BERNALILLO, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico family rushing to try and save their dog’s life was stopped and held at gunpoint by police. KRQE obtained the police videos from a traffic stop that still has a family in disbelief.
Did Bernalillo Police officers take things too far? That’s what attorneys with the ACLU believe, and now the family plans to file a lawsuit.
It was a neighborhood cat that lured Stella the labradoodle into traffic in July.
“I was like, oh my God, our dog just got hit,” Tara Albrecht recalled. She said she was bringing food inside the house for dinner when she realized a speeding car in her neighborhood had hit her dog.
The Albrecht family jumped into action, Tara holding Stella in the passenger seat while her husband William drove, and their teenage son in the backseat. “We jumped in the car and started trying to get to the E.R. as fast as we could to try to save her life,” said William Albrecht.
Albrecht drove down 550 through Bernalillo from their Rio Rancho home, toward the nearest 24-hour emergency vet. He spotted a Bernalillo police cruiser.
“I imagined if he was going to pull me over for speeding, I’d pull over,” Albrecht told KRQE. “He’d say something to me and then maybe even help us get there. You know, I’ve heard of stories like that before, but that didn’t happen.”
Police video from the officer’s lapel footage shows what did happen. Officer Jeramie Nevarez is seen pointing his gun at Albrecht as he shouts, “Driver, step out of the vehicle!”
The officer continues shouting commands at Albrecht, who has his hands in the air. “Face the f— away from me!” The officer shouts. Lapel video shows Officer Nevarez ordering Albrecht out of the car at gunpoint, and telling him to walk backward toward traffic.
“Step back! Step f—–g back! Go to your left!” Officer Nevarez is shouting, as cars pass by them on the busy road. “My dog’s gonna die!” Albrecht tries to explain to the officer, who doesn’t approach the family’s vehicle.
A terrifying traffic stop
Realizing what’s happening, Albrecht’s wife starts recording on her cell phone. “Roll the window down, Remi,” Tara tells her son. Her cell phone video shows the vantage point she had as her husband is directed away from the family’s vehicle.
“I’m thinking, this is unbelievable,” Tara Albrecht recalled. “I can’t believe — it’s like, why didn’t someone just come check with us? Find out what the reason our speeding was and help us?”
She and her son watched in disbelief as the officer directed Albrecht to step toward oncoming traffic and get on his knees. “Step back, go to your left!” Officer Nevarez shouted. “F—–g faster! Get on your knees!”
Albrecht told KRQE the sirens were so loud as police backup arrived, and said he was worried for his family’s safety. Lapel video shows three other officers arrive on the scene and continue with a felony stop, pointing guns at the family and shouting, “Hands up!”
Albrecht’s wife and 16-year-old son also had guns pointed in their direction. Albrecht was handcuffed, as he continued trying to explain to officers, “My dog’s about to die! My dog’s about to die!”
“I saw my son was sticking his hands out the window, too, like, dude, our dog’s going to die,” Albrecht recalled being fearful for his son. “I was scared. I was genuinely scared.”
The officer’s lapel footage shows the shirtless 16-year-old with his hands in the air, pleading with police, “Our dog’s gonna die!” The teen tried to point the officers in his mother’s direction to see that their dog was bleeding from its head.
“And none of them seemed to even care at the moment at all,” Albrecht told KRQE.
“I would never put my son in a position like that, ever,” said Albrecht. “I back the blue. I support the blue. Like, I always want to show him that, you know, you submit to these guys. That you’re supposed to be able to trust them.”
He and his family said they couldn’t believe how they were treated. “What did we do to warrant guns being pointed at our head?” Albrecht asked. “Pointing a loaded gun at a man’s head, it’s a threat, you know? And I didn’t feel like I earned that threat.”
“We’re talking about loaded weapons with one in the chamber where if he pulls that trigger on accident, I’m dead. My son’s dead. And then what? Then what are they going to say? Oh, we’re sorry. There’s no sorry for that,” Albrecht added.
Police video shows the officers shouting commands at Albrecht as he pleads, “Please! My neighbor hit my dog, that’s my son and my wife! Please sir, my dog’s about to die!”
The officer’s lapel video shows Nevarez handcuffing Albrecht and walking him to the backseat of his patrol car. “Sir, my dog’s bleeding out of its mouth,” Albrecht said. “I don’t give a f—!” Officer Nevarez responds. “Okay,” Albrecht said.
Lapel video from the other two responding officers shows them approaching Albrecht’s wife, who is holding their bleeding dog and trying to point out her injuries to the officers. “She’s going to die! She got hit by a car!”
Tara Albrecht’s own cell phone footage shows her trying to get an officer’s attention. “Sir, look she’s bleeding! Look at my dog, she’s bleeding out of her face and they’re holding us on the side of the road.”
The officer who pulled them over wrote in his report that Albrecht was speeding and driving recklessly. But Albrecht wasn’t given a citation, and there’s no video of a pursuit.
The first officer also never walked up to the family’s car to check on the dog or ask why they were speeding. Officer Nevarez’s report states, “I drew my department-issued firearm and pointed it towards the immediate threat. I yelled for the driver to get back inside the vehicle.”
However, the officer’s lapel video starts with Nevarez directing Albrecht out of the vehicle. Officer Nevarez wrote in his report that the driver “looked mad with his hands clenched in the air.” The officer’s video shows Albrecht’s hands raised in the air, following the officer’s commands.
Driver, step out of the vehicle!” Nevarez shouted at Albrecht as the traffic stop began.
Albrecht wants to know what sparked the felony stop, to begin with. “The second I saw guns to my son’s head, I really felt like when I got out of the car, this dude might shoot me if I make the wrong move.”
“I can’t believe you’re doing this, sir,” Albrecht told Nevarez as he saw officers direct his son toward the patrol car. “Jesus f—–g Christ, man!” Neverez said.
Eventually, another officer who checked on Albrecht’s wife convinced Nevarez to let the family go. “Let ’em get out of here,” the officer told Nevarez. That officer made the call on his radio, “All responding units, go ahead and downgrade.”
As police removed his handcuffs, Albrecht told Nevarez, “Dude, you’re something else, man.” Officer Nevarez replied, “You’re something else, sir.”
“That was unnecessary,” Albrecht told the officers. “Good luck with your dog,” Nevarez said as the patrol car door slammed.
The family’s dog Stella didn’t make it. The family said she died shortly after they arrived at the vet. “It’s horrible,” said Tara. “She was such a great dog.”
How did a stop for speeding turn into a felony stop?
The family had no weapons or warrants attached to their vehicle or names. “I can’t believe you pulled your gun on my kid, sir,” Albrecht told Nevarez during the traffic stop. “It’s policy,” Nevarez replied. “Oh yeah, I hear ya,” Albrecht replied.
KRQE asked for a copy of that policy and the use of force policy from Bernalillo Police. However, those policies don’t explain what happened here.
BPD’s policy does call for de-escalation, stating, “the level of force employed must be commensurate with the threat posed by the subject and the seriousness of the situation.”
Officer Nevarez claims Albrecht didn’t immediately pull over, which Albrecht disputes. “As soon as I noticed the lights, I pulled over,” Albrecht told KRQE.
KRQE Investigates obtained the audio from the officer’s radio calls to dispatch that day. “Attempting to pull over a red escalade on 550 eastbound, they’re not stopping at this point,” Officer Nevarez’s voice is heard on the radio.
“Now it’s stopping,” Nevarez said. The dispatcher confirms, “10-4 confirming the vehicle is stopping.”
Thirty-three seconds after his initial call to dispatch, Nevarez announced over the radio that they were stopped. “His brake lights are activated. Chevron, 550,” Nevarez said.
“No one came at him. No one threatened him,” Albrecht recalled. “And again, like, what did he see that scared him so bad? I mean, this guy was angry.”
The Albrechts saw just how angry, watching the officer’s own recording. As the Albrecht family drove away, Nevarez can be heard on his lapel cursing Albrecht. “F—–g d–k h–d!”
F— him! F—–g b—–!” The officer is cursing to himself.
“Whoa, whoa whoa,” 16-year-old Remi said, reacting to the officer’s words as he and his family drove away. “Are you kidding me?” Tara said.
After the family drove away, lapel video shows another officer pulling up to the scene and Nevarez explains in his own words, what he claimed just happened.
“So, he’s gonna complain,” Nevarez told another officer who’d just arrived. “Well yeah, so I did a felony stop on him because he wasn’t stopping, then he stopped.” The officer replied, “Okay.”
“Once we found out his dog was injured, and he was trying to get to a veterinarian, we tried to ID him and let him go, but he was being a d–k h–d.” The explanation ends, and the other officer replies, “Okay.” The lapel video stops after that.
“That guy shouldn’t be a cop,” said Albrecht. When asked what was going through his head at the time, his son said he was scared for his dad. “Scared. Just calling my dad names and stuff. It’s not right. Shouldn’t be a police officer.”
KRQE reached out to Bernalillo Police Chief Chris Stoyell to ask if BPD is investigating the traffic stop, or if any officers were disciplined. We have not received an answer.
Was this an excessive use of force?
KRQE Investigates showed the police video to the ACLU. “I do think it was an excessive use of force and unnecessary use of force,” said Maria Martinez, the Legal Director for ACLU New Mexico.
“They didn’t use words to threaten. There were no weapons,” explained Martinez. “I didn’t see any aggressive behavior. They were following the rules. And the cops just got angrier and angrier.”
“And this is why people are fearful of the police,” Martinez added. “What is going to deter these officers from doing the same thing in the future?”
“Police departments just need to really be serious about consequences when this type of thing happens,” Martinez said. “So in this specific case, I think these officers should be disciplined.”
After our interviews, the ACLU says it’s now representing the Albrecht family and will likely file a lawsuit on their behalf.