A federal magistrate judge granted summary judgment and tossed out a lawsuit against a Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed a man in 2014 after the man rammed the deputy’s patrol car.
The judge ruled that “all signs pointed toward a continuation of the attack” against deputy Sam Rodriguez when he shot and killed 28-year-old Manuel Flores.
Flores had rammed Rodriguez’s patrol car with a pickup truck near the 4200 block of Coors SW after Rodriguez had been called to the area on a reported kidnapping. Flores then stepped out of the truck and raised his hands when Rodriguez — whose legs were pinned in the car after the collision — fired his weapon, according to the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office.
“[I]n the short time Deputy Rodriguez had to assess whether Flores still posed a threat, a reasonable officer in deputy Rodriguez’s position would have little to no reason to infer that it was Flores’ intention to surrender when he exited the truck. Indeed, all signs pointed toward a continuation of the attack,” Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough said in his order, which was filed Monday.
Luis Robles, Rodriguez’s attorney, said his client still has back injuries as a result of the August 2014 incident.
Rodriguez is now a detective with the sheriff’s office.
“The violence of this impact can hardly be understated and the motivation cannot be interpreted as anything other than an intent to seriously injure or kill Deputy Rodriguez,” the judge said. “Under such circumstances, it would be completely reasonable for an officer in Deputy Rodriguez’s position to assume that Flores intended to continue the attack by any means available to him once he exited the truck.”
Albuquerque attorney Paul Kennedy filed the civil lawsuit on behalf of Esther Vera, Flores’ mother. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque against Rodriguez and the county commission, was seeking compensatory damages. Kennedy did not return a call for comment on Tuesday.
In the lawsuit, Kennedy said that Flores was shirtless, unarmed and had his hands raised above his head when he was shot.
The plaintiffs argued that Flores raised his arm in order to surrender, while the defendants said Flores’ gesture was a sign of aggression. The shooting was recorded on a nearby surveillance camera.
The judge, in his ruling, said an eyewitness in a deposition said that it didn’t appear that Flores was surrendering when he was moving his arms.
“With a federal judge having reviewed this, we can rest assured that a thorough review of all the evidence revealed clearly that this was a legally justified shooting,” Robles said. “And that should give some comfort to the members of the community.”
Robles said that the sheriff’s office found that Rodriguez didn’t violate any policies during the shooting. Former District Attorney Kari Brandenburg cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing.
Sheriff Manuel Gonzales declined to comment through a spokeswoman.