Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Deputy Patrick Ficke, driving at speeds of up to 140 mph in a Nov. 26 chase on U.S. 285, blew through a red light near Eldorado, swerving to avoid a collision, and grabbed his department-issued AR-15 rifle.

Dramatic dashboard and body camera videos show him later driving with his forearm on the steering wheel as he positions the weapon and fires nearly 50 rounds through his windshield at the fleeing Kia.

Dashboard and lapel camera footage of Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Deputy Patrick Ficke as he pursues an armed robbery suspect on a high-speed chase on Nov. 26, 2021.

The chase would end with the black sedan crashing in Torrance County, near Clines Corners. The passenger — who police say had fired from the Kia at a passing vehicle and law enforcement — would die at the scene, and the driver, wounded by gunshots, would face numerous charges in the day’s events, which began after the pair were accused of robbing at least one Santa Fe Starbucks at gunpoint. When deputies encountered their vehicle in the city, they fled south, police say, prompting a pursuit across county lines that involved three law enforcement agencies. An officer from each of the three agencies fired at the couple.

The shooting was the third Ficke has been involved in as a Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputy since he joined the agency in September 2020; two of them were fatal. The sheriff’s office saw five deputy shootings in that time.

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza describes Ficke as a “proactive” deputy. Other authorities and police policy experts say his actions raise concerns.

Since November, Ficke has become a detective with the investigations team at the sheriff’s office, removing him from patrol duties.

Mendoza said the decision was mutual.

“We agreed that based on things that have happened while he was on patrol, it’s a lot for an officer to be involved in,” the sheriff said. “He actually made a specific request to come off the streets.”

The deadly chase

The November chase and shooting have perhaps brought the most attention to Ficke, who could not be reached for comment on the events or his decision to take on a new role at the sheriff’s office.

The events that led to the chase began the morning of Nov. 26, when Jacob Montoya Jr., 26, and Christean Ann Dimas, 28, were suspected in an armed robbery of a Starbucks drive-thru. The Santa Fe Police Department issued an alert for their vehicle, a black Kia sedan with no license plate.

Around 2 p.m. that day, New Mexico State Police were notified of a second Starbucks robbery in Santa Fe. Minutes later, they saw a black Kia without a license plate — a match with the one sought earlier.

Another notification about the sedan was sent out to area law enforcement agencies.

Shortly after, Santa Fe County Deputy Daniel Martinez spotted the vehicle near Dinosaur Trail, and the pursuit began. Another deputy, Valentino Baca, was the leading law enforcement officer in the chase for several minutes before Ficke took the lead because he had a faster vehicle, according to state police, the agency investigating.

The chase took the fleeing Kia and pursuing deputies onto northbound Interstate 25 and then onto southbound U.S. 285.

Ficke’s video, released by state police, shows the deputy’s speedometer reading up to 140 mph as he races to catch up with the suspects; he passes several other sheriff’s office vehicles.

As Ficke approaches an intersection near Eldorado at a high speed, video shows, the traffic signal turns red.

He enters the intersection without stopping as another car begins to turn left. Ficke swerves to avoid a collision.

The move doesn’t appear to comply with a sheriff’s office policy that says emergency vehicles are granted the right of way at intersections with a red light, “but only after stopping.”

Later, Ficke’s body camera footage shows him grab his rifle and place it to his right. He asks 911 dispatchers what charges the suspects face.

He closes in on their vehicle. Suddenly, a gun appears out the window of the Kia’s passenger side and several gunshots ring out.

Ficke requests a helicopter from state police or another agency.

More gunshots are fired. Ficke readies his rifle, steadying it on the dashboard.

A few minutes later, he shoots through his windshield at the vehicle, at times driving with his forearm or with no hands on the steering wheel as he fires.

He would later tell a judge at a hearing for the surviving suspect that he fired a total of 49 rounds at the Kia.

State police officers and deputies with the Torrance County Sheriff’s Office joined the pursuit.

State police Agent Bryan Donis fired several rounds at the Kia. His dashboard and body camera video have not been publicly released. Torrance County Deputy Thomas Carter attempted to place spike strips on U.S. 285 to try to stop the Kia, according to video released by state police. He also fired several rounds at the sedan as he was traveling over 120 mph, with two law enforcement cars following closely behind.

A Santa Fe County deputy attempted to throw spike strips but also was unsuccessful, video showed.

Donis took the lead in the pursuit, video showed, and was approved by a supervisor to execute a so-called pursuit intervention technique, or a PIT maneuver, intended to force a driver to lose control.

He told state police investigators he thought it would be too dangerous and shot at the vehicle instead. Donis also told investigators he shot at the sedan by positioning his rifle on his vehicle’s dashboard, state police reports said.

The sedan crossed into the opposite lane of traffic and moments later crossed back, swerved off the road and crashed into a tree just a few miles south of Clines Corners.

Montoya remained in the Kia until negotiators persuaded him to climb out through the driver’s side window. He suffered four gunshot wounds and was taken to a hospital, where he would remain for treatment until he was released and jailed.

Dimas, a mother of two, was pronounced dead at the scene. Her initial autopsy was unable to determine whether she died of her gunshot wounds or from the crash, state police said in a report.

Investigators found two 9 mm handguns in the Kia, along with numerous cartridges, a clear glass pipe and empty magazines, the report said. It did not say how many spent casings were found in the car.

Lt. Mark Soriano, a state police spokesman, said investigators determined “shots fired by the suspects did not strike” any law enforcement vehicles.

Three shootings in a year

The deadly encounter is one of two involving Ficke that remain under investigation by state police and the District Attorney’s Office.

On the morning of July 7, he fatally shot Edward Daniel Santana, 45, outside a home in Tesuque following what authorities said was Santana’s horrific attack on his mother. He had stabbed her multiple times, and she later died at a hospital, police reports said.

According to reports and video, Santana, with self-inflicted cuts on his neck and wrist, resisted arrest, even after he was struck with a stun gun. State police officers and deputies at the scene were prepared to strike him again with an electronic weapon, but Ficke fired shots as Santana lunged at an officer with a fence post he was wielding like a bat.

The shooting was the fourth in a two-week period involving local law enforcement, and the third in which a suspect died. It was the second death in two weeks involving a Santa Fe County deputy.

Ficke’s first shooting with the agency came in November 2020, a couple of months after he was hired. He shot at 24-year-old Jeffrey Martinez as deputies were attempting to pull him over near El Valle de Arroyo Seco in northern Santa Fe County, reports said. Martinez, suspected of driving a stolen vehicle pulling a camper trailer, began to flee and struck a deputy with the camper, causing injuries. Ficke fired at least one round at Martinez but did not injure the man, according to reports.

The district attorney determined Ficke was justified in firing at Martinez, spokeswoman Franchesca Perdue said, adding the 2021 shootings involving Ficke are still under review.

When asked if Ficke’s three shootings in a just a year raised alarms, District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said, “Any shooting raises concerns, and each case is reviewed carefully in my office to ensure the safety of the community.”

Mendoza said he could not comment on the shootings while they were under review. But the sheriff agreed to an interview last week regarding Ficke.

“He just doesn’t respond to crimes that have occurred,” Mendoza said of the deputy. “He’s out being proactive in attempt to thwart crime before it occurs and and be proactive in the community, and that may lead to him being involved with more incidents.”

Ficke was credited in a KRQE-TV story in late June with saving the life of a 1-year-old. The deputy had pulled over a vehicle driving erratically on Interstate 25 and discovered the driver’s child was choking. He performed an infant Heimlich maneuver, the news station reported.

In early July, KOB-TV reported Ficke had rescued a woman who had fallen from a horse in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

When asked if Santa Fe County deputies are trained by the sheriff’s office to shoot from their vehicles’ windshields while moving at a high rate of speed, Mendoza said no.

But Ficke might have been trained differently at other agencies.

He graduated from the Albuquerque Police Department Academy in 2003 and then worked for the department for 10 years. He resigned in 2013 after he was arrested on charges of child abuse, false imprisonment and battery of a household member.

Court records show the charges were dismissed in 2016 because prosecutors failed to bring the case to trial in a timely manner.

Ficke took a job with the state Department of Workforce Solutions before joining the Bosque Farms Police Department in 2018.

Mendoza said the county was aware of the child abuse and domestic violence allegations against Ficke when he was hired, but he said he would not discuss what he called “personnel” matters.

Ficke also works as a certified licensed mental health counselor with the Public Safety Psychology Group. The organization has a $29,293 annual contract with the sheriff’s office, according to agency spokesman Juan Ríos.

Mendoza said the office has used the company in the past for debriefings after “critical incidents,” but Ficke does not receive extra compensation from the county for the company’s work or for deputy referrals for counseling.

A need for policy review?

The sheriff’s office pursuit policy does not set a speed limit for a deputy during a chase, but it does say when a deputy is approaching an intersection, they must be driving at a speed that allows them to bring the vehicle to a stop if necessary.

A deputy is allowed to shoot at or from a moving vehicle if he or she “reasonably believes” an occupant in the other vehicle is using or threatening to use deadly force, the policy states. Deputies also may use force in defense of another deputy or others faced with an immediate threat of “death or serious harm.”

“Engaging in high-speed pursuits [is] inherently dangerous and should be only done in the most narrow circumstances,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an independent research organization.

He said he thought some of Ficke’s actions seemed concerning, but he noted the Nov. 26 chase, in particular, was a complicated situation for law enforcement. Dimas’ firearm “elevated the risk to everyone,” Wexler said, adding the chase calls for close analysis.

“It’s hard to make sense of all of this,” he said. “Most police officers rarely fire their gun at all in their career. So when one officer fires it more than one time in a short period of time, it does raise questions.”

A senior policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, Barron Jones, also expressed concern about Ficke’s actions. Anyone driving between 130 and 140 mph while shooting a gun could be a threat to the public, he said.

“I think this is an opportunity for the Santa Fe [County] Sheriff’s Office to use this incident to strengthen their policies moving forward,” Jones said. “It’s very lucky someone else didn’t get hurt.”

Jones noted Ficke’s involvement in multiple shootings and his own request to be moved off patrol duty indicate a need for independent investigations into both the deputy’s conduct and the office’s policies.

“We’ve seen time and time again that law enforcement are often unable to police their own,” Jones said. “I think this speaks to a need for us to have better oversight of our law enforcement community.”

Comments disabled.