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State and city cops disagree about pursuit prior to fatal shooting

Discrepancy could impact the legal standing of SFPD’s chase prior to the killing of Andrew Lucero in Eldorado

May 4, 2017, 6:10 pm

The Santa Fe Police Department and the New Mexico State Police appear at odds over what exactly happened in the minutes before Santa Fe officer Leonardo Guzman fatally shot 33-year-old Andrew James Lucero in a dark driveway Saturday night in Eldorado. 

On Wednesday, NMSP issued a press release stating that the SFPD began pursuing Lucero in a stolen Mercedes around 9:23 pm. Once Lucero began driving against traffic on I-25, the press release says, the “pursuit was terminated.”

Even so, Guzman and his SFPD recruit officer, Alexis Carlos, who NMSP says had been on the force only 12 days at the time, continued following Lucero on the frontage road toward Eldorado. They kept following him even after a dispatcher called the pursuit off, according to dispatch recordings provided to SFR by the Regional Emergency Communications Center.

“Guys, don’t follow him the wrong way, he’s going the wrong way, you guys stop there,” said an unidentified voice to the two Santa Fe officers pursuing Lucero.  “We’re gonna terminate the pursuit at this time.” 

One of the Santa Fe officers replied that the pair would continue following Lucero on the frontage road. 

“Just don’t activate your lights,” the unidentified voice urged.

“We’re acknowledging … no lights, no sirens, we’re trying to catch up, making sure there’s no accident,” replied one of the Santa Fe officers.

“Just back off a little,” the voice said, “don’t force the issue.”

The SFPD disagrees that the pursuit had been “terminated” after Lucero started driving northbound in the southbound travel lanes. This matters because the legal basis for SFPD’s decision to continue the chase—which would eventually lead to Lucero’s death—rests on a state statute called the Fresh Pursuit Act, which gives police in New Mexico authority to continue pursuing a suspect and making an arrest outside their jurisdiction if the person has committed or is suspected of having committed a felony.

According to SFPD spokesman Greg Gurule, although the “active pursuit” of Lucero had been discontinued, the overall pursuit had not officially ended, and was therefore a legal action under the Fresh Pursuit Act.

“We did not terminate the pursuit,” Gurule tells SFR. “We continued looking without lights and sirens. … He’s a felon, a fleeing felon, so we continued to pursue him.” Gurule explained that the discrepancy between NMSP and SFPD may come down to different terminology employed by the two departments. He added in an email that the SFPD Internal Affairs bureau would examine the “Issue of ‘Fresh Pursuit’” [sic] in its investigation of the night.

Geoffrey Alpert, a national expert on police pursuits, says the legal distinction between pursuing and not pursuing is sharper than Gurule seems to acknowledge. 

“Normally, when they call off a pursuit, that’s what they mean,” Alpert tells SFR. “I don’t know how they can continue a pursuit once it’s been called off.”

Guzman’s decision to continue the chase even after somebody who sounded like a superior officer had terminated it is significant, says Alpert, a professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of South Carolina

“When a department supervisor calls a pursuit off, he’s not calling it off for officer A or B; they’re calling it all off,” he says. “Why an officer continued the pursuit is something that needs to be investigated.”

NMSP spokesman Sgt. Chad Pierce, when asked about the discrepancy over whether the pursuit had been called off, said his knowledge was based on information he had received from investigators.

“I can not speak to what SFPD told you,” Pierce tells SFR. 

The NMSP criminal bureau is investigating the shooting and the wider events of the night. NMSP patrolman Hector Vacio is leading that probe, according to an incident report obtained by SFR, and its aim is to determine whether a crime was committed.

The Santa Fe Police Department has released footage of the police killing of Andrew James Lucero to SFR.

The footage comes from the body camera of Officer Alexis Carlos, who the New Mexico State Police described as a “12 day veteran of the Santa Fe Police Department” at the time of the shooting.

At the start of the video, Lucero is seen walking toward the back of the stolen Mercedes with his hands up. After Santa Fe Police Officer Leonardo Guzman and New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau agent Jeremy Stricklin urge Lucero to get on the ground, Lucero suddenly makes a run for one of the police vehicles. It’s unclear whether Lucero enters it from the driver’s or passenger’s side, but footage shows one of the officers inflicting multiple punches into something on the driver’s side of the car, presumably Lucero’s body. According to a press release from New Mexico state police, both Stricklin and Guzman are struggling with Lucero in the vehicle at this time. Somebody is pressing on the gas pedal as the car stays in park; the sirens go off erratically, as does a hip hop sound track punctuated by car horns. “Fucken A,” says Officer Carlos. One of the other officers in the car with Lucero urges, “Stop resisting!”

As Carlos is attempting to radio that Lucero is taking the vehicle (but only emitting static to dispatchers), the car starts taking off, with Guzman near the driver’s side. It’s unclear where Stricklin is at this time. The car then accelerates forward into a Chinese elm tree, and Guzman is heard screaming something. As Carlos approaches, Guzman seems to scream “My leg’s broke!” Carlos helps Guzman out from the tree, which he was pinned against for around 25 seconds. It was during that time that Guzman fired the fatal shot; it’s difficult to hear when it happened, but a sharp sound that could be a gun shot occurs at 21:56:13.

Lucero appears to be dragged out of the police vehicle at this time. Somebody—probably Carlos—yells for him to put his hands behind his back. Lucero’s dying body is handcuffed, and one of the officers not handling him radios for help. One of the officers calls for a medic, and another begins giving Lucero CPR.

The video mostly confirms the New Mexico State Police’s account of the incident. WARNING: Graphic contents. 

Here's the complete contents of the NMSP press release: 

On Saturday, April 29, 2017, the New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau was contacted to investigate an Officer Involved Shooting incident that occurred at #12 Chaparral Drive, Eldorado N.M., involving a Santa Fe Police Officer.
 
Investigators learned that at approximately 9:23 p.m., Saturday April 29, 2017, Santa Fe Police Department became involved with a pursuit with a stolen Mercedes. The pursuit was terminated at Interstate twenty-five (25) milepost two-eighty-two (282) when the vehicle began traveling northbound in the southbound travel lanes. As Santa Fe Police Department Officers were attempting to locate the vehicle on U.S. two-eighty-five (285), south of Interstate 25, and the adjacent suburbs. New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau, Special Investigations Unit, Agent Jeremy Stricklin, a three (3) year veteran of the department, was on duty and en-route to Pecos when he observed a Santa Fe Police Department units emergency lights. Agent Stricklin contacted Santa Fe Police Officer Leonardo Guzman, a three (3) year veteran of Santa Fe Police Department and his Recruit Officer Alexis Carlos, a twelve (12) day veteran of the Santa Fe Police Depart, and learned that they were looking for the stolen vehicle, and offered his assistance.
 
A short time later, at approximately 9:54 p.m., they, Officers Guzman, Carlos, and Agent Stricklin, observed the stolen vehicle in the driveway of #12 Chaparral Drive, Eldorado, N.M., Officer Guzman and Agent Stricklin approached the stolen Mercedes. Officer Guzman broke a window on the Mercedes, and the suspect exited the vehicle with his hands up. The suspect moved to the back of the Mercedes, and Officer Guzman and Agent Stricklin moved closer to take him into custody. The suspect then turned and ran towards the Santa Fe Police Unit. Officer Guzman ran to the driver's side door, and attempted to close the door to prevent the suspect from entering the unit, but the suspect was able to enter the driver side of the unit and placed the vehicle into drive. Agent Stricklin entered the unit from the passenger side, he attempted to gain control of the vehicle and the suspect, a physical altercation ensued. After the vehicle moved forward a short distance, Agent Stricklin was able to place the unit into park, but the suspect placed the unit into drive once again, causing the vehicle to move forward towards a tree. During the movement of the unit, Officer Guzman was pinned between the vehicles' door and an adjacent tree, and was knocked down sustaining a leg injury.
 
Officer Guzman was able to regain his feet, and fired one round from his duty handgun, striking the suspect in the abdomen. Officer Guzman and Agent Stricklin performed CPR until EMS personnel arrived. EMS personnel determined the suspect was deceased.
 
Officer Guzman sustained an injury to his leg, consisting of a sprained ligament and Agent Stricklin was complaining of ringing in his ears. Officer Guzman and Agent Stricklin were both treated at St. Vincent's Regional Medical Center, and released after a short time period.
 
The suspect, Andrew James Lucero (33) from Santa Fe, N.M., sustained a fatal gunshot wound was pronounced deceased at the scene.

No additional details are available at this time.

 

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