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Judge dismisses case against former SF deputy who killed colleague

Former Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputy Tai Chan is shown waiting in the court for his first murder trial to begin in Las Cruces in 2016. (Andres Leighton/For the Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A judge on Wednesday dismissed all charges in the long-running Las Cruces case in which a former Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office deputy shot and killed his partner at a Las Cruces hotel after a night of drinking.

This ends the controversial case that started with the October 2014 shooting death of deputy Jeremy Martin. There were six attempts to prosecute Tai Chan, with two jury trials ending in mistrials. Chan always maintained he shot Martin in self-defense.

Chan and Martin were overnighting in Las Cruces while returning from delivering a prisoner to Arizona. They had been drinking at several Las Cruces bars before the shooting occurred, court documents say.

The case sent shock waves through the tight-knit Sheriff’s Office, which held a news conference the day of the shooting during which a visibly emotional then-Sheriff Robert Garcia outlined details as his command staff listened.

“The 3rd Judicial District Attorney will not be filing any more charges against Chan,” said Roxanne Garcia-McElmell, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Mark D’Antonio’s office.

Garcia-McElmell said the DA’s Office will not contest the ruling with the Court of Appeals.

Chan’s Santa Fe attorney John Day and Garcia-McElmell confirmed that District Judge Conrad Perea of Las Cruces had dismissed the charge and fined the DA after finding prosecutorial misconduct. The judge fined the DA’s office $1,417.

That fine stemmed from a previous judge’s order that the district attorney provide a report to the court over alleged evidence tampering, which the DA failed to do, Day said. The judge also determined “that the six-year prosecution of Chan violated Chan’s speedy trial rights, both under the NM and US constitutions,” Day wrote in an email.

Day and attorneys Tom Clark and Monnica Barreras filed appeals to dismiss the case.

Day said the judge dismissed a voluntary manslaughter charge with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled. The original charge was first-degree murder.

Day said his client was happy the charges were dismissed.

“It was clear from the start it was a self-defense case,” Day said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Tai is grateful to the judge for recognizing what was going on here – the judge found prosecutorial misconduct. The fact that (the judge) dismissed the case and sanctioned the DA’s Office tells you all you need to know about the prosecutor.”

Day was grateful, too, that the book has finally been closed on the case.

“We are appreciative of Judge Perea’s insight in this case,” he said. “It takes a lot of courage to do the right thing.”

Reached for comment, Chan’s father, Roy Chan, replied via text message: “We are all elated.”