Last updated: 8 months ago
On March 1, 1973 a 19-year old University of New Mexico student named Larry Casuse kidnapped the Mayor of Gallup. At 4:10 pm Larry, a political science major and president of UNM’s Kiva Club, a Native American student group at UNM, burst into the office of Mayor Emmett Garcia and hauled him into the streets of Gallup at gunpoint. Larry was armed with a pistol and another man with him, Robert Nakaidinae, was armed with dynamite.
Garcia was not only the mayor but also part owner of the Navajo Inn, a notorious liquor store and bar located west of Gallup and just south of the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Inn was among the most profitable liquor stores in the state of New Mexico. And Larry had long argued that it was a profit based in misery. For years Edmund Kahn of the Navajo Office of the General Counsel had been sending newspaper clippings to various New Mexico governors of stories of bodies found outside the Navajo Inn. An April 1969 clipping described a murder victim found in the ditch along the road near the Navajo Inn. Kahn scrawled on the article, “When is something going to be done about the Navajo Inn?”
At the time of the kidnapping, Gallup had 39 liquor stores, 32 more than allowed under a 1956 law limiting liquor establishments to one per 2,000 people. Gallup police made, on average, 800 public drunkenness arrests each month, most of them from outside liquor stores and local bars. A brief review of the local newspaper, The Gallup Independent, reveals report after report in the late 1960s and early 1970s of Navajo men and women found dead in ditches alongside the road near the Navajo Inn or behind the store. The most common deaths reported were pedestrians struck by automobiles or by hypothermia. Racial and sexual violence against Navajos characterized both the Inn and Gallup itself.
Even as a high school student at Gallup High, Larry had lobbied the city government to do something about violence against Navajos in Gallup and the problem of liquor sales. Nothing was done. Garcia owned the Navajo Inn outright but before running for mayor he sold a share in the establishment. After becoming mayor he chaired a commission working to bring an alcohol treatment center to Gallup. Apparently he saw no contradiction in his ownership of the Inn and his role in the alcohol treatment center. In early 1973 Governor Bruce King nominated Garcia to the UNM board of regents. It was too much for Larry. He aggressively opposed the nomination, testifying in Santa Fe at the hearing that Garcia was “a false person who is symbolic of America’s irrational attitude toward Mother earth and Humanity.” He said then of himself: “My reason for being on this earth is to tell mankind that we must now undermine all false persons who are destroying Mother Earth.”
But Garcia was quickly confirmed.
When Larry showed up at the mayor’s office on March 1 he found Garcia in a meeting with city alcoholism coordinator Pete Derizotis. Police Chief Manuel Gonzalez, alerted of the incident, entered the mayor’s office to find Garcia with his hands behind his back and Larry standing behind him with a loaded gun to his head. Robert quickly disarmed Gonzalez including taking his cartridge belt. After the two left with their hostage, Gonzalez alerted city police cruisers. One slowly followed behind them as Larry and Robert walked the mayor down the middle of Second Street turning onto 66th Avenue toward Stearn’s Sporting Goods store. Robert kicked in the door of the closed store and Larry led Garcia to the back. Meanwhile officers who, according to eye-witnesses, included state police sharpshooters, took positions in the front of the building and on rooftops across the street.
According to Garcia’s statement to police after the standoff, Larry briefly left him with Robert. When Robert momentarily put down his weapon, Garcia kicked him and dashed for the front door. Moments later, according to police reports, Garcia came hurtling through the front window, glass flying, hands cuffed behind his back. He was shot in the back by surprised police as he leaped. With Garcia out of the store, police unloaded a barrage of gunfire into the store. By then a large crowd had gathered and they dove for cover during the firefight. Eyewitnesses recall shooting and shouting and then tear gas and then more shooting. As quickly as it started it stopped. Robert walked out of the building, hands in the air, pleading for someone to help Larry. Gonzalez was first in the building. He reported seeing Casuse lying face down, covered in blood. It would be Gonzalez who would later declare finding Casuse dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A witness to the autopsy, however, reported three additional fatal gunshot wounds to Larry’s body.