. An anonymous source told Weekly Alibi they witnessed the shot referenced in the report, which can be heard in the 46 minute video pulled from a nearby Nest doorbell camera. This source says they witnessed Reiss fire his gun into either his own leg or his foot.

In regards to the video footage we do have, it’s very tight. The Nest doorbell video is 46 minutes long. Between the time we hear the last gunshot in the video and when Reiss is killed is three minutes. The three-minute space otherwise has no audible sounds of gunfire. If Reiss did shoot himself like the witness stated, it explains why he was injured. At that point APD would have been near or at his front door, with him already down Garfield Ave., near where he would move to Princeton Ave. Viewing other footage taken from a security camera at the same house as the Nest doorbell camera with a higher vantage point (that is motion activated, according to the owner), Reiss can be seen hiding behind a car when he is approached by officers. At this point the last shot that can be heard is the one where Reiss allegedly shot his leg three minutes prior. The audio is fairly clear, with APD stating multiple times, “Let me see your hands.” In this motion-activated video Reiss says, “You’re the cops?” but he is not answered. The audio isn’t perfect, so it can’t be definitively said whether police identified themselves. But from what can be heard, it doesn’t appear that APD officers did so. Within five seconds of them seeing Reiss and beginning to speak, 11 shots are fired. It is not immediately clear who shot them, but it is 11 shots that happen in rapid succession of each other. After those shots have been fired, Reiss shouts multiple times, “I’m shot!” and that is followed by four more gunshots. Reiss can no longer be heard after those shots.

Watching the overhead security video, it is shot from high up and shows off the majority of Princeton Ave. in relevance to the shooting. Three APD officers on the street can be identified by their flashlights. The three officers surround the car that Reiss is hiding behind, approaching from the north, west and south sides. Reiss is seen moving from the south side going east toward the parking lot of a nearby apartment. Reiss cannot be seen shooting in any of the footage, but audio makes it clear that, when the 11 shots are fired, there is no gap between the first shot and the other ten, with all of them happening in a space of roughly three to four seconds.

Given the evidence obtained so far, it paints a confusing and disturbing picture of APD response to an urgent 911 call. Regardless of how the scenario played out, the basic facts are clear: A man was threatened in his own home and he called police for help, which resulted in his death at their hands. Reiss was a beloved member of his community, and that has sparked a movement to take a closer look at the circumstances surrounding his untimely death.

Ken’s Impact

Ken’s son, Devon, and a leader from Black New Mexico Movement meet together at Reiss’ memorial.
Ken’s son, Devon, and a leader from Black New Mexico Movement meet together at Reiss’ memorial.
Chris Fortson
The hardest part of a community member leaving us is the loss of all the things we loved about them. Sure, people can share certain traits, but the magic of the human experience is that no two people are alike. There may be others who are funny like Reiss, but they aren’t him. There could be others who are kind like Reiss, but they aren’t him. A fan of Motorhead, a Trekkie, a “Jeopardy!” ace and one of the funniest people anyone knew, those who spoke with Weekly Alibi knew Reiss and shared some of the best memories they had of their times together. At a memorial held for him in front of Cararro’s and Joe’s Place on Saturday, Aug. 15, a large crowd gathered to pay their respects. People spoke of his impact on them, on the trajectory of their lives and how he changed it for the better just by being a part of it.

Speaking with Aspen-Rose Doyle, the mother of his son and his best friend, she said, “As a family we are broken. My son has lost his Dad. We want an honest and transparent investigation by APD. We want the truth to be told.” In an interview, friend and past coworker Jose Weber said that to Reiss his son Devon was the most important part of his life. “He always brought up Devon, every conversation we ever had, he brought him up. What he was doing in school, what he was doing outside in his life. If Devon brought a friend from school to Joe’s, he’d make them a huge pizza and sit down to talk with them.”

Another thing to be heard was how intelligent he was. Weber told the paper Reiss was “wicked smart” and would show off his skills when “Jeopardy!” was on in the bar. He also mentioned that Reiss’ most memorable feature was his loud, boisterous laugh that could fill the bar when he was happy, and a love of going to brunch with his family on Sundays. A friend of 15 years, Jay Forsythe mentioned that, “Ken eventually became one of my best guitar students. He could talk to you about anything, was knowledgeable about everything. But mostly talked about how much he loved his son. We traded old recipes from our beloved home. Ken came to my kid's birthday parties and bought gift certificates to Hinkle for my sons when my youngest son was diagnosed with cancer.”

In the memorial group for Reiss, many spoke to his warm and loving nature. “You could always tell he told a bad joke by his booming laugh throughout the bar. It was a privilege if you could get him to laugh the same at your own joke. Even if we were both having a bad day, he would make sure I was okay; and after 10 minutes talking with him, we'd both be laughing and having a better day. The world is worse off without him,” said Rhiannon, his friend. “I loved that when my father, Fermin Hernandez, passed he always offered my sister and I kind words. My dad had a gallery in Old Town for almost 30 years. Ken helped us more than he knows,” wrote Lori Hernandez Young.

A trait that came up a lot was his passion for his work, and how he interacted with those who came in. “I always appreciated seeing Ken at Joe’s. He always gave me a little grief for ordering PBR. Thanks for putting up with me and my bad taste in beer,” said Justin Garcia. “He always remembered my name and my favorite cider no matter the length of time between visits. Chatting with him was always a pleasure,” said Carlyn Pinkins. “Ken had the best laugh. I would spend most of our shifts at Joe’s just trying to get him to laugh. More often than not it was he who would have me in stitches. He always had my back as a boss and as a best friend. I trusted him with my life. He was a mentor and all around badass. I know I speak for all who knew him when I say this place is worse off without Ken,” said Judith Mondragon, who worked with Reiss.

As a bartender Reiss made sure everyone knew that he loved sambuca, introducing many to the acquired taste. “We were talking about drinks and he asked if I had tried sambuca, I said no, never. Next thing out of his mouth was blasphemy!” recalled Markie Sexton. “It was always sambuca. That and Tecates,” mentioned Weber.

The number one thing that came up over and over was his kindness. “Ken walked with a purpose. People called it the Ken stomp, but I always saw it as an illustration of how he lived his life, with a purpose. Ken was one of those rare humans who even when he was hurting he still only cared about making others happy. A joke to brighten your day, a song to lift your spirits, an ear to listen. His laughter was infectious and his outlook on life was a positive reminder that the world has good in it. … Ken brought so many people together, kept so many people happy. He’s been my friend for so long and he will forever be an influence in my life,” wrote Patrick Moser. “Ken was so kind and looked out for me when I was pregnant and decided to attend a Fatso show at Joe's to see my husband play. He kept an eye on me all night and made sure I had water and Sprites and did not get hurt in the mosh pit! I won't ever forget that kindness,” wrote Christie Marrs.

A makeshift memorial rests in front of Ken Reiss’ home.
A makeshift memorial rests in front of Ken Reiss’ home.
Dan Pennington
For many in the Albuquerque community, Reiss’ absence in their lives is already immensely difficult to handle. “He was a shoulder to lean on, an ear that listened, a mind that fathomed the depths and laughed at the lights and shadows he found there. He made you feel seen and gave you what you needed, even if you didn’t know you needed it until later. Ken was a man of the people. He was the best of us. He was any of us, but more: He was my friend,” Darren Raspa wrote. Christina Bryant said, “I thought he was going to be that one friend I would have for the rest of my life. The one who didn't judge and always cared how I was.”

A GoFundMe was put together to support Ken Reiss’ son, Devon. Members have asked that any donations be made there in order to help take care of Devon through all of this. That site can be found at gofundme.com/f/justice-for-ken-reiss.