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Complaint reveals details of shooting of ‘heroic’ police officer

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The harrowing confrontation last Saturday between a New Mexico State Police K-9 officer and an Arizona man charged with attempting to kill her during a traffic stop on Interstate 40 is described in a new federal criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday.

Robert Benjamin Nelson

The newly released details are based in part on video from the officer’s vehicle dashcam, her lapel camera and the condition of her ballistic vest, which showed a significant amount of dried blood and what appeared to be a bullet hole in the upper right panel of the vest near the neckline, according to the complaint filed by the FBI.

She suffered injuries to her hands, right shoulder, face and eyes in the incident, and she underwent emergency surgery, the complaint states. State Police aren’t disclosing her identity for now as the investigation continues.

The new federal criminal complaint charges Robert Benjamin Nelson of Scottsdale, Arizona, with attempted murder of a U.S. employee or officer and discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence.

Nelson, 28, previously had faced second-degree felony charges in state court in Cibola County, where a magistrate set a $500,000 bond earlier this week. Those charges have since been dropped to permit prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Mexico. The federal charges carry a potentially stiffer prison sentence upon conviction.

Nelson’s initial appearance before a U.S. Magistrate judge in Albuquerque is set for Thursday.

According to the FBI complaint, the K-9 officer had just been trained and certified last month as a federal task force officer with the Department of Homeland Security Investigations in Albuquerque.

She was engaged in official duties as a federal task force officer because she was conducting highway drug interdiction investigations with her K-9 partner the morning of Sept. 12, the complaint states.

It isn’t clear from the complaint what prompted the traffic stop, but she pulled over a GMC Sierra truck with Arizona license plates traveling eastbound west of Albuquerque.

When she walked up to the passenger-side window, the driver raised his right hand and fired a handgun that was “clearly orientated at (her) face and eyes,” the FBI complaint states. “As the first bullet travelled through the window, muzzle blast and glass shards impacted (her) face and eyes.”

She fell to the ground, drew her pistol and returned fire as the truck sped away, headed east on I-40.

But the officer managed to get back to her State Police vehicle, call radio dispatch to say she had been shot and took off after a man later identified as Nelson.

As she overtook the GMC truck farther east on the interstate, the driver of the truck pulled over again and she parked about 50 yards behind him, the complaint states.

Her hands visibly bloody from gunshot wounds, she cocked her State Police rifle, the complaint states. Meanwhile, two Laguna Pueblo police officers arrived on the scene and the driver got out of his truck unarmed, raised his hands and walked toward the officers without incident.

State Police agents seized the truck. There was a gray metal revolver on the front seat and an AK-47 rifle behind the seat, but no contraband was noted.

State Police Chief Tim Johnson on Wednesday praised the K-9 officer’s “iron will and bravery” in the face of the “disgusting and unprovoked” attack.

“The bravery displayed by our officer during and after this incident is nothing short of heroic,” Johnson told the Journal.

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