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Officers cleared in death of man holding crucifix

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The District Attorney’s Office has cleared two Albuquerque police officers in the death of Jerry Perea, who died in March 2011 after two APD officers Tasered him when he allegedly attacked them with a large crucifix.

The DA’s Office on Monday released the results of an internal review of the incident and said it would not bring charges against the Albuquerque Police Department officers involved, David Baca and Andrew Jaramillo. The review said the officers discharged the Taser to defend themselves.

An autopsy at the time revealed that Perea, who weighed 300 pounds, had heart disease and was high on methamphetamine when he died. The medical examiner, however, could not determine the exact cause of death or whether the stun gun played a role.

APD Police Chief Ray Schultz did not return a call Monday afternoon seeking comment.

A letter from Perea’s mother, Merlinda Perea, which was submitted during the DA’s review of the case, said the “loss of my son has caused not only great emotional pain but also financial hardship on me. I walk around with a gaping hole in my chest for my only child, where my heart used to be.”

Baca and Perea were responding to a report of domestic violence in the North Valley on March 21, 2011. The officers stopped Perea, who was riding a bike in the area, because he matched the description of the domestic violence suspect.

According to police, Perea hit officers with the crucifix and was subsequently shot with a Taser. Perea initially appeared to be OK and even apologized to the officers for striking them with the crucifix, police said. Paramedics were called to treat Perea but he became unresponsive, possibly due to cardiac arrest.

In its finding, the District Attorney’s Office said it had “no probable cause to believe that Officer David Baca or Officer Andrew Jaramillo committed a crime.” The findings said the police actions were justified and the officers followed APD training, policies and procedures.

The district attorney’s review implemented this year replaced the method it had used for officer-involved shootings since the late 1980s and allows for written statements from the victim’s family. The old investigative grand jury process was criticized by civil rights advocates and by the state District Court.

Merlinda Perea said in her letter she believed officers used excessive force and exaggerated Perea’s weight as well as the size of the crucifix he was holding. She described her son’s death as a “murder.”

“I can only ask that you carefully review these facts that have been put before you,” she said.

The family filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in May, claiming a violation of Perea’s civil rights and wrongful death.

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