State police say a traffic stop for a seat belt violation in Taos County escalated to an officer breaking out the driver’s window and arresting him after he refused to roll it down or listen to officers.
A short video released on Facebook last week, which hints at excessive force, shows a New Mexico State Police officer breaking the driver’s window with his baton during a February traffic stop.
However, State Police say the officers were in the right because the driver, 41-year-old Phillip Page, refused to comply for over 15 minutes before the window was broken.
NMSP Lt. Elizabeth Armijo said the 45 second video released on social media was the tail end of a traffic stop that lasted almost a half hour. During that time, Page refused to give up his identification 14 times, refused to unlock the door or roll down the window 20 times and was warned at least eight times that if he did not comply the officers would break the window and arrest him.
Both Page and his passenger at the time, 29-year-old Angela Fisher-Herrera, were arrested for resisting, evading or obstructing an officer, concealing identity, dialing 911 to report a false alarm or complaint, and a seat belt violation.
According to a criminal complaint filed in magistrate court, Page was pulled over for not wearing a seat belt and, when the officer approached the car, he wouldn’t roll down the window completely because he said he “did not have a legal reason to do so.”
Police say Page and Fisher-Herrera refused to identify themselves several times and Fisher-Herrera soon called 911 because she “felt threatened” by the officer.
According to the complaint, three more officers – including a State Police sergeant – arrived to help and Page was told he could “exit the vehicle willingly or he would be extracted” for resisting.
Police say the sergeant broke the window while another officer grabbed Page’s arm and he was pulled from the car.
NMSP Chief Pete Kassetas said the agency has investigated the incident and believes Page could have avoided the entire scenario by “following the rules.”
“I’m standing by my officers,” he said. “At some point after a certain amount of time of noncompliance, something has to happen.”
Kassetas said New Mexico isn’t a “do whatever you want” state when it comes to the commands of a police officer and the time for Page to argue “whether or not it’s a righteous violation” would’ve been in court.
“We didn’t break the window and drag him out of the car because he didn’t have a seat belt on,” he said. “He got removed from the vehicle forcefully because he didn’t comply.”
Page told the Journal he and Fisher-Herrera were nothing but polite to the officer, telling him “No, thank you” when he asked for them to roll down the window and identify themselves.
“I was just doing everything that was within my rights,” Page said.
He said the officer tried to open the doors after the pairs’ refusals.
“At that point we were very concerned – he’s not acting like a cop,” Page said. “He could’ve been calmer.”
He said that’s when Fisher-Herrera called 911 and Taos police dispatch told them not to speak with the officer anymore and wait for responding police.
There is now an arrest warrant out for Page and Fisher-Herrera after they missed court appearances in the incident.
Page, who relocated to Oregon after the incident, said they are driving back to New Mexico and hope the case will be dismissed.