Albuquerque fire officials are investigating what led to a fire that killed a 15-year-old boy while police were in a standoff with a suspect in a Southeast Albuquerque neighborhood.
The Albuquerque Police Department said they were pursuing 27-year-old Qiaunt Kelley for an armed carjacking, vehicle theft and probation violation. Kelley barricaded himself in the house, and police said they opted to use powder and smoke irritants when all other tactics failed. A fire later erupted.
Kelley fled the home, but Brett Rosenau was discovered dead inside. Preliminary results of an autopsy list the boy’s cause of death as smoke inhalation. Protestors and the homeowners are blaming Albuquerque Police for his death.
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina has acknowledged the devices used to introduce irritants into the home may have caused the fire.
“In our effort to track down and arrest a violent criminal, a young person tragically lost his life,” Medina said in a statement. “I know many people in our community are hurting right now, and appreciate everyone’s patience while the incident is thoroughly investigated. If any of our actions inadvertently contributed to his death, we will take steps to ensure this never happens again. I’ve asked our Victim’s Services Unit to work with the family and provide them support during this painful time.”
Elizabeth Fields told Albuquerque Journal that her sister Sundra Coleman owns the house that had been left in charred shambles after the July 6 standoff. Authorities said Rosenau had followed Kelley into the home. Fields said two young guys were visiting her sister’s son when SWAT surrounded the house with guns drawn, ordered everyone out and detained many of her relatives in handcuffs.
“And then they start pulling off the windows, they started removing the doors, they had a machine that ripped up the tree, and so then they started throwing gas bombs in there,” Fields said, adding that “the whole house went up in flames.”
Medina said that the department’s Investigative Services Unit trailed Kelley to the home’s front yard, where he was spotted with the boy working on a motorcycle, which turned out to be stolen. Authorities said Kelley was also wanted for questioning for the June 26 shooting death of Leonard Fresquez, an officer-involved shooting on May 5 and a recent armed robbery being investigated by Albuquerque police and federal law enforcement.
Police said Kelley fled into the home and barricaded himself inside, and Rosenau followed behind. They said SWAT officers tried to talk Kelley into retreating from the home for several hours with public service announcements and placing a phone in the house to negotiate with Kelley and Rosenau.
The agency used a drone and robots to survey the house and to activate powder irritants. Officials said a man believed to be Kelley opened the back door of the home and lay on his back, but he ignored officers’ commands to stand up. Officers used a noise flash device to try to get him to follow their orders, but Kelley went back into the home and shut the door.
Kelley later fled the house when the fire erupted in the home. He surrendered and was taken to a nearby hospital with burn injuries. A dog also died in the fire. Medina said at one point, the boy came out of the house and went back inside “of his own will.”
A woman who identified herself as Roseneau’s mother said she was “not mentally, physically, emotionally, financially prepared for the phone call” she received about her son’s death.
“As a mother, you never imagine that you would be attending your child’s funeral,” Amanda Lopez wrote on the fundraising website asking for donations to cover funeral expenses.
Medina said the agency collaborated with the Community Safety Department to find the home’s occupants shelter for 90 days, food, diapers and other resources.
Medina said the SWAT team used a number of Flameless Tri-Chamber tear gas canisters and rounds of powder-based chemicals into the home more than an hour before they noticed the smoke. He said they have been cases in other parts of the country of the canisters igniting fires, but they’re “supposed to reduce the likelihood of causing a fire.”
“It’s something we use over and over – in tons of calls,” he said.
The Albuquerque Fire Department said it would take two weeks to complete the investigation. However, witnesses and protesters say the police let the boy die, because they knew he was in the home before they tried to flush out the suspect with the canisters. One protestor held a sign outside the University of New Mexico on July 10 saying, “My question to APD. People told you there was a kid there. Why did you let him burn?”
Fields told reporters that the police department’s actions were “overkill.”
“They didn’t save a life, and they burned down a family home that we can’t get back,” she said. “They said, ‘Well, we were trying to negotiate,’ it’s 2022! These are Black men that fear the police. You really thought you were going get them to come out the house?”