Police were called on the afternoon of August 2 2022 after the victim, Presley Eze, was witnessed leaving the store in Las Cruces without paying for some beer.
According to the New Mexico Attorney General’s office, Officer Brad Lunsford was the first to arrive on the scene and, despite not being able to verify Mr Eze’s identity “forcibly removed” him from the vehicle, along with another officer.
Mr Eze, who was unarmed and shirtless at the time, resisted the arrest and a scuffle ensued during which he ended up on top of the other officer.
At one point Mr Eze placed his hand on the officer’s taser but did not deploy it. In response, Officer Lunsford allegedly drew his gun and shot Mr Eze “on the back, left side of his head at point blank range”.
Lunsford has been charged with voluntary manslaughter with a firearm enhancement over the incident. The AG’s office said it had consulted with use-of-force experts, who had concluded that Lunsford’s use of deadly force was “not reasonable” under the circumstances.
“Other, less lethal options could have been used to subdue Eze,” the office said in a statement.
Attorney General Raul Torrez said the tragic incident served as “yet another example of poor police tactics resulting in an unjustifiable use of force to subdue an individual resisting arrest for the commission of a minor crime.”
“As New Mexico’s chief law enforcement officer, I have a duty to hold everyone accountable for violations of the law and that includes police officers who cross the line,” Mr Torrez said.
“I urge every member of our community and others around the country to not add to this tragedy by engaging in acts of public disorder and violence.
“Whether you support or oppose the decision to bring charges in this case, we must remain committed to the rule of law and work towards healing the divisions in this country that prevent meaningful progress towards reducing violence on our streets.”
Bobbie Greene, president of the NAACP praised Mr Torrez’s decision, adding: “We are grateful to New Mexico Attorney General, Raul Torrez for seeking accountability.
“We know that this will not bring Presley back, but we hope it will bring some comfort to the Eze family. Our thoughts and prayers and our full support is with the Eze family and a young child who is now forced to grow up without his father.”
At a press conference on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the family said Mr Eze, who worked at a nursing home in Las Cruces, was a “gentle giant” and “a very good man”.
“There are too many times that this is happening. It has to stop,” the spokesperson said.
“The lack of humanity that’s been expressed by those who are supposed to protect and to serve, whereby ordinary human beings become like animals who have been hunted down on the streets for what they call a petty theft.
“At the end of the day, it is $2.36 or $3 for a can of beer. If only you knew Presley Eze then you will know that it was never about the money.
“He was not a petty thief. God knows wasn’t a saint, but he was a very good man.”