A Shooting in My ‘Hood: Violence Hits Close to Home

In the midst of a struggle, the assailant shot JC in the hand. He then shot JJ in the leg.

Before the incident, JC and JJ had been absorbed in working on a car that Saturday evening at Jake Klein’s garage at Route 66 Auto Repair in Alberquerque, New Mexico.

I know stuff like this happens. Happens a lot, actually. Just not in my neighborhood. These events unfolded a block away from my house.

I eventually corralled JC and we had a conversation. It wasn’t a formal interview, as such, because JC’s primary language is Spanish; mine is English. So, there could be minor errors of interpretation in what follows. I also resorted to the official police report — State of New Mexico Uniform Incident Report, Case No. 170024046 — and then JC pointed out that it contained several fundamental errors. (Apparently the cop’s first language was English also.) Nevertheless, here’s how the crimes went down and what we can learn from the pain JC and JJ suffered.

Saturday Evening, My Neighborhood

It was 9 p.m. on March 11, 2017. New Mexico — by some measures one of the poorest states in the U.S. — has its share of classic and vintage cars and trucks and, that night, JC and JJ, who are not related, were ripping one of them apart in Jake’s garage. (South Valley is the “traditional” quarter, not upscale but not hungry, adobe houses, coyote fences and taco trucks.)

Although there’s plenty of traffic along Old Coors on a Saturday night, the guys were absorbed in their work. Jake doesn’t have a website and doesn’t employ a receptionist, even during business hours. You don’t call Jake’s to book an official appointment; you just show up and he tells you when — or about when — he can get around to your work. You can take it or leave it, and you’re still friends either way. Eventually, he tells you how much it will cost, you pay, there’s no receipt and, normally, it’s a good, fair job. Jake’s mechanics — a capable but motley crew — come and go without a clock or when they want to work on their own cars or do a favor for a buddy. It’s loose. It’s New Mexico.

So, JC and JJ banged on the engine. They loosened bolts and tightened nuts and adjusted hoses. The evening was pleasant. The garage bay doors were lifted halfway for the air. The radio played a muted Norteño or grupero — accordion and guitar music. The men were totally immersed in what Jeff Cooper called “Condition White,” which is to say, oblivious.

The garage bay doors were lifted halfway for the air. The radio played a muted Norteño or grupero — accordion and guitar music. The men were totally immersed in what Jeff Cooper called “Condition White,” which is to say, oblivious.

Hearing a scraping shuffle, JC looked up to see a man standing inside the garage. He didn’t know the man and had never seen him before, an Anglo or Caucasian wearing jeans and tennis shoes, a black hoodie and a black baseball cap. Later, for the police, JC described him as 20 to 28 years old, roughly 5 feet 10 inches tall, with a thin build — “skinny,” JC says — with two teardrop tattoos on his right cheek beneath the corner of his right eye. Apparently, the man had ridden to the garage on a bicycle.

“Who’s selling the car?” the man asked.

“This one? Not for sale,” JC replied.

“No, the one outside,” the man said. “Got any information?”

Jake sometimes allows customers to park “For Sale” vehicles in his lot. A white 2004 GMC Envoy had a “For Sale” sign in the window.

“Oh,” JC shrugged and pointed to JJ. “He does. But he doesn’t speak English.”

The stranger didn’t speak Spanish.

“How much does he want for it?” the man asked.

As they talked and dickered about price, with JC translating back and forth in his broken English, the man asked if he could take the car for a test drive … see if he “liked it.”

“Sure, no problem” JC said and handed over the keys.

JC went along for the ride. The two barely drove a mile before the stranger turned around and inquired about the car title. JC didn’t know but said he would ask JJ. It turned out that JJ carried it inside his toolbox, which was in the garage.

Inside the garage, the man began counting out $100 bills from a wad of money in his jeans pocket. That struck JC as odd, so he held a bill up to the garage lights.

“Can I see it, the title?” the man asked.

Still in Condition White, JC obligingly walked into the garage for it. He was looking over the title — registered to Navajo Nation Property Management, Fort Defiant, Arizona — when he noticed the man had already loaded his bicycle into the GMC’s rear cargo area.

“He take $500, cash?” the man asked.

That amount was fine with JJ.

Inside the garage, the man began counting out $100 bills from a wad of money in his jeans pocket. That struck JC as odd, so he held a bill up to the garage lights. Immediately, the image of Benjamin Franklin and other government markings looked wrong. Lines were transposed over the engraved amount. The security ribbon was smudged. The representation of Independence Hall on the reverse seemed blurred. He knew the U.S. $100 bill is the most counterfeited paper currency in the world.

“There’s something wrong with your money, bro,” JC said, at once notifying the potential customer that there was a problem but wanting to avoid giving offense.

JC reached into his portable cash register — a rusty toolbox — and withdrew a rumpled $100 bill he knew was genuine. He held both bills up to the light and tried to point out the issue.

“Look here,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” the man replied. “You saying my money’s no good, that there’s something wrong with my money?”

JC dropped the authentic $100 bill back into his toolbox. When he turned around, the tattooed bicyclist had pulled a stainless-steel revolver and positioned its muzzle within inches of JC’s nose.

The loudest sound JC has ever heard — louder than any muscle car’s glasspack or cat screeching in the garage — was the “click” when the bicyclist pulled the trigger.

That click immediately sent JC into Condition Red. He slapped the man’s arm to the side and grabbed at the gun. The man pulled the trigger again and, this time, the gun fired. The bullet struck JC in the left palm. The pain was instantaneous, and he fell to the floor, bleeding.

“The man who installed the cameras failed to finish the job approximately three months ago.”

From behind, JJ leapt on the bicyclist, seizing him in a bear hug. Of course, this left the man’s forearms and hands — notably the hand holding the gun — free to move and, as JJ struggled to throw him to the floor, the man fired again, hitting JJ in the upper right thigh. Reacting to the pain and spurt of blood, JJ grabbed his leg and stumbled to the floor.

Meanwhile, JC rose to his feet and reached inside his tool cabinet for his gun — a semi-auto. But he does not keep a cartridge chambered, so no matter how hard he tried to jack a round by pressing the slide against the tool cabinet and shoving it downward, his hands, slimy with his own blood, slipped.

The police responded to JC’s 911 call within minutes.

“The suspect then got up [from the floor where JJ had thrown him] and proceeded to run out of the business to [JJ’s] white 2004 GMC Envoy, which was still parked in the south side lot,” the police report reads. “[JC] told [JJ] to close the bay door while the Caucasian male suspect proceeded to flee the scene … It was at this point that [JC] called 911.”

Responding Albuquerque police officers noted that the business was equipped with security cameras, but JC explained, “The man who installed the cameras failed to finish the job approximately three months ago.”

Officer First Class David Nix strapped a tourniquet around JJ’s leg. Paramedics at the scene cared for JC and JJ before transporting them to the University of New Mexico Hospital for additional treatment. Both men have recovered, although they have been advised that complications from the gunshots, neither of which hit bone, could annoy them for years. Neither the bicyclist nor the white GMC Envoy — VIN 1GKDT13S442408351 — has been located.

Officer Nix indicated that the offenses were robbery with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and auto theft. His report also stated that the armed robbery was not gang-related, though how he could make that quick determination is not clear.

A Few Afterthoughts

I asked JC if he had a permit to carry a concealed handgun; no permit is required to carry openly in New Mexico. No, he laughed, he didn’t. He did, however, have a pistol nearby when the bicyclist came into the garage.

Responding officers telephoned Jake, who was unavailable. Jake, in turn, called neighbor Randy Stracener, a concealed carry advocate and firearms collector, who closed the garage for the night.

Whether JC or JJ were armed at the time of their shooting might be irrelevant. They were both in Col. John Dean “Jeff” Cooper’s Condition White, a rating from White to Yellow to Orange to Red, indicating level of alertness or combat mindset. White, oblivious. Yellow, relaxed alert. Orange, specific alert. Red, actively fighting. Cooper taught these conditions of readiness at what is now Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona.

When he turned around, the tattooed bicyclist had pulled a stainless-steel revolver and positioned its muzzle within inches of JC’s nose.

When he turned around, the tattooed bicyclist had pulled a stainless-steel revolver and positioned its muzzle within inches of JC’s nose.

Cooper warned that Condition Yellow (relaxed alert) should be the constant or steady state of mind when around people one does not know or when one is in an unfamiliar location. Transfixed as they were in unaware, unprepared Condition White, neither JJ nor JC thought a skinny bicyclist with facial tattoos and wearing a black cap and black hoodie ducking under the garage doors at 9 p.m. on Saturday and offering to pay for a car with $100 bills was the least bit weird. Neither of them so much as transitioned to Condition Yellow when the bicyclist’s bills appeared to be counterfeit. And neither reached for a defensive weapon until it was too late. Prior to the loud “click” of the bicyclist’s weapon failing to fire, neither man believed anything other than that some poor schmo wanted to buy a car.

To their credit, both men reacted quickly after the bicyclist pulled the gun. Some might say that, at that point, it might have been better to simply hand over the keys and title and avoid being shot, yet the perp demonstrated that he had zero hesitation or misgivings about pulling the trigger and murdering someone. It was a hard call and second-guessing is mostly irrelevant.

Fortunately for our New Mexican victims, the bicyclist’s small revolver, his ammunition or both were faulty. Officer Nix’s report notes: “I noticed what appeared to be a small caliber, possibly .22 LR or .32 ACP, bullet on the garage floor, in a piece of tan colored carpet … In addition to the bullet, I also observed what appeared to be a piece of bullet jacketing about 2 inches from the bullet itself.” A neighborhood garage can be a naturally messy place.

So, all this in my neighborhood … and I slept through it.

Buenas noches. Dulces sueños.

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