Compared to the rest of New Mexico and the nation, shootings of civilians by police officers have been uncommon in Santa Fe.
That is, until the past few weeks, when four people have been shot by officers. Three of the shooting victims are dead, the fourth hospitalized.
The circumstances vary widely in each incident. But there is a common thread — insufficient information. Citizens deserve to know what happened every time an officer believes it necessary to fire a gun on the job, especially when bullets land and injure or kill a human being. Yes, investigations take time, but failing to release basic facts is unacceptable.
The latest shooting occurred Wednesday, involving Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputies. According to New Mexico State Police investigators, deputies were answering a call at a home off Bishops Lodge Road and a suspect was killed. Sheriff Adan Mendoza then released additional information: A woman was injured at the home and later died in addition to the person shot after deputies arrived.
He is correct in acknowledging this information should have been released by investigators more quickly.
Until a news release Friday, two days after the incident, citizens were not told much about why deputies were headed to the home in Tesuque. They were answering that most dangerous of calls, a domestic dispute — in this case a woman, Delia Cervantes, 67, had been stabbed and officers had to act quickly to try protect her, according to police. As some officers were tending to the woman, others were attempting to capture the suspect, Edward Santana, 45. Cervantes and Santana were mother and son.
State police investigators say the suspect walked aggressively toward them, was Tased first and then shot by a sheriff’s deputy. He died at the scene.
Let’s recap the other shootings; though in one, information remains skimpy.
On July 4, state police officers were asked to check the welfare of a man sitting on the railroad tracks near the N.M. 599 exit off Interstate 25. They found 40-year-old Jaime Bravo, and officers say he pointed a gun and fled. Other officers were called in as backup, and Bravo continued to flee and fired at the cops, police say. They fired back; Bravo was wounded and is being treated. He will face three charges of aggravated assault on a police officer and two counts of evading an officer. Here we have an account of what happened and the name of the shooting victim — and it didn’t take two days for the information to be released. That’s the bare minimum, but it’s information citizens deserve.
Two fatal shootings by two different agencies occurred June 23.
The first happened in spectacular fashion, with a chase in downtown Santa Fe and a man killed while tourists watched on Old Santa Fe Trail. Santa Fe police Sgt. Bradley Lopez shot and killed Francisco Javier Lino-Gutierrez, 29. Lino-Gutierrez was a suspect in a shooting at nearby De Vargas Park and led officers on a foot chase before pointing a gun at them, state police investigators say.
The second shooting on June 23 remains shrouded in secrecy. Sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a man at Siler Road and Rufina Court late that night, reportedly after he brandished a gun. He was suspected of driving a stolen truck and had led deputies on two separate chases that day, state police said. During the second chase, the man got out of the truck, pointing a gun at deputies. They fired back, hitting the suspect and truck, peppering it with bullets.
In a report on an incident that preceded the shooting, released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office only on Friday, police said Nathan Roybal was the man deputies shot and killed. According to the report, he had pointed a gun at a woman earlier in the day.
To date, state police investigators still have not released the names of deputies involved in the shooting. It’s an active investigation, they say. That’s one of the oldest dodges in the book and fails the smell test. Basic facts, including the names of the people involved, must be released.
These shootings might be justified, even necessary, given the circumstances on the ground. But without timely and accurate information, citizens cannot judge for themselves. They deserve the facts, delivered in a realistic time frame and without attempts to cloak the truth. Otherwise, such secrecy only inflames skepticism of police and their actions — sentiments that befuddle the many solid law enforcement officers who serve our city and state.
Bottom line: Provide information, and do it quickly. It’s the only way to maintain the necessary trust between the police and those they serve.