A video of the dashboard camera, which appeared on CNN, ABC and other national media over the weekend, shows one officer trying to bash in a window as the children scream and then another officer firing when the driver takes off.
New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas issued a statement Monday calling the incident "concerning" and said a thorough investigation was underway.
"I have, of course, reviewed the video and do have concerns relating to the conduct of the officer who discharged his firearm," Kassetas said. "As the Chief of the New Mexico State Police, I take all officer-involved shooting investigations seriously and, once this investigation is complete, I will take appropriate disciplinary action if warranted."
According to State Police reports, on the afternoon of Oct. 28, officer Tony DeTavis pulled over a van driven by 39-year-old Tennessee woman Oriana L. Farrell of Memphis for speeding. There were five children in the van.
As the incident unfolded, two other officers arrived. At one point, officer Elias Montoya fired three shots toward the van as Farrell pulled away from the police for a second time following the traffic stop. Montoya, in a police report, said he was shooting at the van's tires.
Video of the traffic stop and shooting shows that a brief struggle between an officer and Farrell's teenage son ensued before she sped away the second time, leading police on a high-speed chase to Taos.
At one point, an officer uses his baton to smash out a window on the van as children inside scream before Farrell drives away.
Montoya, who later bought the entire family dinner from McDonald's and brought it to them while Farrell and her 14-year-old son were being booked, wrote in his report that he fired at the van's left rear tire in an effort to immobilize the vehicle "so not to put any other human life in jeopardy."
"My decision in shooting at the tire and not at the driver was because of all the people in the vehicle. ... I may have exaggerated in keeping the muzzle of my weapon down so no innocent person would get hit with the shots I fired," he wrote.
Montoya and officer Anthony Luna were called to the scene to assist DeTavis. They arrived to a chaotic scene where DeTavis had already pulled out his Taser in an effort to thwart the advance of a 14-year-old boy who exited the vehicle and approached the officer.
According to Luna's report, just after arriving at the scene, he called out to DeTavis to ask if anyone in the car had a gun and DeTavis replied, "I don't know."
Enrique Knell, spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez, provided a statement Monday saying that use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer is a "very serious issue."
"Governor Martinez is married to a former law enforcement officer, so she understands the dangers of the job and what officers face in the field," the statement added. "But she feels very strongly that police officers have to use the right judgment in situations like this, to provide for public safety. As such, the Governor shares the state police chief's concerns about this situation and looks forward to the completion of this investigation."
Farrell has been charged with intentional abuse of a child and aggravated fleeing of a law enforcement officer, both felonies, and a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia. Her son, Hezekiah, was charged with battery against a police officer and assault on a police officer.
Four other children, ranging in age from at least 6 to 16, were also in the minivan. Efforts to reach Farrell and her attorney for comment on Monday were unsuccessful.
Her children were turned over to the Children, Youth and Families Department and later placed in the care of a family friend. Farrell was later released on $10,000 bond. It's unclear what happened to her 14-year-old son.
Eighth Judicial District Attorney Donald Gallegos said Monday he didn't plan to bring criminal charges against the State Police officers.
Chief Kassetas' statement went on to say that State Police's top priority is to ensure officers respond appropriately so as to not complicate a situation and endanger others.
"If the investigation determines that the officer improperly discharged his firearm in this case, we will take swift action because improperly using a firearm isn't tolerated by the State Police," he said, adding that the traffic stop had turned into a dangerous situation that placed the public at risk.
There have been several State Police officer-involved shootings in recent weeks.
Stopped for speeding
According to the statement of probable cause and the dash-cam video, officer DeTavis pulled over Farrell's blue Kia Sedona minivan on NM 518 for traveling 71 mph in a 55 mph zone.
DeTavis told Farrell that she could either pay a fine or return to Taos to contest it before a judge. After he returned to his vehicle, allowing Farrell to contemplate the decision, she drove off.
DeTavis again engaged his emergency lights and followed the vehicle, which pulled over about a half mile up the road. This time, DeTavis demanded that Farrell get out of the vehicle and he spent several minutes trying to get her to do so, at one point grabbing her by the arm and trying to pull her out.
Farrell eventually did get out and walked to the back of the van to speak with DeTavis. When it became evident that he was going to arrest her, Farrell moved back toward the driver's side door.
Meanwhile, Hezekiah Farrell exited the van and a brief struggle ensued between him and DeTavis. The boy retreated to the passenger side of the van, got in and locked the doors. While DeTavis was engaged with the boy, Farrell got back into the driver's side of the van.
This was happening just as officers Luna and Montoya arrived. After attempting to open the door of the locked van, DeTavis put away his Taser, pulled out a collapsible baton and smashed a window on the passenger side, striking the window approximately four times.
Moments later, the van began pulling away and Montoya fired at the van.
A chase ensued at speeds reaching close to 100 mph through the small town of Talpa and into Taos.
The video of the pursuit shows the van weaving through traffic and making a right-hand turn onto NM 68 using a lane meant for traffic traveling in the opposite direction. A short while later, the van pulled into the entrance of the Don Fernando de Taos Hotel and stopped. All occupants of the van were made to lay face down on the ground, and Farrell and her son were arrested without further incident.
According to the Taos News, Farrell's attorney, Alan Maestas, said during her arraignment hearing last week that Farrell fled because "she was flat-out scared that something was going to happen to her children."
"We ought to talk about the stupidity and recklessness of shooting at a car that has five children in it," he said. "If someone ought to be charged with child abuse, it ought to be the New Mexico State Police."
Maestas did not return a phone message left by the Journal on Monday.
The Taos newspaper also reported that what are believed to be two marijuana pipes were found at the time of the arrests. State Police declined to answer any questions beyond the chief's statement.
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