LAS CRUCES – A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against three Las Cruces police officers over the fatal shooting of a man a witness said was running away, handcuffed, when he was gunned down in December 2011.
The former 3rd Judicial District Attorney Amy Orlando announced last February that the three involved officers – Peter Bradley Jr., Cody Austin and Sgt. Todd Froats – were cleared of criminal wrongdoing following an investigation into the shooting of 37-year-old Robert Montes during a traffic stop that went awry.
The investigation was carried out by an interagency task force that included the Las Cruces Police Department. It concluded the three officers acted in self-defense when they fired 19 shots at Montes, because Montes allegedly retrieved a .357 caliber revolver from the car from which he was removed, then fired once at a fourth officer, who was not injured.
Montes was shot 11 times, with seven of the gunshot wounds traveling from his back to his front, one from front to back, and three laterally, according to the autopsy performed by the state Office of the Medical Investigator.
However, the lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in Las Cruces claims that Montes was handcuffed and attempting to flee on foot when he was shot and killed. The lawsuit, filed by Montes’ aunt Elvia Cordero, says that Montes posed no threat of physical harm to anyone when he was killed and argues that officers had a constitutional duty to try to restrain Montes with non-deadly means.
An attorney for the city, Harry “Pete” Connelly, declined to comment on the wrongful death lawsuit.
During the February news conference when Orlando announced that the three officers had been exonerated, Police Chief Richard Williams blamed Montes for triggering the events that led to his death.
“Had Mr. Montes wanted to escape from police, he could have simply run away,” Williams said. “Mr. Montes deliberately tried to murder a Las Cruces police officer and we are here because of his (Montes’) actions.”
Jessica Murphy Anto, who drove the car in which Montes was riding during the traffic stop, has told reporters and her former defense attorney that Montes was handcuffed and running away when he was shot. Anto also said that Montes never fired at police, according to reports.
Police said they found four grams of methamphetamine in Anto’s purse the night of the shooting, and that Anto had admitted smoking meth with Montes that evening. According to Williams, Montes, who had been convicted in more than half a dozen criminal cases dating to 1995, also reportedly told Anto as they were being pulled over that he would not return to jail.
In the days after the shooting, Anto posted several messages on Facebook, a social networking site, expressing how distraught she was at witnessing the shooting and how hard it would be to live with the memory.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal