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Las Cruces Police Officers Cleared in Fatal Shooting

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LAS CRUCES — No charges will be filed against the three police officers involved in the fatal shooting Dec. 17 of 37-year-old Robert Montes after a traffic stop, District Attorney Amy Orlando announced Friday.

Three officers, identified as Peter Bradley Jr., Cody Austin and Sgt. Todd Froats, fired 19 shots at Montes after he retrieved a .357-caliber revolver from a car in which he was a passenger and fired one shot at close range at a fourth officer, Jose Sanchez. Sanchez took cover and was not injured. Orlando said Montes was struck nine or more times and died on the scene.

The shooting was investigated by an interagency task force including State Police, the Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Department, Las Cruces police and New Mexico State University campus police. The officers, Orlando said, “responded professionally and in accordance with standard rules and procedures of law enforcement.”

An Albuquerque attorney who is representing relatives of Montes did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Las Cruces Police Chief Richard Williams said while the conduct of police has been under scrutiny, the fatal shooting was sparked by Montes’ own actions.

“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 actions.”

The woman who drove the car in which Montes was a passenger has told reporters and her attorney that Montes did not shoot at police and was running away, with his hands bound behind his back, when police fired at him.

While there is no video evidence showing Montes fired first at police, Orlando said audio recordings of the encounter captured the distinct sound of one shot from Montes’ revolver followed by a different sounding volley of shots from police-duty weapons. A bullet fragment recovered from a nearby dentist’s office was also consistent with Montes’ revolver, Orlando said.

Montes had been convicted in more than half a dozen criminal cases dating to 1995, including possession of cocaine, larceny, auto burglary, distribution of a controlled substance and violating probation. The night of the shooting, Montes’ friend, Jessica Murphy Anto, said she and Montes had been smoking methamphetamine, and police said they found four grams of the drug in her purse.

Anto, Williams said, initially told police that when she was being pulled over the night of Dec. 17 for a broken tail light, Montes told her that he would not go back to jail.
— This article appeared on page C2 of the Albuquerque Journal

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