The Santa Fe police officer who fatally shot a 29-year-old man in Eldorado after a vehicle chase earlier this year will not face criminal charges.
That's the decision of an appointed panel of outside prosecutors, headed by Fourth Judicial District Attorney Richard Flores, who reviewed a New Mexico State Police-led investigation into officer Leonardo Guzman's shooting of Andrew Lucero.
An internal affairs investigation into whether Guzman violated SFPD policies is ongoing, officials say.
The panel's work marks the first time a police shooting investigation has been handed off to prosecutors outside the First Judicial DA's Office. Marco Serna, who was elected last November as the top prosecutor for Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties, made it a campaign promise that he would remove himself and his entire staff from decisions on whether police officers broke the law by pulling the trigger. The handing off of those decisions, Serna has said, is designed to remove both perceived and real conflicts of interest for prosecutors who rely on local police to make their cases in court every day.
Serna tells SFR that the committee's decision in the Lucero shooting is final.
On the night of Santa Fe's last cold snap of the season in late April, Guzman and officer Alexis Carlos chased a blue Mercedes they suspected was stolen. The pursuit moved from Santa Fe down I-25 and ended in Eldorado. That's where the officers confronted Lucero, who had been driving the Mercedes, in a stranger's front yard.
Body camera video taken from Carlos shows Lucero making a run for the officers' squad car. Lucero jumped in, slammed the car into drive, then crashed it into a small tree, pinning Guzman's leg against it. Guzman lets out a sharp scream before firing a single, fatal shot into Lucero's abdomen.
Video from officers' cameras was among the evidence reviewed by the panel. Other evidence included police reports and statements from Carlos and a State Police officer on the scene, Jeremy Stricklin.
Serna asked Rick Tedrow, the 11th Judicial District Attorney and president of New Mexico's District Attorney's Association, to bring together the volunteer DAs. In July, Tedrow told SFR that the group's first task was to determine whether Guzman had violated a justified shooting statute before determining criminal liability.
According to the statute, public officers can legally kill a person in order to overcome "actual resistance to the execution" of legal duties, including arrests.
"If it's a violation of the [justified shooting] statute, a further violation will be looked at," Tedrow said in July. "But if it's not against the statute, [the review] will probably stop at that point."
The panel didn't find that Guzman's actions violated the statute. On Nov. 9., Flores sent a letter to Serna declaring the incident was a justifiable homicide by a public officer.
Serna tells SFR that Flores' determination that the shooting was justified is final. That's because, under Serna's policy, he essentially recused himself from the case the moment Guzman pulled the trigger.
Serna says neither he nor anyone in his office even opened a case file related to the shooting—nor do they have access to the "final report" completed by State Police, which investigated the shooting for possible criminal wrongdoing.
He did not know which aspects of the incident State Police investigated—such as Guzman's pursuit of Lucero outside his jurisdiction—or whether Flores and others reviewed the officer's conduct beyond the shooting itself.
Serna referred SFR to the administrative office of the District Attorneys for copies of all records related to the State Police investigation and Flores' review.
Henry Valdez, director of the office, did not respond to a request for those records by publication time.
SFR reported in May that Guzman and Carlos continued to chase Lucero down the highway even after a dispatcher advised them to end the pursuit. At that time, police spokesman Greg Gurulé said the police department's internal affairs bureau would examine whether the pursuit violated police rules.
"Now that the criminal case has been dispensed with the internal investigation will be opened shortly," Gurulé writes to SFR in an email. "I have no time line [sic] for that."
Lucero was the first person killed by Santa Fe police this year. The second, a man with schizophrenia named Anthony Benavidez, was killed in July. Benavidez was the first person killed during a callout of the Santa Fe SWAT Team, officials say.
Benavidez' family is suing the city for negligent battery and battery resulting in a wrongful death.
"The city's deployment of special units is undertaken recklessly, and, when deployed, those special units do not exercise meaningful control over scenes," reads the lawsuit drafted by the Albuquerque-based firm Kennedy Kennedy and Ives. "As a result, officers antagonize mentally disabled suspects, needlessly escalating citizen/officer encounters into unlawful searches, seizures, and arrests instead of engaging in de-escalation techniques."
The investigation into Benavidez's death is ongoing. When it is complete, a determination of whether to prosecute any of the officers involved will again be decided by Serna's Officer Involved Shooting Review Committee.
If the committee finds that criminal charges are warranted, Serna will assign a special prosecutor to handle the case in his stead.