Six hundred people filed into Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on Sept. 18 for the funeral of Gilbert Roybal, whose violent death six days earlier had captured the city’s attention. Roybal died approximately 14 hours after being struck by an unknown attacker downtown on the first night of Fiesta weekend, police say.
With mourners lined up along the walls, Father George Salazar told the Bible story of Martha’s helpless weeping at her brother’s death. “I’m sure many of us had that reaction on learning of Gilbert’s death: ‘Lord, where were you? Where was anyone to help him?’” Salazar said.
That last question haunts three witnesses who fear a “blasé” police response to Roybal’s attack may have contributed to the hair stylist’s death at age 44.
As Roybal lay dying, Angela Bush recounted to an officer how she’d seen him crumple “like a rag doll” after being attacked by a man on the street. The officer interrupted with a question, according to Bush and her friends:
“Hey,” the officer said, “don’t I know you from somewhere?”
Unlikely. Bush lives in San Francisco and was here visiting friends Reece Carmona, a copywriter, and her wife, JD Carmona, a nanny. Was the officer too busy flirting with Bush to treat the crime scene seriously? “It kind of seemed that way,” Reece Carmona says. “The feeling was like, ‘Oh, a drunk got in a brawl. He’s passed out, so it’s no big deal.’”
SFR could not determine the name of the white, middle-aged officer because the women did not get his name, nor those of the four or five other male officers who arrived on bicycles. Santa Fe Police Lt. Tom Wiggins, head of the violent crimes unit, confirms a bike patrol responded to the scene. Wiggins, however, could not address the women’s version of events.
“If they submitted a statement, I’m sure we have it. I can’t speak to their perception,” Wiggins says.
The women say none of the bicycle officers took their names and appeared in no hurry to call an ambulance or search for a suspect, though Roybal lay unresponsive and bleeding.
Bush says she called police on Sept. 13 after reading a Santa Fe New Mexican story, “Man found severely beaten downtown.” She shared her written statement with SFR.
Bush and the Carmonas were driving north on Sandoval Street at 8:39 pm on Sept. 11 when they saw two men entering the intersection at Water Street. The intersection was near Ancient Spirit Salon, which Roybal owned, and beside the Eldorado Hotel, where Roybal had reportedly been drinking just before the attack. (A hotel employee who was working that night and knew Roybal refused comment.)
Roybal “was walking backwards, crouched down slightly, with his hands in a defensive posture,” Bush writes. The other man—apparently in his early 20s, tall and skinny, wearing blue jeans and a white shirt—“was walking toward him aggressively. The assailant moved his arm back, then pushed it forward in what we originally thought was a gesture like putting a gun to someone’s head, but then looked like he hit Mr. Roybal with an object. The movement of the assailant’s arm was not like that of a punch.”
Roybal fell “in a motion like withering,” Bush writes. “His whole body went very limp and loose. He went first to his knees, then to his side and then to his shoulder, and rolled to his back. As soon as he hit the ground one of my friends dialed 911.”
Reece Carmona says an “older couple” had pulled over across the street and may have also called 911; she provided SFR with iPhone screenshots showing a three-minute 911 call made at 8:40 pm. The Santa Fe Regional Emergency Communications Center did not release call recordings requested by SFR by press time.
“As she was dialing, we stopped the car and I went directly to Mr. Roybal. I knelt down and put my hand on his chest and asked if he was alright,” Bush writes. Roybal didn’t reply.
“He had blood on his face, which was in two clean streams going down the center of his forehead and down either side of his nose. There were no marks on his face. His breathing was extremely labored,” Bush writes. She kept saying help was on the way.
Reece Carmona was speaking with a 911 operator when her call was cut off; around that time, approximately 8:43 pm, the bicycle patrol arrived. The officers surrounded Roybal and tried to calm the witnesses, Carmona says.
“They didn’t ask us any questions. One guy was like, ‘My handlebars are messed up,’ and the other cops were like, ‘How did that happen?’” she says.
A few minutes later, Bush says, Roybal’s phone rang. The caller hung up when Bush answered. Bush called back and handed the phone to an officer. “The first thing [the officer said after hanging up] was, ‘I just talked to his friend; he said [Roybal] is wasted,’” Bush tells SFR.
After 15 or 20 minutes, Reece Carmona says, two men wearing red polo shirts arrived on bikes; the officers called them paramedics. Wiggins tells SFR no bike medics responded to the scene, contrary to the witnesses’ account. (It’s unclear if there were other safety personnel hired for the weekend; Fiesta Council President Gabby Montoya did not return a message.) Carmona says officers told the women to leave once the bike medics arrived, and asked the women no questions.
“I would love to know what time he was admitted to the hospital,” Bush says. “That’s what haunts me: How much time did it take to figure out his brain was hemorrhaging?”
Asked about Roybal’s time of arrival and time of death, CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center spokesman Arturo Delgado tells SFR “none of that is information I have or can confirm at this point or at any point,” because of the hospital’s interpretation of federal medical privacy laws.
Delgado says Roybal was a “privacy patient” at the request of either his family or law enforcement, meaning the hospital would not have confirmed his presence there even before he died.
With authorities keeping a lid on information about the case, basic questions linger.
Who struck Roybal? Police have no suspect. If the women’s account is accurate, officers may have missed their best chance to find one.
Was it murder? A log of all incidents over Fiesta weekend shows Officer Byron Campbell filed a report at 9:13 pm on Sept. 12 labeled “murder (homicide)” at Sandoval and Water streets. But Wiggins tells SFR that even if experts prove an attacker’s punch killed Roybal, it “still wouldn’t be a murder,” because murder requires proving the attacker’s intent.
Indeed, police have no evidence this was anything other than a random altercation that ended worse than most brawls.
“There were fights at Fusion. We made arrests at the Catamount [Pub & Grille]. In that context, it’s probably looking [to responding officers] as another garden-variety Fiesta event,” Wiggins says.
Police must now rely on tips from the public. Wiggins hopes the attacker mentioned the fight to someone, or that someone noticed a friend who came back from Fiestas with a sore hand. He dreads the possibility that Roybal’s attacker was, like Bush, only visiting town—which would “exponentially raise the difficulty level” of solving the case.
Like her spouse and her friend, JD Carmona worries authorities haven’t said all they know about Roybal’s death. “Isn’t it funny that none of the cops are coming forward to say, ‘That was me’? [Police claim] they don’t have records of who was on bikes, which I don’t believe,” she says. “I think they’re helping each other out.”
Statement related to the attack on Mr. Gilbert Roybal
A few dates and times:
Date of event: September 11, 2009
Time of attack: 8:39pm
Time of 911 phone call: 8:40pm. Cut off after exactly 3 minutes of talking. Did not call back as other witnesses had called 911 and bike patrolmen came across the incident.
On September 11th, at exactly 8:39pm, I and two friends were driving North of Sandoval street. As we approached the cross street of Water, we saw two men coming into the intersection. One man (Mr. Roybal) was walking backwards, crouched down slightly, with his hands in a defensive posture. The other man (The assailant), was walking toward him aggressively. The assailant moved his arm back, then pushed it forward in what we originally thought was a gesture like putting a gun to someone’s head, but then looked like he hit Mr. Roybal with an object. The movement of the assailant’s arm was not like that of a punch or striking someone with a fist. We were approximately 25 feet away from the incident, which was happening in front and just to the left of our vehicle.
At that point Mr. Roybal fell to the ground like a rag doll, in a motion like withering. His whole body went very limp and loose. He went first to his knees, then to his side and then to his shoulder, and rolled to his back. As soon as he hit the ground one of my friends dialed 911 and began speaking to the 911 operator. As she was dialing, we stopped the car and I went directly to Mr. Roybal. I knelt down and put my hand on his chest and asked if he was alright. Mr. Roybal did not respond. He had blood on his face, which was in two clean streams going down the center of his forehead and down either side of his nose. There were no marks on his face. His breathing was extremely labored, loud, and almost as if he were snoring loudly. I asked him if he could please tell me his name, which he also did not respond to. At that point, I told him that help was on the way and I stayed with him for 3 to 5 minutes and repeatedly spoke to him telling him that help was on the way.
Approximately 3 to 4 minutes after Mr. Roybal was struck, a patrol of police officers on bikes showed up at the scene. It appeared to us that they happened across the scene and were not called to the scene. The officer asked what happened, and we told him that we saw a man strike Mr. Roybal. We described him to the officers as pointed in the direction that he ran, which was through the Hilton parking lot. We described the assailant as a tall man (between 6 ft and 6’2, perhaps taller), wearing blue jeans and a white button down long sleeve shirt with some kind of stitching on it in some kind of pattern on the front of the shirt of each side. He was tall, skinny, and seemed to be in his early 20’s. After he hit Mr. Roybal, he looked up into oncoming traffic, and started running through the parking lot. He ran in a way that indicated he was athletic. We don’t know if any of the officers on bikes went to look for the assailant.
At this point, at least four of the officers were standing around the scene. No one attended to Mr. Roybal, checked his pulse, stabilized him or administered any care. The one officer that we saw get off of his bike did so to wave oncoming traffic on. We were asked to keep an eye on traffic to see if the assailant would drive by. My other friend stood and did this. About 5 to 7 minutes after he was struck, Mr. Roybal’s phone began to ring. The name on the caller ID said Leroy (possibly Leon). I picked up the phone and answered it, saying “Hello? I am with your friend…” at which point he hung up. I immediately called him back and said “please don’t hang up. I am with your friend, and he’s been hurt. Can you please come meet us.” He said “where are you”? I said “I’m not from here. Let me hand you over to a police officer who can tell you our exact location”.
I then handed the phone to the police officer who had been the person I had mainly been talking to since they arrived. He spoke with the person on the phone and I went back to Mr. Roybal. The officer hung up, and told all of the surrounding police officers that “his friend said he’s wasted”, and all of the officers continued to stand around or on their bikes talking about numerous things.
During this time one of my friends stated “I wonder if he got mugged”. One of the officers bent down and felt Mr. Roybal’s short pockets, and said “nope, his wallet’s still there”, but did not take it out of his short pocket to check the ID.
At this point we heard a small siren, and two men on bikes wearing red polos approached us, and the officer said “here’s the paramedics”. The two men came up to us, and asked what happened. The officer said something along the lines of “This guy’s been in a fight. I just got off the phone with his friend and he said he’s wasted”. The paramedic then spoke to the other paramedic while we waited, assuming that an ambulance was on the way.
At this point, we asked the officer what he would like us to do. He said “you can go”. I asked if he wanted our names, contact information or anything else, and he said “no, you’re fine, thanks for your help”. I looked back on Mr. Roybal one more time before we left. His breathing had become much more subdued and relaxed but still audible. A paramedic was bending down and checking his pulse as we were leaving.
On Sunday, Sept. 13th, my friend and I were at Pharmica in Santa Fe at 2pm, and I happened to glance at a paper, where we saw a headline that said “Man Found Severely Beaten Downtown”. I read the newspaper and realized that this was the scene we had witnessed. I immediately called the police number listed in the paper and left my information with someone at the police department who said they would pass it on to the person handling the case. A detective contacted me on Sunday night around 8pm, and I told him what I have written in this statement.