Rodney Applewhite, 25, was driving through New Mexico recently on his way to Arizona to spend Thanksgiving with his mother and other family members.

Just outside Los Lunas, on the last leg of a trip that started in South Bend, Ind., a New Mexico State Police officer attempted to pull Applewhite over for what was described as a traffic stop.

It was 8:32 a.m. Nov. 19, a state police news release said. About 10 minutes later, two state troopers tried to arrest Applewhite. When an altercation occurred with the first officer, the second officer shot Applewhite, firing “at least one round,” state police said.

Applewhite, unarmed, died that day in a hospital.

“I can’t sleep, I can’t eat. I’m heartbroken,” Applewhite’s mother, Katrina Cox, said by phone. “Why is it always shoot to kill? Because he’s tall and he’s a Black man?”

Cox said she did not find out about her son’s death until nine hours later. At that point, Applewhite was overdue to arrive in Phoenix, and they were worried when he hadn’t answered calls. When his aunt saw an online news report about a shooting on a New Mexico highway, she sent it to Applewhite’s sister and his mom.

“My aunt thought it couldn’t be him, because the man was dead and we hadn’t heard from the police,” said Baysia Cox, Applewhite’s sister. “But I knew it was Rodney when I saw that it was his car.”

At about 5 p.m. Applewhite’s mother called state police but was told she needed to email them proof of her identification before they could speak with her. She did so, and then spoke to Officer Charles Volk.

Hoping for more information, Katrina called again the morning of Nov. 20 and was told the police would follow up with the family. But since then, they’ve heard nothing. As of Saturday night, state police had not even released Applewhite’s name.

In a Nov. 24 email to Searchlight New Mexico, state police said they had no new details to provide, adding the shooting was under investigation. Family members have been left with only the barest details offered in a news release.

“We just want the truth, and to know everything was done the correct way,” Baysia Cox said. “But we haven’t heard anything, and it just didn’t feel right to us.”

According to the statement, Applewhite was driving his gray Chrysler 200 on the Manzano Expressway, a barren two-lane road east of Interstate 25, when the first officer tried to pull him over.

He fled and the state police pursued him, using tire-deflation devices to try to stop him.

About seven minutes later, a dispatcher described his whereabouts and the two officers involved in the shooting incident found him standing outside the car. When they tried to take him into custody, Applewhite resisted arrest and grabbed one officer’s gun, the report said. The second officer shot and killed him.

Applewhite is the second Black American to be fatally shot by police in New Mexico in the past five years. The first, 40-year-old John Bailon, was also killed in Los Lunas — shot 12 times by Valencia County deputies in January 2018. Bailon’s estate brought a wrongful death suit against the county, which recently settled the case, said Philip Davis, a plaintiffs’ attorney in the proceeding.

Excessive use of force is a serious problem today in New Mexico law enforcement, as abuses of power always have been, Davis said. “If you ask communities of color, they’ll tell you it’s been bad for 100 years, or 300 years. We give officers an awesome amount of power to use force, and too often they abuse that force.”

There have been 114 fatal police shootings in New Mexico since 2015, according to a Washington Post database. Body cameras, which help document possible law enforcement abuses, were used in only 16 of those cases, the data show.

Searchlight New Mexico asked state police for body camera recordings of the Applewhite shooting; no response was received.

Applewhite was on probation, stemming from an incident in 2015, when two of his friends robbed a drug dealer during a party, carrying an unloaded gun. Applewhite was waiting outside in the getaway car. At the time, he was in the National Guard and attending college at Indiana University, South Bend.

“He knew he was on probation and just freaked out. You know, [with] police behind you. Anyone would freak out,” his mother said, referring to the disproportionate numbers of Black men who have been killed by police officers.

Since January of this year, Applewhite had been working two jobs — at a factory in Elkhart, Ind., as well as at a Mexican restaurant, Hacienda, in Elkhart.

“He was just trying to figure out how he could change his life so he wouldn’t end up back in jail,” said Rhamon Mallard, a close friend of Applewhite’s.

“The thing that I really didn’t like about the police report,” Mallard added, “is that they didn’t want to put his name out there. But they did say that he was a criminal.”

Over Facebook, one of Applewhite’s Hacienda co-workers described how much she appreciated him, passing along a message she got from him when they first met.

“I drive a forklift in Elkhart for a carpet company and I plan on doing online classes for accounting and finance because I’m really good with numbers,” Applewhite wrote her. “I like to play basketball and write poems on my free time. I’m a firm believer that beauty and riches comes within. LOL I’m an open but closed book.”

Instead of celebrating Thanksgiving with him, Applewhite’s family was answering call after call from loved ones across the country and beginning to organize his funeral.

“I’ve lost my only sibling,” his sister said. “What am I supposed to be thankful for?”

Searchlight New Mexico is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization dedicated to investigative reporting in New Mexico.

(30) comments

George Middlemas

go to the and watch him get shot

Melody Cornelius

I get that it's an ongoing investigation, but how long does it take to watch the video, run the prints, assess the bullet trajectory, verify the cops' stories...seems like it would be a priority after they killed someone. Cops always say that you don't need a lawyer if you're innocent, so why does it take 5 days to even get an initial "report" which appears to be some "statement" not properly cited here? If they're so innocent why not just release the video?

Khal Spencer

Given none of us has done this sort of investigation, I suspect none of us knows the answer to "how long does it take"?

Richard Reinders

Who knows if the investigation stops at the vehicle, maybe they are looking at something else that led up to his running from the cops on Manzano Expressway not I-25. They will release the information, but in light of how the last black person being shot by police unfolded they want to make sure the information is right. I would rather wait a month to get it right, we don't need knee jerk burning looting and assaults as a result of wrong information, I think the country has seen enough of that.

Donato Velasco

He would have been home if he complied with the stop and been on his way with a citation.

Emily Koyama

Complying with instructions and orders given by law enforcement would probably save 90% of the people that are shot by police, regardless of their skin color. The ones with mental issues or high on drugs are an exception to that, since they either can not or will not always be reasonable in those situations.

If you believe what the officer is doing is BS or is illegal, file a complaint later least you'll be alive.

David Romero

Apple white was on probation and would have gone straight to jail. Still not a wise decision to run from the police and then resist arrest.

Emily Koyama

Blanket removal of about a dozen comments on this thread by the moderator...90% of which were perfectly acceptable under the rules. Either too lazy to single out the offensive ones, or something worse...

Lee DiFiore

I've also noticed that if there is one offensive comment on a story such as the one that appeared with this article yesterday, they remove that comment along with all the associated replies even if those replies are not offensive. It does seem like killing a fly with a sledgehammer.

Emily Koyama

Yes, thanks. An odd way of doing it, but certainly a time saver!

Richard Reinders

Its because the good replies look stupid when the comment they were commenting on was removed? One for sure was out of line.

Red Eagle

Fled the scene and “resisted”. Common theme, how about people don’t resist, flee, or threaten Police.

Lee DiFiore

You haven't seen or heard much about the story in this video that also involves the NM State Police but it might be worth watching for some perspective on roadside traffic stops. It's a very lengthy video but you can get the gist in the first 10 minutes or so.

Lee DiFiore

Anybody interested in waiting until we hear the whole story before convicting the cops? Or that doesn't fit well into todays leftist mantra.

Kim Griego-Kiel

This happened 9 days ago and we are just hearing about it. If it had been a white man who had been shot and killed by police it would have made front page news the next morning.

I’m not shocked, society does not value the lives of BIPOC and after nearly two years of protests nothing has changed. Racism is rampant and hate is out of control. The police are not our protectors but the murderers of communities of color. Some won’t agree but we must continue to stand up every where, including in the streets to demand change and to call out the institutional racism that is killing unarmed black men and women and so many others.

carol Johnson

Shame on you New Mexico. This is horrible and has got to stop. The Governor should immediately investigate this killing. Driving while Black is not a criminal act.

Stefanie Beninato

Where is the footage from the body cam? How is it that often the suspects who wind up dead are those who allegedly gained control of an police officer's gun? Sounds like a bogus excuse or incredibly poor police training.

Lupe Molina

The lack of response after requesting body cam footage should be illegal. Or would they prefer protests in the streets?

David Romero

There is a simple solution. Just put your hands up?

Jane Steinberg

Michael Brown, Ferguson Mo., stopped turned around and put his hands up. He was shot and killed while facing officers with hands up. Where is body cam?

Emily Koyama

Actually, multiple witnesses (including many black people) have maintained that Brown never put his hands up....those that claimed he did were determined to be making false statements.

Just another fallacy perpetuated by the LWM.

Khal Spencer

we need body cameras everywhere. these descriptions always leave you wondering what actually happened.

Richard Reinders

Lets wait for the real information to come out before we cast doubt, we don't need another protest.

Khal Spencer

There does seem to be a lot of filling in the blanks with question-begging here. But the longer the NMSP sit on the details, the more folks will fill in their own.

Richard Reinders

How long does it take to do a thorough and complete investigation? most of the comments made early by police or DA is usually walked back afterwards and causes more doubt than good. And some people don't care what the truth and just want to loot and riot and I can't do anything about that. Lets give the process time to get the facts.

Chris Mechels

Khal, body cams are a good idea of course. But, what happens when the cops turn off the camera before shooting someone, as was the case in the Eldorado shooting and the Benavidez shooting, by SFPD?? The answer is; nothing is done to the officers although they violated SFPD policy. Nothing is done by the Mayor, or the City Council, to discipline the SFPD Chief, who does not enforce SFPD policies.

We can pass all the nice laws we like, and the cops will not follow them, because there is no penalty for NOT following them. No effective oversight, Full Stop.. The "penalty" for a cop killing a citizen; a minimum of 3 days off With Pay. I suggest that it be Without Pay, as even that would save lives.

Khal Spencer

You are right, of course. There have to be serious consequences to situations like "gee, my camera was off, no the batteries died, no, the cord came loose, no, the perp grabbed my camera and then my gun, oh, h*ll, would someone please help me out here with an alibi?", etc.

I go back to the fatal shooting of Mary Hawkes by APD officer Jeremy Dear. Hawkes, who was somehow found with a gun in her hand even though it never appears to have had her prints or DNA on it, ended up dead. And the cop, if I recall correctly, was fired. In that case an officer was canned and the city had to shell out five million bucks, but that doesn't bring someone back to life.

I'm more pro-cop than most of the commenters here, but I also would demand better training, more accountability, overhauling the Police Academies (as you have tirelessly worked towards) and more transparency. There are a lot of violent people in this state and somehow, many of them seem to have hand cannons and don't want to be stopped or arrested. I'm not surprised there are a lot of police use of deadly force in New Mexico but that doesn't mean one assumes that all shoots are good ones. Doveryai, no proveryai, eh?

Khal Spencer

"...I'm not surprised there IS a lot of police use of deadly force ..."

Sigh. Gotta review my subject-verb agreement training.

Jim Klukkert

Thanks Khal, but for our Russian & non-Russian readers/speakers: Доверяй, но проверяй; Trust, but verify.

Especially for all those summarily executed for the following crimes: DWB; DWN; DWH and so on.... Doing While Black, DoingWhile Native; Doing While Hispanic, etc.

Khal Spencer

Thanks, Jim. I didn't think to include the Cyrillic version. Assuming it is the Cyrillic version.

Also, although folks want to make this entirely a minority group issue (and certainly with some justification), its an issue for all of those who are not in the Fortunate Sons and Daughters category. Unless you are well off, you probably have a stake in this game, as Mary Hawkes found out the hard way. Radly Balco gets to some of that in his discussions of using police as revenue generators, which of course has a big bias over minority and under represented groups.

But as far as this specific story, the details are not available yet.

Oh, and yet a study! A study!

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