A man killed a New Mexico State Police officer Thursday afternoon on Interstate 10 in Luna County near Las Cruces, then fled farther down the highway and engaged in a shootout with other law enforcement officers, authorities said.
State police said the suspect was killed and several officers were injured in the shooting.
Authorities identified the slain state police officer as Darian Jarrott.
The Las Cruces Sun-News reported the suspect, identified as Omar Felix Cueva, 39, fled east on the highway for about 40 miles before engaging in a shootout with Las Cruces police and Doña Ana County sheriff’s deputies around 12:30 p.m.
A Las Cruces police officer who was shot in the encounter was taken to University Medical Center in El Paso, where he was recovering from his injuries, police spokesman Dan Trujillo told the Sun-News.
Jarrott, 27, was from Lordsburg and was stationed in the state police office in Deming. He had previously worked in the Carlsbad area, according to the Sun-News.
He was the father of three small children and was expecting a fourth child this year, state police said.
Jarrott began his career as a transportation inspector with the New Mexico Department of Public Safety. He became a certified law enforcement officer in December 2014 and joined the state police in July 2015, state police said.
In December, the Eddy County DWI Program presented Jarrott an award for outstanding DWI enforcement.
The Las Cruces Police Department closed the interstate near the shooting scene and was telling motorists to avoid the area and seek alternate routes until the investigation had been completed, which was expected to be late in the evening.
A video shared widely online showed the shootout, the Sun-News reported.
The video showed a Las Cruces police officer pursuing a white pickup that was driving in reverse.
Austin Contreras, who shot the video, told the newspaper he was repairing a gate near I-10 when he and his crew heard sirens. As the truck came around the bend, Contreras said, they could hear it hit spike strips and the tires pop. He said the driver tried to continue, but the officer used a maneuver to stop the fleeing truck.
The pickup driver and Las Cruces officer got out of their vehicles at about the same time, the video showed. The suspect — who appeared to be wearing a head covering — fired multiple rounds at the officer, who fell to the ground and then got up in a crouched position.
The suspect and officer exchanged dozens of shots before other police officers and deputies arrived at the scene and fired at the suspect.
“It was shocking,” Contreras told the Sun-News. “I mean, nobody expected it to end in a gunfight.”
Late Thursday night, state police said in a statement that the officers involved in the shooting would be placed on standard leave. The investigation is being led by the New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau.
Later, Contreras’ crew found a bullet mark in a nearby trailer, the Sun-News reported. He said the bullet made an indentation and fell to the ground.
It was the third police shooting in two days in Luna and Doña Ana counties in Southern New Mexico, the Sun-News reported.
On Wednesday in Las Cruces, the newspaper reported, a police officer shot a vehicle fleeing a traffic stop.
Also on Wednesday, officers from the Deming Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security Investigations shot and killed a person suspected of shooting at vehicles on I-10 near Deming.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday ordered flags to be flown at half-staff beginning Friday in mourning for the slain state police officer. Flags should be flown at half-staff through sundown Tuesday.
“We are still learning more about what happened and why, as law enforcement authorities continue to investigate, and we will all get the facts about what happened today,” the governor said in a statement. “But what we know right now is a New Mexico law enforcement officer has been killed in the line of duty and I am horrified as we grieve another life cut down, another family crushed by senseless violence in our state.”
Steve Pearce, chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, issued a similar statement on the slaying.
“This was a senseless killing, and we are horrified that a public servant, one who helps serve and protect our communities, was gunned down in the line of duty,” Pearce said.
“Law enforcement officers are heroes, and we must stand by them at all times,” he continued. “This violence must stop, and it’s heartbreaking to learn of this tragedy. We also are praying for the other officers who were injured.”
As a news briefing with reporters as the legislative session wrapped up just before 2:30 p.m., House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said he had just received an alert “that an officer with the New Mexico State Police was just killed in the line of duty.”
Egolf seemed momentarily stunned.
“That’s very sad news,” he said. “Let’s all be mindful of the officer’s loss in the line of duty and be grateful for the officer’s service. I’m sorry to hear that news. Very, very sorry.”