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A New Mexico State Police sergeant testified he was unaware an armed drug trafficker was the target of a high-risk sting operation – and didn’t ask any details of federal authorities – before telling an unsuspecting officer to pull the man over on Interstate 10.
Federal agents had prepared for the worst with Omar Cueva.
Homeland Security Investigations had a contingency plan in place for his arrest, with a heavily-armed tactical unit and medic on standby. The agency briefed two New Mexico State Police officers who were involved in the operation that he was trafficking drugs, carrying an assault-style rifle and had told an undercover agent he “wasn’t going back to jail.”
But, according to depositions taken last week, State Police Officer Darian Jarrott knew none of that on Feb. 4 when he stopped Cueva along I-10 near Deming.
Within minutes, Cueva gunned down Jarrott, delivering a coup de grâce, before dying in a wild gunfight with authorities near Las Cruces. A toxicology report showed Cueva was high on methamphetamine at the time. Almost a year later, the State Police agent tasked with reviewing the incident said under oath he did a “thorough investigation” into what led to Jarrott’s death but did not review any policies or procedures and could not give a clear answer as to what went wrong.
“Darian Jarrott’s death and the subsequent investigation has revealed that, at best, the State Police is dysfunctional and incompetent. At worst, they’re intentionally stonewalling the family of one of their own,” attorney Sam Bregman told the Journal.
Bregman deposed State Police Agent Felipe Gonzales and State Police Sgt. Mark Madrid last week as part of the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Jarrott’s widow, alleging negligence against the state Department of Public Safety.
Madrid, who was asked to resign by an officer after the incident, told Bregman that State Police told him he did nothing wrong, that he was not disciplined in any way and there was no internal affairs investigation opened into the matter.
State Police declined to answer questions or comment for this story, citing pending litigation.
Needed to know more
Madrid told Bregman during the deposition that he first contacted HSI agent Hector Huerta on Feb. 2 after receiving a “be on the lookout” alert, or BOLO, for Cueva. The BOLO said Cueva was possibly smuggling drugs through Deming, that he had an “extensive criminal history” and was known to carry guns.
Madrid said HSI agent Matthew Rodriguez called him on Feb. 4 as he surveilled Cueva’s Deming home. He said Rodriguez sent him photos of four vehicles that Cueva “might be in.”
Madrid said he thought HSI was “confused on what they were doing” but he never asked about Cueva’s criminal history, the agency’s plan or any other details.
“It’s not my job to do that,” Madrid said. “The information that was provided was the information we went off.”
Madrid said 98% of BOLOs mention firearms and an “extensive criminal history,” and Cueva’s BOLO did not make him seem “any more dangerous than anybody else.” He said he believed the traffic stop should have been treated as “any other” and told Jarrott “to be on the lookout” for two of the vehicles.
When Bregman asked what it means to “be on the lookout,” Madrid replied: “Whatever an officer does, sir.” Later on in the deposition, Madrid said he told Jarrott that Cueva was possibly armed, “to be careful” and stop Cueva if he had probable cause.
Madrid said if HSI had divulged more, particularly that Cueva said he “wasn’t going back to jail,” he wouldn’t have involved Jarrott or any other officer. Madrid said, in hindsight, HSI shouldn’t have asked “local agencies for assistance” and he no longer handles BOLOs put out by federal agencies.
“I will not work with them,” he said. “They do not put the information out, I believe, properly for officer safety purposes.”
Madrid said he was told by State Police he did nothing wrong.
“As a supervisor – I feel I failed that officer – as in the circumstances behind it, I don’t know,” he said. Madrid said he was advised by State Police to leave the state for a few months afterward and saw a doctor for mental health issues.
“It was a traumatic experience, and I was having a hard time dealing with it,” Madrid said.
State Police Officer Daniel Soliz sent Madrid an email in May asking that he resign “over an incident where some of your decisions are in question.”
“I am asking man to man, that you retire. I am asking that you pass the torch and allow our District to heal the best we can,” Soliz wrote. He added, “Jarrott did make some mistakes, but he should not of been there by himself, THAT was your decision.”
Gonzales, the agent who investigated the incident, told Bregman during the deposition it was his first time leading a murder case. He said part of his job was to figure out how Jarrott became involved.
Gonzales said he was told Jarrott was assisting HSI but then learned he had “no contact” with anyone at the agency or anyone involved in the operation. He refused to assign fault but said “best practices” would’ve had a State Police officer at the HSI briefing.
When asked if HSI or State Police did anything wrong, Gonzales replied, “I don’t know.”
Gonzales said Madrid disputed Huerta’s claim that he was briefed on the operation and Huerta refused to sit down with Gonzales again, so he never confirmed. He said he didn’t find out why Jarrott was put in that position but agreed “it was important” to learn why he had been sent in alone.
He said he was not sure if Jarrott or Madrid did anything right or wrong.
As Bregman pressed him on possible policy violations or lapses in training, Gonzales said he didn’t look over any State Police or HSI policies during his investigation. Throughout the interview, Gonzales made no conclusions, contradicted his own notes on the case and answered “I’m not sure” more than 50 times, according to a transcript of the deposition.
“For someone who was the case agent on this case you’re not sure about very much of the information contained in the BOLO or in your report, are you?” Bregman asked.
Gonzales replied, “If that’s the way you see it, sir.”
Bregman told the Journal that the two depositions make it “clear that the State Police did not care about Officer Jarrott’s safety on the day he was murdered.”
“What makes this even worse, is that the State Police care even less about getting to the truth of why Officer Jarrott was sent in alone on that day,” he said. “It is a slap in the face to his widow and children.”