D.A. fails to review police shootings within time frames set under own policy

·10 min read

Jun. 20—Francisco Javier Lino-Gutierrez hustled down a busy Old Santa Fe Trail with a firearm he refused to drop, despite the orders of police officers following close behind, their weapons trained on him.

Kaori Fukushima caught a glimpse of the unusual downtown scene as she was leaving the Inn and Spa at Loretto on a weekday morning in June 2021.

She stepped back behind a wall and then heard gunshots: "Maybe three or four."

Sgt. Bradley Lopez had fatally shot the 29-year-old Lino-Gutierrez in front of the Loretto Chapel.

Fukushima, of Houston, was one of many tourists who witnessed the first in a series of shootings by Santa Fe-area law enforcement officers last year — many of them fatal and four occurring in a two-week span in June and July.

It's been nearly a year since those summer shootings, and they are still awaiting review by a district attorney who previously had pledged a timely and transparent review process for cases in which law enforcement officers fire their weapons.

District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, who took office in January 2021, declined to be interviewed about the status of the cases, but information she provided indicates her office hasn't reviewed officer shootings to determine if criminal charges are warranted within the time frames specified in a policy she created.

In her early days in office, Carmack-Altwies published a policy outlining how she would handle law enforcement shootings, one that contrasted sharply from those of previous administrations, in which such cases had been farmed out to a panel of outside prosecutors or put before secret grand juries — processes criticized as drawn out and lacking transparency. Her policy called for screening a case and making a determination about whether the shooting was justified within 30 days of receiving a case file from the investigating agency — usually New Mexico State Police.

If a case merits additional review, the policy says, the district attorney would appoint a special prosecutor, whose report would be due to her office in 60 days.

Carmack-Altwies blamed the delays in meeting these deadlines in part on her predecessor, Marco Serna, and suggested her policy might have been too ambitious.

"Because of the backlog and the time and effort it has taken to locate, organize, and review the cases left outstanding by the prior administration, the feasibility of the 30 day review period has not been truly tested," she wrote in an email sent by spokeswoman Franchesca Perdue. "Once the backlog is clear, the DA will have an opportunity to evaluate whether the policy needs adjusting."

The district attorney's policy also says her office will post complete case files regarding officer shootings on her website for the public to view or will provide those records in response to a request through the state's Inspection of Public Records Act.

The website did not have any published case files or reports Friday.

The District Attorney's Office currently has five police shooting cases awaiting review — the four from summer 2021 and one that dates back to 2018.

In that case, police reported Alex Maestas, who was 26 at the time, had been firing a gun inside a home and then opened the door and pointed the firearm at Officer Luke Wakefield. The officer fired two shots at Maestas, both of which missed, police said.

Wakefield, one of a few local officers who have been involved in multiple shootings in recent years, came under scrutiny in the controversial death of Anthony Benavidez, 24, in July 2017. After another officer fired 16 shots through an apartment window at Benavidez — who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and had refused to vacate the home following an eviction — Wakefield fired another round. Police and prosecutors said Benavidez was armed with a knife when the officers fired through the window. He was killed after an hourslong SWAT team standoff.

While a panel of three district attorneys from around the state, convened at Serna's request, found no cause for criminal charges, according to a report released in March 2019, the incident resulted in a $400,000 settlement between the city of Santa Fe and Benavidez's family, and questions and criticisms lingered.

Slew of summer shootings

Last year's unprecedented number of law enforcement shootings in such a short time also raised concerns, in part due to the slow release of information about the incidents from local agencies and state police, which handled the investigations.

The city of Santa Fe waited hours to release information about the downtown incident June 23, 2021, which began with a violent episode in De Vargas Park. Kalin Addison, 21, was accused of intervening in a fight, taking a gun from another woman and then firing a shot that left the woman with a neck wound. Police said Addison handed the gun to Lino-Gutierrez, who also fired at the victim before running away with the gun, prompting a foot chase by police on tourist-packed streets.

Police said Lino-Gutierrez pointed the gun at officers before Lopez fired.

About 12 hours later, three Santa Fe County deputies killed Nathan Roybal, 32, on Siler Road as he was running away.

State police issued a news release the afternoon of June 24 that said a suspect leading deputies on a late-night chase in a stolen black pickup "got out of the vehicle, pointed a black handgun at the deputies. Deputies fired at the suspect, striking him."

It took three weeks for state police to identify Roybal and the deputies: Jacob Martinez, Leonardo Guzman and Cpl. Chris Zook. The agency repeated its initial narrative of the incident, though dashboard camera video showed Roybal had dropped a weapon — later found to be an air gun — immediately after he got out of the truck, which the deputies had riddled with dozens of bullets when Roybal appeared to wave a gun out the driver's-side window.

He began running across Siler Road, video footage showed, and the deputies shot him in the back.

The agency declined to comment on whether the delay in identifying the deputies was because Guzman, a former Santa Fe police officer, had shot and killed a suspected car thief in 2017.

On July 4, state police officers Luis Mendez and Alfredo Moya shot and injured Jaime Bravo in a south-side neighborhood after he was accused of firing a weapon at officers and fleeing.

Three days later, Deputy Patrick Ficke killed Edward Daniel Santana at his mother's home in Tesuque, where he was accused of stabbing her multiple times. She did not survive the early morning attack. Video of the July 7 incident showed Ficke fire fatal shots at Santana, who was bloodied from self-inflicted cuts on his neck and wrist, as he lunged at officers with a fence post.

A state police spokesman confirmed in an email around 9:30 a.m. July 7 the agency was investigating a shooting involving the sheriff's office. It would be two days before the agency acknowledged the fatal stabbing of Santana's mother, Delia Cervantes. Three weeks later, the agency identified Ficke as the shooter.

Ficke was named in another fatal shooting last year, one that caused some alarm after dramatic dashboard and body camera video was released showing him driving at speeds of up to 140 mph on U.S. 285, blowing through a red light near Eldorado and swerving to avoid a collision. He grabbed his department-issued AR-15 rifle and drove with his forearm on the steering wheel as he positioned the weapon and fired nearly 50 rounds through his windshield at a fleeing Kia.

The November chase, involving suspects in a Starbucks robbery, ended with a crash in Torrance County, near Clines Corners. The passenger — who police accused of firing at a passing vehicle and law enforcement — died at the scene and the driver, wounded by gunshots, faced numerous charges. Ficke was one of several law enforcement officers who had fired at the couple.

The shooting was his third as a Santa Fe County sheriff's deputy since he joined the agency in September 2020.

In another case that has not yet reached Carmack-Altwies' desk, according to her list, Deputy Martin Arellano shot and injured 39-year-old Marvin Montoya behind a south-side Allsup's store in September. An arrest warrant affidavit said Montoya, an employee, had arrived at work armed, distraught and possibly drunk. Video shows Montoya yelling suicidal thoughts and threatening to shoot deputies so they would "kill him."

Missing from the collection of videos was Arellano's. Sheriff Adan Mendoza confirmed the deputy's lapel camera was not operating during the incident, a violation of state law and county policy.

No clear date for reviews

Carmack-Altwies initially indicated last week she was still awaiting results of state police investigations into the shootings of Roybal and Bravo before she could begin her reviews.

She corrected herself after state police Officer Ray Wilson told The New Mexican in an email Thursday the agency had delivered the case files to her office in August and September of 2021. The Roybal case is under review, Carmack-Altwies wrote in an email Friday, but she had no record of receiving certain evidence from state police and would "follow up" with the agency.

Carmack-Altwies wrote in a June 9 email she has closed "at least 5" law enforcement shooting cases left from Serna's administration. Her office determined officers acted reasonably in each of the shootings, which occurred in 2018 and 2020.

She hopes to review two of the five pending cases by "the end of summer," Carmack-Altwies added.

She did not respond to an email asking when she expects to complete the rest of the reviews.

Cristina Larranaga-Dominguez is growing impatient as she waits for the district attorney to review what she described as Santa Fe police's aggressive treatment of her late son, Alex Maestas, and Wakefield's decision to fire two shots at him in 2018.

The mother said in a recent interview she was at the scene of the hourslong standoff between police and her son, who died in 2020 from an unrelated cause.

Maestas had refused to come out of his house following a police response to a 911 call from his girlfriend, who said she'd barely escaped after he choked and threatened to kill her, according to reports from the time.

Police reported Maestas had been firing a gun inside the home and then opened the door and pointed it at Wakefield.

His mother, who works as paralegal for New Mexico Division of Rehabilitation, said that's not true.

Her son's 9 mm weapon wasn't assembled enough to fire, she said, and a property manager later told her there was no evidence of shots fired in and around the dwelling other than the two fired by police.

Larranaga-Dominguez said she asked for lapel camera footage showing her son had pointed the weapon at Wakefield, but police couldn't produce it. Wakefield's body camera didn't capture the moment. The device had started falling off and was pointed toward the officer's hand during the commotion.

Nearly five years later, Larranaga-Dominguez said she's still "terrified" of city officers.

"It was like a bunch of little kids running the show," she said of the incident involving her son. "I couldn't believe how they behaved and how they were trying to force him out. They were going to get him out even if they were going to kill him."