SANTA FE – After being shot in the stomach by a man he subsequently shot and killed in return, a New Mexico State Police officer blocked a doorway to protect fellow lawmen and calmly called his wife and parents to tell them he would be OK.
District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco outlined those events Wednesday in announcing that a Santa Fe County grand jury determined on Tuesday that agent Joey Gallegos, about 35, was justified in killing Rogelio Cisneros-Chavez at Las Lomas Apartments in Española on Oct. 24.
Officers were looking for suspects with outstanding warrants and following up on a claim he had stolen money from a relative when they knocked on a door to find Cisneros-Chavez, 22, Pacheco said.
Gallegos was the lead officer on a team of six State Police agents, and as he entered a bathroom with his .223-caliber rifle in the safety mode, per police protocol, Cisneros-Chavez “turns and shoots him,” Pacheco said. “Chavez is pulling the trigger, but the gun jammed. If it hadn’t jammed, agent Gallegos might not be here today.”
After he was hit, Gallegos tried to shoot Cisneros-Chavez, but the rifle was still on safety and, once released, “he just keeps shooting until Chavez drops.” Gallegos shot 16 times, she said, adding only that Cisneros-Chavez was hit “more than once.”
Gallegos, an 11-year State Police veteran who had never shot anyone before, was hit in the lower abdomen by a bullet from a 9mm pistol Cisneros-Chavez had purchased that same day, Pacheco said.
In an hourlong session, Santa Fe’s district attorney showed photos of Cisneros-Chavez’s jammed 9mm handgun; the apartment; two boxes of ammunition – one found in the bathroom with Cisneros-Chavez and one on a doll’s crib; and a diagram of the apartment. She also played Gallegos’ belt audio recording; she said there is no video of the shooting.
In the recording, Gallegos tells fellow officers, “I’ve just been shot, dude.” Another asks, “Where’d you get hit?” and Gallegos tells him, “Right here in my stomach, bro.” Gallegos then says the suspect has been apprehended and is told an ambulance is on the way.
A voice on the recording says of Cisneros-Chavez: “Yes, he’s breathing now, he’s doing good. Launch the bird (medical helicopter).”
Gallegos, a father of five boys, then is heard calmly calling his wife and parents in Grants: “I’ve been shot in the stomach. I’ll be OK. Love you.”
Gallegos testified in an emotional grand jury session that “I called my wife because I didn’t want some police officer to knock on the door and tell her I’d been shot,” according to Pacheco.
Gallegos and six other State Police agents went to the apartment around 7:30 p.m. as part of Operation Impact Sweep, in which every few months officers seek suspects with outstanding warrants.Cisneros-Chavez had a 2012 arrest warrant from Santa Fe Magistrate Court for failure to appear on a charge of criminal damage to property. Officers had also received information that he had stolen $6,000 that his father “was saving so he could take the family on vacation,” said Pacheco.
Officers can be heard on the audio knocking loudly and calling out several times: “State Police! open the door!” They gained entry to the apartment, which was occupied by Cisneros-Chavez’s pregnant girlfriend, Heather Romero, her 3-year-old son and her grandmother. “Is Rogelio here?” they ask, and the grandmother directs them to one of the adjoining bathrooms.
The boy tried to follow the police, and officer Billy Terrazas “ran to get the little boy out of the way,” Pacheco said.
Pacheco displayed photos showing multiple bullet holes in a wall above a living room sofa that is sprayed with dust from the Sheetrock walls. The dust set off smoke detectors, which can be heard on the audio recording. It was fortunate that no one else in the apartment was hit, including a small puppy that officers did not know was there, Pacheco said.