SANTA FE, N.M. — Man allegedly drove toward officers after ramming car
A man was shot in the face by police gunfire at a Santa Fe Allsup’s store late Thursday night after he allegedly rammed a police cruiser with a stolen vehicle and then drove toward officers.
Roberto Mendez, 25, was shot through the cheek but is expected to recover. Also inside the stolen 2003 green Ford Explorer during the gunfire were four other people – including a four-year-old boy.
None of the passengers was hurt in the incident, which took place outside the Allsup’s at Cerrillos Road and Calle La Resolana.
Mendez, who has several prior criminal convictions in his record and has been booked into the county jail about 16 times since 2006, was transported first to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and then to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque for treatment.
Police didn’t know as of Friday afternoon whether Mendez was armed during the confrontation but say he did not fire any shots at the two officers on the scene.
The Ford Explorer had been reported stolen earlier Thursday, according to city police spokeswoman Celina Westervelt, and the officers spotted it at the Allsup’s.
The State Police, which took over investigating the officer-involved shooting, said in a statement that the city officers tried to stop the Explorer from leaving the parking lot and also attempted to get the driver out of the vehicle.
Mendez refused to exit the SUV, put it in reverse and hit a police patrol car, then drove forward toward the officers in an apparent effort to leave the parking lot, the State Police said.
At this point, officers fired at the Explorer, which managed to leave the Allsup’s lot and head north on Cerrillos.
Police say the pursuit ended quickly when Mendez stopped the vehicle nearby at the intersection with Siler. Another man who’d been in the Explorer tried to run away, but he was caught safely.
There were also two women in the SUV, one of them the mother of the 4-year-old.
When asked whether he had concerns about the child being inside the vehicle when the officers opened fire, Santa Fe Police Chief Ray Rael said he would wait for a State Police investigation and an internal SFPD investigation.
“… I think it’s premature to come to any conclusions, period,” Rael said. He added that he didn’t believe the officers were aware of the passengers in the stolen Explorer.
“There are a lot of factors in play of making a split decision of that nature,” Rael said. “I’m not aware of any inappropriate conduct, action or behavior by any officers.”
State Police Sgt. Emmanuel Gutierrez said officers can respond with force when a vehicle is headed toward them. “Yes, because the vehicle is perceived as a deadly weapon,” he said.
Gutierrez was also asked about the child in the vehicle.
“It’s not up to us to pass that judgment,” he said. “It went down how it went down. It is what it is.”
Gutierrez didn’t know how the passengers in the car were connected to Mendez. Westervelt said the Children, Youth and Families Department was notified about the mother and child in the stolen vehicle, and the boy had reportedly been turned over to a relative.
Santa Fe District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco’s office typically reviews cases on police shootings . She said she had not seen a report on this case as of Friday.
Gutierrez said investigators were seeking a search warrant to examine the Explorer.
In a news release issued early Friday morning, State Police reported incorrectly that an occupant of the stolen car fired shots at the Allsup’s. Gutierrez said the error came from incorrect preliminary information about the shooting.
The two Santa Fe officers, whose names were not released by either the city or the State Police, are on paid administrative leave for three days while State Police investigates the shooting and the city conducts its separate internal investigation.
One of the officers had minor injuries, not related to the shooting, Westervelt said. She would not go into detail about what those injuries were.
She also said the police are conferring with the District Attorney’s Office about potential charges for Mendez and his adult passengers.
Mendez, who also goes by Mendez Ortega, was convicted in state District Court in 2007 of robbery and criminal conspiracy, according to an online court records database.
In 2008, he was convicted of aggravated assault on a peace officer, aggravated battery on a peace officer and resisting or evading an officer. He has a pending shoplifting case from late July in Santa Fe Magistrate Court.
The last officer-involved shooting in Santa Fe took place March 4 on Johnson Lane when a caretaker was shot and seriously wounded by a Santa Fe officer when both responded to a late-night burglary alarm. Pacheco’s office cleared officer Charles Laramie of wrongdoing in the case.