Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
On Feb. 2, Homeland Security Investigations put out a “be on the lookout” alert for Omar Cueva – a 39-year-old who was believed to be smuggling methamphetamine and fentanyl inside a hidden compartment in a vehicle.
Agents believed Cueva had brought the drugs from Arizona and was in the Deming area. The notice said he had “an extensive criminal history out of California and is known to carry firearms.”
“Officers must develop their own (probable cause) for stop and subsequent search,” the notice states.
Two days later, New Mexico State Police officer Darian Jarrott was assisting HSI when he stopped Cueva along Interstate 10, near Deming. He told Cueva he pulled him over because his window tint was too dark.
Within minutes Cueva had shot Jarrott multiple times, killing him. And Cueva would go on to shoot at multiple officers and deputies – wounding one – before he was killed in a wild gunfight in Las Cruces.
State Police officials have confirmed Jarrott was helping HSI on a narcotics operation, but they have not released any more details about that investigation or Jarrott’s role.
An attorney for Jarrott’s widow has alleged that the officer was sent into “an ambush.”
“This HSI BOLO is another piece of evidence to show how much the (Department) of Homeland Security knew that this guy is dangerous, that he was carrying firearms with him, and yet they did nothing to warn this State Police officer before he walked into this – in fact they encouraged him,” attorney Sam Bregman told the Journal.
Bregman said HSI “had contact with” Cueva between the BOLO being issued and the traffic stop and knew Cueva had a gun on him but “failed to warn (Jarrott) of any of it.”
Bregman said Jarrott’s demeanor during the traffic stop – seen in lapel and dash camera footage – shows he was not prepared by HSI. At one point in the video, Jarrott notices that Cueva is armed and asks him to hand over the rifle at his patrol vehicle.
“His actions suggest clearly just watching the video that he had no idea how dangerous this monster was. … Does it look like he’s worried? Not really,” Bregman said.
In a tort claim notice, Bregman alleges that Jarrott was told by HSI and his supervisors at State Police to “create a pretext” to pull Cueva over. The claim states he was not told Cueva was an armed and violent felon, carrying a large quantity of drugs and “desperate not to be arrested.”
The claim states Jarrott was not given “suitable backup” or any details of the investigation, nor was he informed of Cueva’s extensive criminal history of drug trafficking.
That criminal history is reflected in dozens of pages of court records that give glimpses into Cueva’s life in California and the trouble he fell into there.
Cueva had dropped out in ninth grade and once told authorities he couldn’t read. At one time, he claimed to have worked an apprenticeship at West Coast Rail Constructors. When not behind bars, Cueva told authorities, he lived with his grandmother or the woman with whom he shared an infant child. He had struggled with methamphetamine abuse and had been arrested on suspicion of possession of meth and reckless driving.
Cueva first caught the eye of federal authorities in 2002.
On Oct. 13, 2002, Cueva drove a Nissan Maxima, which had no license plates, from Mexico into a border checkpoint at Calexico, California.
The then-21-year-old told inspectors he was a field worker in El Centro and had just dropped off his cousin in Mexicali.
Cueva couldn’t provide a registration for the car but told inspectors he had bought it the month before from a man “he knew from work.”
Border inspectors found the trunk and glove compartment empty, and Cueva said he had brought nothing back across the border. Authorities said he was nervous and “fidgety.”
As a result, inspectors used a drug-sniffing dog, which led them to 37 pounds of cocaine hidden in the rocker panel of a car door. During the drive to jail, Cueva asked “what was really in the car.” When he was told “cocaine,” Cueva replied, “They told me it was marijuana.”
Cueva told authorities he “came into contact” with a person who “put him up to the illegal activity” and told him where to take the car in California.
At the time of the arrest, Cueva was living in El Centro, California, and had a warrant out for a possession charge and not showing up to court.
A federal judge deemed him a “flight risk” and ordered he remain behind bars until trial.
During the trial, court records state, Cueva and the government had a “debrief session,” and agents were continuing to investigate information given to them by Cueva.
Cueva eventually pleaded guilty to importation of cocaine and was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison followed by four years of probation.
Within six months of his release in 2006, an arrest warrant was issued after he violated probation by failing at least two drug tests for methamphetamine and not abiding by almost every condition of his supervised release.
By that time Cueva had also been arrested and accused of trying to cash an $800 stolen check at a casino and fighting with casino security when they tried to detain him.
In the following years, Cueva bounced between supervised release and monthslong prison stays as he violated probation and refused to check into a program or with his probation officers. At one point he absconded from two probation officers at the same time.
“Mr. Cueva’s behavior clearly demonstrates failure to take supervision seriously and his blatant disregard towards the judicial system,” a probation officer wrote. “Mr. Cueva was given the opportunity to become compliant; however it is evident that he has failed to take advantage of the opportunities afforded him.”
In 2010, while still on probation, Cueva, Jose Cueva and Juan Gomez were chased by police when Gomez, the driver, refused to stop after running a red light. Officers chased the trio – who drove 130 mph at times – until Gomez crashed through a fence, and all three ran into a ravine.
Police arrested the three men soon after and found a duffel bag with 14 pounds of meth in it and a semi-automatic rifle with a high-capacity magazine. Omar Cueva was taken to a hospital for a sprained ankle as the other two were brought to a police station.
At the station, Gomez asked what they were being charged with, and an officer replied, “possession.” Gomez then said, “That’s it?” and later asked, “What if one of us took the hit? – would it help the other two?”
In a probation violation report filed after the arrest, authorities said Cueva had failed to “take advantage of the valuable opportunity” given him when he was put on supervised release.
“He once again found himself violating the law with total disregard for law enforcement and the public, recklessly leading police officers on a dangerous vehicle pursuit,” a probation officer wrote. “Apparently, Mr. Cueva’s last federal custody sentence did not have a serious impact on him as he continued his criminal lifestyle rather than changing it and becoming a law-abiding citizen.”
For the probation violation, Cueva was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to be held until trial in the methamphetamine case.
In 2011, all three pleaded guilty to three counts of unlawful use of a communication facility. Omar and Jose Cueva got 10 years, while Gomez got 12. They were each sentenced to three years of supervised release.
Cueva’s attorney filed a motion to reduce his sentence in 2014, but the motion was denied in 2015.
Cueva was released on Aug. 8, 2019, from a medium-security federal prison in Phoenix.
From there, the federal court records and probation violations that had followed him since 2002 go silent.
In the months after his release from prison, Cueva got married, and he and his wife moved to Deming. The couple lived in a nice home along a rural stretch of road southwest of town.
His wife’s Facebook profile says she is from El Centro as well, and the two were married in December 2019. A photo collage from Oct. 28, 2020, shows a photo of the couple wearing masks as Cueva embraces his pregnant wife’s belly. Another photo shows Cueva holding a baby to his chest as he smiles at the camera.
Although details are scarce on Cueva’s life after prison, less than 18 months went by before, authorities say, he was back to smuggling drugs. And their attempts at catching him ended with the first New Mexico State Police officer in more than 30 years shot and killed.