Suit blames Albuquerque sanctuary policy in shooting death

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — In a politically explosive lawsuit, the husband of a woman gunned down in her driveway contends her “senseless” death would never have happened but for Albuquerque's “sanctuary policy,” which bars city police coordination with federal immigration officials.

The Nov. 19, 2019, shooting death of Jacqueline “Jacque” Vigil, 55, came just weeks after Albuquerque police responded to a series of auto burglaries and a shooting incident allegedly involving Luis Talamantes-Romero, a Mexican national in the United States illegally who was charged last November in her slaying. He is incarcerated and awaiting sentencing in Texas on illegal re-entry charges.

“This senseless death was the result of the defendants’ indifference regarding an escalating pattern of criminal violence by known illegal aliens…” states the wrongful death lawsuit filed Thursday by her husband Sam Vigil in state district court.

The lawsuit alleges that Albuquerque’s sanctuary policy enabled Talamantes-Romero, his family and his associates to use the city as a “home base” for crime.

Vigil was in her car headed to the gym when she was shot to death in the pre-dawn hours. She was the mother of two New Mexico State Police officers and worked at a child day care center. She legally immigrated to the U.S. two decades earlier from Colombia and married Vigil.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include Mayor Tim Keller and the city of Albuquerque.

Also named is Albuquerque police officer Cody Tapie, who investigated an incident a month before Vigil’s slaying in October 2019, in which two men shot at a dwelling and chased and shot at a car driven by a young man, who was uninjured.

Talamantes-Romero, aka “Pelón,” was identified as the prime suspect in that earlier shooting incident, along with an associate, Eduardo Aguilar.

Aguilar is also an undocumented immigrant with a history of committing violent felony offenses with a firearm, the lawsuit states.

No criminal complaint was filed in that incident and no arrests were made. But the investigation should have put police on notice that Talamantes-Romero was the perpetrator, the lawsuit alleges.

“After this gangster-style shooting, no steps were taken by APD to apprehend Talamantes-Romero or Aguilar and APD did not inform federal law enforcement that Talamantes-Romero or Aguilar had illegally re-entered the country and committed multiple felony offenses.”

Police “ignored this gift from God to avert tragedy and continued to value political principles over the safety and welfare of the citizens of Albuquerque,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit also alleges that police missed a chance to arrest Talamantes-Romero in a September 2019 burglary of a truck at a hotel parking lot. His blood and fingerprints were found in the vehicle, in which several firearms were stolen, court records show.

Talamantes-Romero has a lengthy criminal record in Albuquerque and elsewhere.

Had he been arrested, charged and convicted in either of the two prior crimes, federal immigration officials could have been notified and he would have been taken off the streets and charged with illegal re-entry, which carries up to a 20-year prison sentence if an aggravated felony has occurred, Vigil alleges.

The FBI has alleged that before Vigil was killed, Talamantes-Romero and another man were lurking in Vigil’s neighborhood, looking for items to steal from cars.

They noticed Vigil attempting to leave in her Cadillac, and Talamantes-Romero allegedly jumped out with a firearm and shot her through the driver’s window before the two fled.

Sam Vigil’s legal team includes Albuquerque attorneys Robert Gorence and Jason Bowles, both former federal prosecutors.

According to a statement his attorneys sent to the Albuquerque Journal, the lawsuit is aimed at making the city accountable for Jacqueline Vigil’s death.

“Sam wants it known that this case is not about politics," the statement reads. "Politics to Sam is resolving the status of our many Dreamers fairly and with compassion. Bad policy is when the city orders that sickening criminals who dream only to kill, maim and rob are shielded from federal law and swift and sure incarceration and deportation.”

The federal public defender for Talamantes-Romero has not responded to requests for comment.

Police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in an email: “Our hearts have always gone out to the Vigil family, and our officers and detectives worked with law enforcement partners to bring justice in this case. Police work hard to investigate violate crime which is what they have done in this case.”

City Attorney Estaban Aguilar Jr. said in an email that no city ordinance prevents local law enforcement or the federal government from arresting violent felons — immigrant or otherwise.

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Sanctuary city

Keller signed off on the sanctuary city policy in April 2018, after the City Council by a 6-3 vote approved the measure to make Albuquerque “immigrant friendly.”

That policy prohibits city employees, including police officers, from collecting information regarding a person’s immigration status, the lawsuit states. It also bars the city from disclosing information it possesses regarding national origin absent a valid judicial warrant for such information.

Such policies have been controversial in other cities, such as after the fatal shooting of a woman in San Francisco in 2015 by an undocumented immigrant, who was acquitted of murder but found guilty of a lesser charge of felony possession of a firearm.

The lawsuit alleges that Albuquerque’s policy “frustrated the enforcement of federal law and increased the danger that illegal aliens, including repeat violent felony offenders and members of illegal street gangs like Talamantes-Romero and Aguilar would be able to commit criminal acts in Albuquerque without risk that they would be subject to deportation for federal crimes.”

“Many other similarly situated individuals have also been harmed due to the policies in place which prohibit city employees from coordinating with federal law enforcement to keep dangerous illegal aliens off of the streets in Albuquerque.”

After serving a federal prison sentence after his last illegal entry, Talamantes-Romero was deported back to Mexico in early September 2019.

“Immediately after he was deported,” the lawsuit alleges, “he made a beeline to Albuquerque to live with his two sisters, who are also illegal aliens with criminal records.”

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Political overtones

The case has had political overtones since last summer when former President Donald Trump at a press conference announcing a new national federal initiative, Operation Legend, targeting violent crime in several cities, including Albuquerque. Vigil, a registered Democrat, spoke of his wife’s fatal shooting.

At the time, APD’s investigation into the Vigil slaying had stalled, even though Talamantes-Romero had been picked up by immigration officials months earlier in Texas. The arrest came after tips to Albuquerque Crimestoppers identified him as a suspect in Vigil’s death.

Under Operation Legend, the FBI joined the investigation in late July, and helped uncover evidence about the fatal shooting and an alleged criminal network that involved Talamantes-Romero and his two sisters.

One allegedly helped him flee New Mexico after the Jacqueline Vigil shooting and the other helped in the cover-up, which involved cleaning up Talamantes-Romero’s Jeep, which was seen leaving the Vigil residence after the slaying.

A total of eight people have been charged with crimes ranging from drug offenses to illegal re-entry in that FBI investigation.

The wrongful death lawsuit alleges that Talamantes-Romero’s sister, Elizabeth Talamantes, was in APD custody in 2018 as was Aguilar but their immigration status was not communicated to federal immigration.

“The defendants’ failure to investigate the criminal acts described in this complaint … and (their) failure to act in a reasonable prudent manner … placed Ms. Vigil at serious risk," the lawsuit states. "This risk was obvious and known … the totality of the circumstances are conscience shocking.”