By Tom O’Connell
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., July 1, 2016 – The latest military-style SWAT standoff in Albuquerque kept an auto-theft suspect’s mom and other relatives on edge for nearly six hours Thursday, but ended with the man in cuffs and unharmed.
The drama unfolded around 7 a.m. on Snow Heights NE when an Albuquerque Police Department unit spotted Robert “Rashad” Cass, 28, allegedly stealing a vehicle.
The incident began with a favor. Cass had called his friend and neighbor Michael Rimmer to ask him to jump-start the pickup truck cops said he was stealing. Rimmer rolled up on the scene to find Cass and another man in the truck he identified as “Dale.” He didn’t know Cass was allegedly stealing the pickup, so he proceeded to help them.
That’s when an APD officer arrived, got out of his car, pointed his service weapon at the trio and shouted, “Stop, stop, don’t move! Get on the ground now!” said Rimmer.
“So I get on the ground,” said Rimmer. “Then Rashad takes off that way [on foot], I’m not even looking at Rashad, we’re facing the other way…. I’m just cooperating completely, complying with the officer, and so was the other guy, Dale, or whatever his name is.”
Cass ran into his apartment on Towner Avenue NE, near the intersection of Juan Tabo and Menaul Boulevards.
Rimmer and Dale were detained, and Rimmer said he sat on a curb in handcuffs for an hour and a half, and that the two were interrogated separately. Police let Rimmer and Dale go after their stories matched.
Conflicting Police Stories
Police on scene gave conflicting accounts of the initial APD contact. One unidentified officer said an APD unit was responding to a call of the truck being stolen. Later, APD Public Information Officer Tanner Tixier said at a press conference that the truck had been reported stolen. But if Cass was in the process of stealing the vehicle, it could not have been reported stolen yet.
It also has not been confirmed if Cass had a pistol, as the first responding officer reportedly claimed, or if Cass had several weapons inside his apartment, as the media reported police had told them, information that the police claimed was provided by family members.
‘Your Buddy Almost Got You Shot’
“Your buddy almost got you shot,” Rimmer said the officer told him. The officer then lifted up his own shirt and pointed to where he said Cass had a pistol. “That’s when I pulled my firearm,” the officer said, according to Rimmer.
“Personally, I didn’t see what Rashad had,” said Rimmer. “I can’t tell you if Rashad had a pistol…. I can tell you obviously he was breaking into a vehicle.”
But the over-the-top military operation seemed extreme to him for the situation.
“This for one person is ridiculous, man,” said Rimmer, gesturing at the military vehicles, the bomb robot and the state police outfitted for warfare.
Both Rimmer and Cass’s mother, Diana Cass, couldn’t understand why police would not allow them to coax Cass out of his apartment, instead relying on the monotonous voice of an officer making ominous demands over a booming PA system as a welcoming committee of soldiers strapped to the gills lay waiting for him to emerge. When the mother asked one cop on the scene if she could talk her son out, he responded that it would be against their protocol.
Every command and decision made by police on the scene was explained as being done to keep civilians safe, but Cass’s friends and family saw it differently.
“You’re knocking out every possibility of doing it in a peaceful way when you could have somebody like me, somebody like his mom, somebody like that get on the loudspeaker or go knock on the door or maybe check the door and walk on in,” said Rimmer. “I have six kids. If one of my kids walked in the house or vice versa and it was a situation like that, I’m not firing at them….
“This guy’s not doing any of that. He has a drug problem, and he’s stealing shit.”
Tense Wait Behind the Yellow Tape
A group of friends and family huddled behind yellow police tape near the scene included Diana Cass, Rimmer, Robert Cass’s sister, his fiancee and members of Burque Media. The mood was grim as they awaited the outcome. His mother spoke of her barricaded son’s heroin problem and criminal history, but insisted he had no weapons and was not violent.
Diana Cass cited news reports that claimed her son had several weapons inside his apartment, and she seemed prepared for the worst.
“I was afraid that they were gonna kill him,” she said. “And they said he had all these weapons, and he had nothing. [APD’s Tanner Tixier] said he was told by family members that he had a lot of weapons in the house. But I never spoke with that officer. I never told anybody that there were weapons in the house. The fact is, he lied to the public about my family.”
Asked about the handgun the initial officer claimed to have seen, she responded: “If anything, he was holding his pants up running for his life.”
At around 1 p.m., an officer told the group that Robert Cass had been taken into custody unharmed. Despite her son’s survival against profoundly dangerous odds, Diana Cass doesn’t approve of how law enforcement responded.
“I’m disappointed with APD, the way they handled it,” she said. “They wouldn’t let me speak to him, and I probably could have ended it. He’s a good kid, he’s just sick, he’s addicted to drugs. And I could have gotten him out of there.”