Shots fired by Santa Fe County deputies in a Tesuque neighborhood Wednesday morning brought the Santa Fe area to its fourth law enforcement shooting in two weeks — an unprecedented number in such a short span.

While New Mexico has ranked high when it comes to police shootings, even leading the nation in fatalities in recent years, such incidents in Santa Fe are less common.

Still, local law enforcement officials say they don’t see any direct connections in the series of shootings — at least two in which officers killed a suspect and three that turned deadly.

Instead, they cite a rise in increasingly violent crime that prompts officers to respond with deadly force.

“I think some of these incidents are becoming more violent,” Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said Thursday. “I’m not really sure what the reasoning is behind it. These officer-involved shootings are definitely concerning for everyone.”

Mendoza added the incidents leading to two shootings involving county deputies in the last two weeks were particularly “volatile.”

On Wednesday morning, Santa Fe County deputies responded to a call at No. 1 Entrada Capulin in Tesuque. An officer fired at least two shots at a suspect, according to neighbors who heard the commotion. New Mexico State Police, which is investigating the shooting, reported a suspect had died but did not confirm whether the death was from a gunshot fired by a deputy or why deputies had been called to the home.

Mendoza said in an interview Thursday a woman severely injured by someone at the home that morning later succumbed to her injuries. He said he was disappointed information about the woman’s homicide had not been released to the public by the investigating agency.

A relative visiting the home Thursday afternoon said the slain woman was her godmother.

Officer Dusty Francisco, a state police spokesman, wrote in an email late Thursday the agency was still preparing a news release on the shooting. Neither he nor Ray Wilson, another agency spokesman, provided answers to questions about the incident.

State police also are investigating a June 23 shooting in which deputies killed a man at Siler Road and Rufina Court after he brandished a gun. The man was suspected of driving a stolen truck and led deputies on two separate chases that day, according to state police.

The agency has not released the names of the slain man or the deputies who killed him.

Earlier June 23, Santa Fe police Sgt. Bradley Lopez shot and killed Francisco Javier Lino-Gutierrez, 29, of Lamy on Old Santa Fe Trail downtown near the Loretto Chapel, according to state police.

Lino-Gutierrez was a suspect in a shooting that morning at nearby De Vargas Park. He led officers on a foot chase through the downtown area and then pointed a gun at them before he was shot, state police said.

And Sunday, state police officers shot and injured 40-year-old Jaime Bravo in a south-side neighborhood.

He had been sitting on railroad tracks off Interstate 25 and later pointed a gun at officers as he fled on foot, the agency said.

While experts say such shootings are unpredictable, local law enforcement leaders say their officers are responding to increasingly severe incidents.

Santa Fe police Deputy Chief Paul Joye said the city agency’s data reflects that.

Aggravated assaults and aggravated batteries are up nearly 25 percent compared to 2019, he said. By June 2019, the department had received 248 reports; as of June 2021, they have received 307.

There was an increase of 143 percent between 2020 and 2021, he said, but added he believes the effects of the coronavirus pandemic created an anomaly in the department’s data, lowering the number of violent crime reports.

The department is seeing more violence now than in the past, Joye said.

“We’re seeing more harm done,” he said. “Whereas before it was a punch in the face, now he’s got a tool or a gun.”

The presence of a deadly weapon is not necessarily what constitutes the need for deadly force, said Ron Martinelli, a retired California police officer and forensic criminologist who specializes in police practices.

“It depends on the distance. It depends on the reaction time. It depends on the behavior of the individual,” Martinelli said. “An officer could use deadly force when they have an objective belief that the person constitutes an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death to the officer or a third person.”

Last week, a state police officer wrangled a gun out of the hand of a shoplifting suspect at a Dollar General in Pecos. The man had pointed the weapon at the officer’s face, state police said.

Around 8 a.m. June 30, Officer Ray Montoya responded to the shoplifting call and encountered Isaac Valencia, 39, of Española and two women, state police said in a statement. Valencia pulled out the handgun as Montoya tried to detain him, the statement said. “Officer Montoya maintained physical control of Valencia as they began to wrestle for control of the handgun. During the struggle, Officer Montoya was able to talk Valencia into letting go of the handgun.”

“This incident is another reminder of the dangers my officers encounter every day as they do their jobs,” state police Chief Robert Thornton said in the statement. “I am very proud of Officer Montoya’s composure and professionalism during this violent encounter, and I’m happy he got to go home to his family.”

Valencia was charged with a slew of counts, including aggravated assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Josephine Vigil, 31, of Santa Fe was arrested and charged with shoplifting.

Martinelli said the case was a rare example of an officer’s response to an armed suspect and should not be used in comparison with police shootings.

“We’re not trained to do that,” he said. “We’re not trained to kill them, but we’re not trained to shoot guns out of people’s hands. We’re not trained that if someone has a gun in your face, then you can wrangle the gun out of their hands.”

Santa Fe police Deputy Chief Ben Valdez said officers are trained to spot the largest area on a suspect’s body in a situation calling for deadly force. There is no room for hesitation, Valdez said.

“If we’re talking about a situation where it’s a populated area, it’s next to an area where someone can introduce a hostage, we have to act in a timely manner,” he added.

Ultimately, he said, every situation should be looked at individually.

Mendoza echoed that.

“Every situation is unique,” he said. “There may be suspects who, when confronted, drop the weapon and comply. There may be times when they don’t comply and the threat towards officers and the public is immediate.

“We have responded to a fair amount of armed suspects, and it’s ended peacefully,” he added. “That’s how we want it to end — no injuries, nobody’s hurt, officers go home.”

(12) comments

Paul LeSage

There are more police shootings because more people are pointing guns at them, mainly because there are too many people with guns that should not have guns. Start there. We have become gun crazy in this country.

Janet Lucks

It's not new news that violent crime has been rapidly increasing....guns are in the wrong hands everywhere...I cannot imagine being a police officer in this environment...we had a relatively good run in Santa Fe but we need acknowledge the same issues that have plagued most of America are rearing their ugly head even more now in New Mexico....I support our PD and it's officers as I mentioned their job is not easy...I am grateful that they go to work each day to try and serve and protect our community.Yes,we should know more...and of course I hope NO ONE loses their life in these situations....but honestly I am glad we are not mourning the loss of a Police Officer! There has to be a hard line drawn here....a criminal points a gun at a well armed PO and expects there to be a good outcome? Indeed our law enforcement agencies need help...however the message has to be clear that there is a HUGE consequence for threatening anyone with a gun...sadly in our current civillian society shooting someone is conflict resolution...I do not think these officers go to work each day hoping for these sad outcomes....I am just grateful their still willing to protect you and me....

Khal Spencer

[thumbup]

Khal Spencer

So little information. What the paper needs to tell us:

1. What were the criminal histories of all these shooters? Were they felons? Were they out on pretrial release under our new no-bail system on on parole?

2. Were drugs involved in their decisions to brandish or fire on police, which seems to be a high risk undertaking?

3. Assuming they were prohibited persons (and most of these individuals seem to have been felons, so couldn't buy a gun legally), how did they acquire their firearms?

We miss the mark when we suggest solutions that have nothing to do with the problems. Pretrial release or parole of violent offenders is dangerous to the public unless sufficient means are employed to keep the offenders from reoffending. No background check will keep a felon from getting a gun since the felon couldn't pass the FBI check anyway. As Phil Cook has shown in his Chicago study, crooks get their heat from friends and family (straw purchase or underground sale), theft, or black market trade for other valuables. Cutting these venues off means taking gun violence seriously, i.e., long terms for gun violence offenders, prosecuting straw purchasers or others to sell to prohibited persons, and providing carrots and sticks for secure gun storage. It is easier to outrun a lunatic than outrun a bullet.

We have a long way to go to turn this around, assuming we do. Its time to get serious about public safety rather than worry about "restorative justice", suggest solutions that are irrelevant, or sending out teams of social workers when the S*** is hitting the Fan. Social services are fine, and we need them, as long as it is long before the point of impact.

Janet Lucks

Exactly and support these brave men and women who hit the streets every day and deal with these very troubled individuals all day long...they need uplifting and spiritual counseling!

Khal Spencer

[thumbup] Yep. We get the police force we deserve. Good pay, good training, good screening, and you get good cops.

Lee DiFiore

Sound thinking Khal. [thumbup]

Charlotte Rowe

I agree mental health responders should be getting part of the funds and should be the first responders in cases where they can de-escalate fraught situations. I also agree that if there is truly a rise in violent crime, police can and should respond proportionately. I just hope that rather than turning into the Minneapolis Police Department, there is a requirement for all Santa Fe police to wear - and not disable or turn off - bodycams whose data are easily available to the public in cases of police-involved shootings. Give them what they need but hold them accountable and no immunity.

Emily Koyama

There should never be a situation where "mental health responders" are the first on scene at a potentially violent situation.

By all means have them available as soon as the scene is rendered safe for them, but not before.

Remember, there is ALWAYS a weapon in the house! Knives, hammers, baseball bats etc etc.

And just because the dispatcher asks if there are any firearms in the house, and is told there are none, does not mean it is so.

Barry Rabkin

We definitely need groups of social workers providing restorative justice to 'talk down' people who aim their guns at the police. I certainly don't want police to open fire at someone who aims a gun at the police or fires a gun at the police - just think of the trauma the person with a gun is experiencing - the poor, poor, person. We need to change our laws and allow people with guns to open fire at police or target unarmed civilians on the street or in their homes. [Deep sarcasm]

Khal Spencer

Heh. Even I could tell that was sarcasm, Barry, although many who comment here employ Poe's Law.

Dan Frazier

I'm concerned about both the number of officer-involved shootings, and the lack of transparency from the State Police. Here we are, more than two weeks after the June 23 shooting, and, according to the article, "The agency has not released the names of the slain man or the deputies who killed him." Even if the police are having difficulty identifying the slain man, or have uncertainty about who fired the fatal shot, I would expect an update that at least tells us that much. Maybe the person who writes the press releases is on vacation? Or maybe we need a different agency to investigate and communicate to the public about police-involved shootings. The public has a right to know what is going on with all these shootings. It should not take weeks or months to release the most basic information.

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