Arrest in Tucumcari under investigation

The left side of Pete Apodaca’s face was cut and bruised after a Tucumcari police officer threw him to the ground during an arrest. (Courtesy Vanessa Apodaca)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

On Saturday, 43-year-old Pete Apodaca was in the middle of building a home entertainment center out of an old dresser when he ran out to Ace Hardware and Lowe’s grocery store in Tucumcari.

A police officer – one of nine that patrol the small city in eastern New Mexico – pulled him over for having a cracked windshield and for driving while his license was revoked. Shortly after that, a video taken by a bystander shows a handcuffed Apodaca start to try to run from police. In response, an officer picks him up and throws him to the pavement.

Vanessa Apodaca, Pete Apodaca’s wife, said he has a fractured collar bone, a cracked rib, bruising on the inside under his rib and multiple cuts and bruises on his left side.

“His ear is mangled pretty bad,” Vanessa Apodaca said. “He had a concussion. I believe he was knocked out for a few seconds; the whole left side of his head was swollen.”

She said she was initially told only that her husband had been arrested, and then – after she went to the hospital to try to see him – someone showed her the video of the arrest that had been shared widely on social media.

“I broke down. It hurt me really bad, I literally threw up,” Vanessa Apodaca said. “It was a lot for me to take in, seeing that happen to him and knowing I wasn’t there to help him.”

Sgt. Shaun Slate of the Tucumcari Police Department said the incident and all officers involved are under internal investigation. The department posted on Facebook that the video “shows a small snapshot of the arrest, however the full review will reveal all the events that occurred leading up to this incident, during this incident, and what happened after the video stops. Once the review is complete, if the officers have been found to have violated our policies or the law, the appropriate action will be taken.”

Court documents identify the officers involved as officer Justin Garcia and Cpl. Herman Martinez, although Garcia is the one who threw Apodaca to the ground. Slate said Garcia has been with the department for a little over three years. He is still on duty, Slate said.

“We’re not denying that video – that third-party witness video – but it is an active investigation,” Slate said.

Pete Apodaca is charged with battery on a police officer, resisting or evading arrest, and driving on a revoked license. He was taken to the hospital immediately following the incident, and then released.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Quay County Magistrate Court, an officer spotted him driving in a car registered to someone else and with an expired registration. The officer said he pulled Pete Apodaca over in the Lowe’s parking lot and told him he was going to be arrested.

The officer said Apodaca looked like he was going to run and, as he started to take off, the officer “was able to grab a hold of his right arm and push him against the vehicle in order to attempt to restrain him.”

That’s when the officer said he called for back-up since Apodaca continued to resist and struck him in the face. Officer Garcia arrived to help and the two were able to handcuff Apodaca, according to the complaint.

“I conducted a search on Apodaca’s person and began to empty (my) back seat in order to place Apodaca into my unit for transport,” the officer wrote. “While emptying the back seat, Apodaca attempted to run from Officer J. Garcia. J. Garcia grabbed a hold of Apodaca and threw him to the ground to prevent him from escaping. Apodaca landed on his shoulder and head during the takedown, cutting his ear and head on the pavement.”

In an interview with the Journal, Apodaca said he is now having trouble breathing and cannot even bend over to pick up his 3-year-old son or put on his socks. He said Tuesday he was meeting with an attorney later that day.

Apodaca said he saw the video of his arrest for the first time Monday night. “It kind of got me mad that he did that to me,” Apodaca said. “Especially after I was handcuffed. He had no right to do that.”

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