Force from Without

Actions of store employee, customer before June police shooting raise questions

1. Big R Assistant Store Manager Bill Ritch and another man confront Joseph Galassini in a video captured in the parking lot. 2. Ritch, a former law enforcement officer, holds a gun in one hand as he walks away from the truck. His arm has been cut. 3. Galassini waves a knife at police officers. Their lapel cam footage shows him running toward them.

Investigators from two different law enforcement agencies continue to probe the events that led up to a Santa Fe Police officer shooting a 33-year-old man outside the Big R ranch and farm store last month—as well as the shooting itself.

Officer Brandon Deets shot Joseph Galassini twice on June 7, leaving the man unconscious and, later, intubated in a hospital bed, according to police records obtained by SFR.

Galassini survived and, after five days at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, he was booked into the Santa Fe County jail, where he is being held without bond until trial.

Last week, he pleaded not guilty to the list of charges he's facing: shoplifting and multiple counts each of assault, aggravated battery, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon.

Meanwhile, two other men involved in the chaotic, violent scene that unfolded at 725 St. Michael's Drive that Sunday evening will not face any charges, police tell SFR, raising questions about how much force store employees and regular citizens are allowed to use.

Galassini allegedly tried to steal a jacket from the store and got into an altercation with the boyfriend of a woman who tried to take the jacket back from him, police reports say.

Moments later, the fracas spilled out into the parking lot. That's where a bystander video obtained by SFR picks up. It shows Bill Ritch—an assistant manager of the Big R who previously spent 30 years as a law enforcement officer in Santa Fe—and an unidentified man confronting Galassini while he sits in a truck and they stand at the open driver's side door.

Ritch screams at Galassini and tries to pull him out of the truck. The unidentified man hands a gun to Ritch, who points it at Galassini. As the police arrive, Ritch walks out of the camera frame with the gun in his hand and a cut on his arm.

Moments later, as Galassini raises the knife and moves toward officers, Deets shoots him, police body camera video shows.

Neither Ritch nor the other man, whose name city police redacted from incident reports, is a target in the ongoing police investigations.

"At this point in the investigation, the lead detective determined the two victims who were injured by Mr. Galassini will not face criminal charges," SFPD Deputy Chief Ben Valdez writes in an email to SFR.

Should they?

That depends on several factors not shown in the video, says Cammie Nichols, a well-known civil rights lawyer with offices in Albuquerque and Santa Fe who has handled cases involving non-police officers using force in the past.

For starters, Nichols says, store employees, including those acting as security guards, don't have specific authority to arrest people under New Mexico law. And neither store employees nor regular citizens enjoy the broader leeway to use force that's afforded to police officers.

"Basically, they're allowed to do what anybody else is allowed to do with minor exceptions," she says, adding that the details of the Big R incident should guide any decisions about whether Ritch or the other man should be charged.

"It's hard to see what's happening in that car," Nichols says. "And notice is an issue. Did those guys give him notice that they were making a citizen's arrest to try to keep him from stealing their jacket? Or that they thought he had battered someone in the store?

"If they didn't tell him what they were doing and he resists, then his resistance might be reasonable because he might just think he's being attacked."

Whatever the particulars, Nichols says any thorough police investigation should include a review of Ritch's and the other man's actions.

"I would certainly think you would want to investigate what those guys did and whether what they did was reasonable," she says. "They could be subjected to criminal charges if it wasn't."

For his part, Ritch tells SFR he still doesn't have the use of three fingers on his left hand after Galassini cut him. And the retired lawman—15 years with SFPD and another 16 with the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Department, ending in 2011—says police have made it clear he isn't under investigation.

Ritch says he didn't know about the alleged stolen jacket until long after the incident. Rather, he says he was trying to "protect a customer" who was hanging out of Galassini's truck as Galassini tried to drive away.

"That's what I saw when I came out," he tells SFR. "It all went downhill from there."

Ritch at first says he refused the gun when the other man offered it. Reminded of what's shown in the bystander video, he acknowledges that he accepted it.

"I pointed it at him once, yes, I told him he needed to calm down, and I reached back and gave the customer back his gun," Ritch says, although the bystander video shows Ritch take the gun, aim it at Galassini and carry it with him as walks away from the truck with a bloody arm. "I didn't want to escalate it any more."

Nichols says, from what she sees in the video, Ritch and the other man may have done exactly that.

"I think that their actions actually aggravated the situation," she says. "It looks like to me, that if they hadn't kept him there like that and gotten him all riled up, he probably wouldn't have gotten shot."

Ritch says he was obligated to protect the unidentified customer as the situation continued to heat up. So far, it -appears the police agree.

Officer Deets and another officer who showed up on the scene, Cesar Ornelas, are back on duty, Deputy Chief Valdez tells SFR. His department will not begin an administrative investigation to determine whether the officers' actions violated policy until the New Mexico State Police complete a criminal investigation into whether the shooting was against the law. That review is ongoing.

Galassini's public defender, Brad Kerwin, tells SFR he hasn't received discovery in the case yet and isn't comfortable commenting on the roles of Ritch and the unidentified customer. "But I will say that this seems to be excessive for a shoplifting case that my client wound up shot," Kerwin says.

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