APD erred in saying standoff suspect had federal warrant

Jul. 13—Albuquerque police have walked back their earlier statement that a man was wanted on a federal warrant when detectives cornered him and a teenager at a home in Southeast Albuquerque last week.

The ensuing standoff with Qiaunt Kelley, 27, ended when the home caught fire — possibly from SWAT team members throwing tear gas canisters inside it — and 15-year-old Brett Rosenau was found dead from smoke inhalation.

Albuquerque Fire Rescue is still investigating what caused the blaze but police leaders believe the "device used by tactical officers may have ignited the fire." The state Attorney General's Office announced Wednesday that it is conducting an independent review into the incident.

Gilbert Gallegos, an Albuquerque Police Department spokesman, said on Wednesday that the department initially misinformed the media about Kelley being wanted on a federal warrant for carjacking.

Gallegos said there was "a miscommunication" and that the Multi-Agency Task Force had initially briefed department leaders that there was a federal warrant. That false information was repeated by APD leaders in briefings that followed.

"I don't know how that miscommunication happened," Gallegos said.

Scott Howell, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, confirmed this as well saying, "At the time there was no federal warrant and, as far as we know, there isn't one."

The arrest warrant that sparked the deadly confrontation was for a parole violation, according to documents provided by the New Mexico Corrections Department.

In September 2019, Kelley pleaded guilty in two cases out of Las Cruces — one for unlawful taking of a vehicle, the other for robbery. In one instance, he and two other men punched a man and took his wallet and car. In the other case, he and a woman stole a car from a mobile home park after they couldn't get her car to start.

Kelley's attorney did not respond to requests for comment.

Carmelina Hart, a Corrections Department spokeswoman, said Kelley had been released from prison and put on parole on Dec. 15 and an arrest warrant was issued for him in March after he removed his ankle monitor.

"Once a warrant is issued and entered in the NCIC (National Crime Information Center), any local law enforcement agency can serve the warrant," Hart said. Gallegos said APD decided to serve Kelley's warrant because he was wanted for questioning in various crimes around the city.

Kelley has since been taken back into state custody and is being held at Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas.

APD's Investigative Support Division tracked Kelley, who had Rosenau with him, to the home in Southeast Albuquerque. When they went to arrest Kelley, police said, the pair ran inside the home and wouldn't come out.

Gallegos said once a suspect meets certain criteria, like barricading themselves, policy dictates SWAT be called out. He added, "it's not even an option."

"The whole idea behind that is — through our reform efforts — is to slow down the situation," Gallegos said. "Obviously, it can take several hours and they have a crisis negotiation team and a lot of different tools to try to end it peacefully."

Members of APD and the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office SWAT teams responded to the scene. Gallegos said the police department was short some officers so it asked BCSO for assistance and a deputy commander's notes indicate there were 15 deputies there.

BCSO spokespeople referred all questions from the Journal back to APD.

During the standoff SWAT team members threw tear gas canisters and shot chemical munitions into the house. Gallegos said they also used flashbangs, but only on the outside. The house caught fire in the early morning hours of July 7, and when firefighters entered they found Rosenau dead. The home was destroyed and a family dog was also killed in the fire.

Gallegos said detectives wanted to speak with Kelley about three cases: the June 25 shooting death of Leonard Fresquez, a May incident where police traded gunshots with a suspect but no one was hit, and an armed robbery that is being investigated by APD and a federal agency.

Scrutiny on Kelley appears to have intensified just before the standoff.

Lauren Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the 2nd Judicial District Attorney's Office, said APD requested approval for a search warrant for Kelley's "electronic account information" in order to try to find him.

"The search warrant indicated that Mr. Kelley had outstanding felony arrest warrants," Rodriguez said. "This was the first time that our office was made aware of Mr. Kelley's involvement in any recent criminal activity. APD has not submitted reports or requested any arrest warrants for Mr. Kelley to our office for new charges."

Felony arrest warrants — a "generically sufficient term" — can refer to warrants for parole or probation violations as long as the initial charge was a felony, according to attorney Ahmad Assed.

Kelley was only wanted on one felony arrest warrant — the parole violation.

Gallegos did not provide any further details on Kelley's suspected involvement in the crimes. Kelley has not been charged in those incidents or in relation to the fire or standoff.

"They're still under investigation... And (detectives) usually go, once they're detained, and see if they're willing to talk about what they know," Gallegos said. "And maybe they're not involved or they can clear something up. Or maybe they'll say something during questioning that helps the investigation move forward, whether they're a suspect or a person of interest, or what have you... A lot of investigations move forward based on that."

He added, "In this case, it's a little different too because he was considered violent and... potentially actively committing violent crimes. So he had a warrant, and they wanted to get him off the streets."

Gallegos said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also investigating Kelley in a carjacking.

ATF spokesman Cody Monday said there are no pending federal cases or federal warrants from the ATF on Kelley. As for an ongoing ATF investigation into Kelley, Monday said he didn't know.

"I don't even think I can comment — if it's an open investigation I can't comment — but I'm not even sure that that's happening," he said.

Meanwhile, in response to requests from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, Rosenau's family and APD Chief Harold Medina, Attorney General Hector Balderas said his office will conduct an independent review of the circumstances that led to the deadly fire.

"We have already begun assembling a team to conduct the review, and agree that a transparent and comprehensive review of the matter is warranted, given the tragic circumstance of Brett Rosenau's death," Chief Deputy Attorney General Anne Kelly wrote in a response letter to Medina.

The Multi-Agency Task Force is also investigating the incident and whether any policies were violated.