Albuquerque police officers knew a person other than the suspect they were pursuing had run inside the very house they threw powder irritants into. They had that knowledge before they decided to activate the irritants, and they did so anyway, desperate to drive those inside the home, including 15-year-old Brett Rosenau, outside. They failed in more ways than one.
“Rosenau was found deceased inside the home,” police said in a news release. His death on Wednesday, which an autopsy confirmed was the result of smoke inhalation, ignited protests that drew dozens, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Elizabeth Fields told the newspaper her sister Sundra Coleman owns the house at the center of what eventually became a SWAT standoff and later a death scene. Fields said two young people were visiting her sister's son when SWAT arrived with guns drawn, demanding everyone clear the area. Fields said officers handcuffed some of her family members and she didn't realize anyone had gone inside the house, but Rosenau and a suspect police identified as Qiaunt Kelley had.
Fields said police started "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,” she told the Albuquerque Journal. "The whole house went up in flames.”
Albuquerque police spent a considerable amount of time in their news release laying blame on a suspect accused of violating probation for armed carjacking and stolen vehicle charges. Authorities tracked down Qiaunt Kelley outside of the home in Southeast Albuquerque.
“Detectives later discovered a gun in the car Kelley arrived in, and determined the motorcycle he was working on at the residence was stolen,” police said. “Kelley was also wanted for questioning related to the June 26, 2022, shooting death of Leonard Fresquez; an officer-involved shooting on May 5, 2022, at 7604 Central Ave., S.E. in which someone fired an automatic weapon toward officers; and a recent armed robbery being investigated by APD and federal law enforcement.”
Police said when detectives encountered Kelley, he ran and barricaded himself inside the home, and the 15-year-old Rosenau followed him inside. According to officials, which included the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, authorities made every effort, extending over the course of several hours, to convince Brett and Kelley to exit “peacefully.” They made public address announcements and placed a phone in the residence to contact those inside, police said.
“Dozens of calls were made, but crisis negotiators never heard from Kelley or Rosenau,” police said. “A drone and robots were used to determine who was inside the house and to activate powder irritants inside the home to get the individuals to exit.
“At one point, a man believed to be Kelley, opened the back door of the home and lay on his back as officers monitored his actions. He ignored officers’ commands to stand up. He eventually sat in place. Officers used a noise flash diversionary device to get Kelley to follow commands. But he retreated back into the home, shutting the door.
The stand-off ended after officers noticed smoke coming from the house. They used the drone and robot to attempt to locate the source of the smoke. They determined a fire was active inside the home. As fire fighters arrived, Kelley exited the residence with burn injuries. He was taken to a hospital for treatment and later arrested and booked into jail overnight on his warrants.
Albuquerque police said they used devices “designed for indoor use to minimize the likelihood of igniting a fire, and no fires have been reported over the many years they have been used in Albuquerque.”
Albuquerque Fire Rescue is investigating the fire inside the home as arson, a process expected to take about two weeks, police said on Sunday.
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina has “acknowledged the possibility that the devices used to introduce irritants into the home may have caused the fire,” police said in their release.
“In our effort to track down and arrest a violent criminal, a young person tragically lost his life,” Medina said. “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.”
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller echoed the police chief's sentiment in the city police department’s news release. “No matter what the circumstances were, a boy’s life was tragically cut short, something no person or parent should experience,” Keller said. “Every single life is valuable and the loss of any one is devastating to the family and the community. We share our condolences to all who know him and loved him.”
A multi-agency task force is conducting a criminal investigation, and results of that investigation will be sent to the local district attorney to assess. Albuquerque police will also conduct an administrative investigation, police said.
Brett's mother, Amanda Lopez, said on a fundraising page to cover funeral expenses for the child that his death was far from expected. "I was not mentally, physically, emotionally, financially prepared for the phone call I received this morning," she said. "As a mother you never imagine that you would be attending your child’s funeral."
The child's father and namesake was shot and killed by a Bernalillo County deputy after a car chase involving the 24-year-old, according to the Albuquerque Journal. The elder Rosenau was fleeing a traffic stop when he crashed and ran from deputies, later pointing a gun at the cop who shot him, authorities told the newspaper.
Taylor Smith, an attorney representing the child's family, told the Albuquerque Journal the family wants privacy to grieve. “In all honesty they’re trying to avoid the spotlight other than making sure that Brett’s story is told so that it doesn’t happen to others,” Smith said.
The family described Brett's death as "tragic and completely avoidable" in a statement the newspaper obtained. The family’s attorney is pursuing an independent investigation into what happened. “The police had every opportunity to save Brett’s life but instead chose inaction,” the child’s relatives said in their statement. “Brett’s family and community are forever left without their son, brother, and friend. There will be an unfillable void by the loss of his life.”