The last vehicle Rafael Melendez worked on with his father, Valente Acosta-Bustillos, was a 2000 Dodge Dakota truck.
“It was always misfiring and stuff,” Melendez said.
Even though neither man really knew what he was doing, they would just sit there all day and eventually figure it out.
“It was an older vehicle, but we would always get it to run,” Melendez said. “When we got it, we were like, ‘Wow, we did it.’”
But Acosta-Bustillos would insist that Melendez was the one who really got it running again, Melendez said.
“He was teaching me a lot of things, on how to be a man, to work, and to learn how to be able to work on vehicles,” he said. “He would always tell me, ‘Don’t give up. You can do it. You can do it.’ He was always encouraging.”
Melendez was speaking after a news conference with supporters outside the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday morning, the two-year anniversary of his father’s death.
Two Albuquerque Police officers chased Acosta-Bustillos into his home while conducting a welfare check.
The family had called police for the wellness check, Melendez said. According to the special prosecutor in the case, no one in the family had heard from him for four or five days, his phone was off, and he had not shown up to work or to pick up his latest paycheck.
Body camera footage shows the officers tried to arrest Acosta-Bustillos once they found out he had a warrant. According to court records, a judge issued that warrant because he didn’t show up to court on a battery charge stemming from when his landlord tried to evict him and he pushed her out of his house.
The video shows Officer Edgar Sandoval shot at Acosta-Bustillos seven times at close range.
Acosta-Bustillos died at UNM Hospital shortly afterward.
“Police should not be able to kill innocent people like my dad with impunity,” Melendez said.
He said he feels the pain of not having his dad around, because he still needs things from him.
“Now it just hurts to like, even try to work on a vehicle or even look at like, changing my brakes, or oil, or anything, ‘cause like, it brings back memories, you know?” he said.
They continue living their life, enjoying their family, while I have to see my brothers and sister live daily with an emptiness that can never be filled.
Second Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez appointed Ralph E. Trujillo as special prosecutor on the case.
In a letter to Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina on Jan. 5, 2021, Trujillo wrote that he was closing the case and that criminal charges against Sandoval “are not warranted.”
“I conclude that there is not sufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Officer Sandoval was not acting under a reasonable belief that he faced the threat of great bodily harm as a result of Mr. Acosta-Bustillos’ actions,” Trujillo wrote.
Trujillo wrote that in the moment Sandoval shot Acosta-Bustillos, he believed the man “posed a threat of great bodily harm to himself and Officer Bush,” and therefore could raise a defense in court that the homicide was justifiable.
“The absence of any evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Sandoval’s actions were not reasonable under the circumstances, there is no reasonable likelihood of a successful prosecution,” Trujillo wrote. “No charges will be filed against APD Officer Edgar Sandoval. The case will be closed.”
Melendez and the rest of Acosta-Bustillos’ surviving family are calling on Torrez to reopen a criminal investigation into Sandoval and Joseph Bush, the other APD officer there that day.
Reached for comment by email Wednesday, Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Lauren Rodriguez pointed to Trujillo’s letter and the office’s “officer-involved shooting report and evaluation process” on its website. The process is in place, she said, to avoid conflicts of interest.
Veronica Ajanel, Acosta-Bustillos’ daughter, said he was an amazing person who was always happy when his family was around. He gave the biggest hugs, kissed his children on their foreheads, and bought them tres leches cake for their birthdays, she said.
“I would tell him lo quiero mucho mucho mucho until I ran out of breath ever since I was little,” Ajanel said. “He thought that was the best thing he could ever hear from his kids.”
Ajanel said she wants justice for her dad.
“Justice means Raúl Torrez re-opening the criminal investigation of the officers who killed him, then firing and charging them,” she said.
This shouldn’t happen to anyone else. Police terror must end for all.
Angel Munoz, Acosta-Bustillos’ step-daughter, said she does not know how the police can still walk around and get away with murder just because they hide behind a badge.
“They continue living their life, enjoying their family, while I have to see my brothers and sister live daily with an emptiness that can never be filled,” she said.
She said the family is asking for Sandoval and Bush to sit in a cell to think about what they did, and to miss their own loved ones.
“But at least they would still be able to hear their voice over the phone, something that my brothers and sister won’t ever be able to hear him say, ‘I love you,’” she said.
She said it is not fair to the family and other families and the community at large to not get any kind of justice just because they live in poverty. She said police see people like her as criminals just because of their race, accent, or the way they dress.
“Most kids’ dream before was to be cops,” Munoz said. “Now it’s hide or we die.”
Melendez said there were more ways to approach the situation that could have prevented his death.
According to the special prosecutor’s letter, the two officers were “very familiar” with Acosta-Bustillos.
“They came into contact with him multiple times,” Melendez said. “They knew him and should have been more sensitive.”
Instead, they chose to escalate the situation, he said.
“Police say they will help the community, but instead they brutalize and kill us,” he said. “If this doesn’t change, then how are we supposed to trust the cops?”
Melendez said people should not live in fear from police brutality and murder, and police shouldn’t use force to threaten, manipulate and intimidate people.
“This shouldn’t happen to anyone else,” he said. “Police terror must end for all.”
The family of Valente Acosta-Bustillos held a news conference Wednesday morning outside the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)