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Editorial: Did feds keep info from NMSP officer that set him up to die?

Federal Homeland Security agents knew Omar Cueva was an armed and dangerous career criminal on a drug run on Feb. 4. Heck, he was on his way to sell drugs to an undercover federal agent.

What’s unclear is what State Police Officer Darian Jarrott knew about Cueva when he pulled him over along Interstate 10 in southern New Mexico that fateful day.

A tort claim notice filed on behalf of Jarrott’s family claims Homeland Security agents sent an unsuspecting Jarrott to his death by not letting him know Cueva was dangerous.

Indeed, it’s clear from the chilling video from Jarrott’s dashboard and lapel cameras that he had no idea he was walking into a deadly confrontation when he pulled over Cueva on Interstate 10 near Deming for having window tint that was too dark.

Jarrott, who was based in Lordsburg, was civil and polite, even when he noticed Cueva had a firearm in his vehicle and asked Cueva to give it to him for both their safety.

Within minutes, the officer – who had a wife and three children – was dead on the roadside, gunned down by Cueva in as cold-blooded an execution as you could imagine. Then, Cueva was off and running in a chase that ended in a wild shootout in Las Cruces, where he was killed in an exchange of gunfire.

Albuquerque attorney Sam Bregman, who is representing Jarrott’s family, says that, two days earlier, Homeland Security had put out a “be on the lookout” advisory for Cueva, a 39-year-old who was believed to be smuggling methamphetamine and fentanyl inside a hidden compartment in his vehicle. The BOLO said officers must “develop their own (probable cause) for stop and subsequent search.”

Bregman says Homeland Security Investigations “had contact with” Cueva after the BOLO was issued, knew he had a gun – but failed to warn Jarrott.

Documents released Friday of interviews with federal, state and local law enforcement show that Cueva was on his way to sell drugs to an undercover agent on Feb. 4, and that two State Police officers were tasked with stopping Cueva along I-10 prior to the meet. The two had been warned that Cueva was “paranoid” and was carrying a rifle, and rehearsed how they would handle the stop before hearing on the radio that Jarrott had already stopped Cueva.

HSI Agent Hector Huertas told investigators he did not “know where the breakdown of information happened” or why Jarrott made the traffic stop.

Jarrott, 28, was no rookie. He was certified as a law enforcement officer in 2014 and joined the State Police in July 2015. By all accounts, he was community-oriented and, in the words of his training officer, Roger Jimenez, now Española police chief, “always seemed to want to do the right thing.”

“This is the kind of kid you want representing your department because he does it so well: He does it with a smile and professionalism,” Jimenez said. “He was taken off this world too soon.”

It’s not unusual for state, local and federal agencies to work together to arrest dangerous drug smugglers. But it appears there was a clear breakdown in this case – one that proved deadly for State Police Officer Darian Jarrott.

The person ultimately responsible for Jarrott’s death, of course, is Cueva. He pulled the trigger.

But Homeland Security and its counterparts at the NMSP need to publicly address the serious questions that have been raised about how Jarrott came to pull Cueva over that day and whether he was given information that might have kept him alive.

His family, his legacy – and all New Mexicans – deserve at least that much.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.