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Justice delayed — 416 days behind bars

Florencio Rick Armijo, 62, was accused of aggravated battery after two of his dogs attacked his girlfriend. He remained in jail for more than 400 days until he was found not guilty at trial in June. (Courtesy of Rick Armijo)

Two 8-month-old English bulldog-boxer mixes apparently mauled a woman, but neighbors say the dogs were friendly and not known to attack.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — What no one disputes is how badly she was wounded, how remarkable it was that she survived a gruesome mauling by her new boyfriend’s two young English bulldog-boxer mixes one boozy winter night.

Her legs were stripped to the bone in places. A rib was fractured. Her head was so torn up that it appeared she had been scalped.

A physician who treated her said her injuries were the worst he had ever seen and that he did not expect her to live. Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies treated the case as a homicide callout.

Prosecutors said what happened to the woman that Feb. 21, 2018, night was a “crime of extreme violence.”

But it wasn’t the dogs – BooBoo and Bully – who were held responsible for the attack, though they were seized that night presumably to be euthanized.

They blamed the boyfriend, Florencio Rick Armijo, who insists he wasn’t even there.

Last June 21, jurors took less than a day to find Armijo, 62, not guilty of two counts of aggravated battery against a household member – his dogs considered a deadly weapon in one count.

Armijo was finally free.

But not before he spent 416 days in jail under pretrial preventive detention.

Not until his health, already compromised by two previous car crashes and sleep apnea, deteriorated to the point that Armijo cannot walk unassisted.

Not until he lost his house.

Not until he was unable to care for a daughter after she suffered a pulmonary embolism.

“The public usually hears about how dangerous people accused of heinous crimes are released before trial under our current system and then go on to commit more crimes, including homicides,” public defender Jon See said. “But they don’t hear the other extreme.”

So what happened? According to court documents, Armijo and his new girlfriend had gone to his cousin’s house where both consumed alcohol – he said he had two beers, witnesses say she had many more.

Back at Armijo’s home on Granada SW, the couple argued.

Armijo told detectives he left her there and walked to a friend’s house to cool off.

When he returned about 15 to 30 minutes later, he found her gravely wounded in the bedroom, his dogs nearby, licking her blood.

Armijo said he called 911 and applied pressure to her wounds as the dispatcher had instructed.

Neighbors said the dogs were not known to be vicious and were not trained to fight, See said.

“The neighbor kids played with them,” Armijo said. “They were the best dogs in the world.”

But Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Detective Cameron Carroll and the District Attorney’s Office believe that Armijo wasn’t the best.

Court records and testimony indicate that they believe the argument was violent, that Armijo had thrown the woman off the bed with such force that she hit her head, blacked out and that when she awoke the dogs were mauling her and he did nothing to stop them.

Carroll also testified that Armijo had refused to render aid and that at the hospital the woman told a nurse that Armijo had “enticed” the dogs to attack her.

It was enough to arrest Armijo – but not for Metro Court Judge Jill Martinez, who found insufficient probable cause and let Armijo go.

But the case wasn’t over.

On April 10, 2018, prosecutors presented the case to a grand jury, which returned an indictment of two counts of aggravated battery.

A pretrial services assessment recommended Armijo remain free under supervision, but prosecutors pushed for pretrial detention, arguing that he was charged with great violence and that he had a “significant” criminal history.

On May 2, state District Judge Stan Whitaker agreed and remanded him to the custody of the Metropolitan Detention Center.

He remained in jail through the first trial, which ended in a hung jury, and until the not-guilty verdicts from the second jury.

“It was really bad,” said Armijo, who had been on disability before the attack after two vehicle crashes. “The doctor said I was a walking disaster.”

Oh, and that significant criminal history? A closer look reveals that the charges – save for a few traffic tickets and one misdemeanor possession of oxycodone, which he says he took for his crash injuries – are from the 1980s and 1990s, many of them dismissed.

“I hung around with the wrong crowd back then,” he said. “That was a long time ago.”

At trial, many of the allegations against Armijo were refuted. A 911 tape showed that Armijo had rendered aid to the woman just as he said. The nurse was a no show. Testimony by another deputy indicated that the woman could not recall what had happened.

Perhaps worst of all was a tape in which a detective told the heavily sedated woman that Armijo forced the dogs to attack her, See said.

“That then became her story,” he said. “And you’re not supposed to do that.”

Even with the acquittal, the District Attorney’s Office remains convinced that they handled Armijo’s case appropriately.

“This was a horrific case of domestic violence and (the woman) currently lives in constant fear of Florencio Armijo,” spokesman Michael Patrick said. “Prosecutors determined the only way to ensure the safety of (her) was to seek preventative detention and keep Armijo behind bars until trial.”

But See said the case was a rush to judgment, a misuse of the preventive pretrial detention system and a re-victimization of the victim.

Since the attack, the woman has undergone more than 20 surgeries and suffers from physical and emotional scars, Patrick said.

Armijo lives with gratitude for justice delayed. He stays mostly with family and is hopeful the disability checks will start coming again soon.

“I’m trying to move on,” he said. “I don’t have nothing.”

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.

 

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