Lawsuit filed after in-custody death in McKinley County - Albuquerque Journal

Lawsuit filed after in-custody death in McKinley County

Rescue personnel and deputies perform CPR and try to revive Robert Carroll after he stopped breathing during an arrest. (NMSP)

Robert Carroll was driving across New Mexico on his way from Kansas to Phoenix earlier this year when he pulled off Interstate 40, just west of Gallup, and began acting erratically.

A deputy with the McKinley County Sheriff’s Office was called to the scene.

Then, lapel camera video shows, after the deputy chased him down — using a Taser more than a dozen times, and holding him face down as he handcuffed his hands behind his back — 39-year-old Carroll lost consciousness. He died at the scene.

An autopsy determined his manner of death was homicide caused by heart disease in the setting of a physical restraint.

Robert Carroll, 39 (Courtesy of the Carroll family)

Carroll’s family is suing the McKinley County Sheriff’s Office and board of commissioners, alleging that he was not a threat to the deputy and his “violent and abhorrent killing” was “wholly unjustified and constituted excessive force, assault, battery, and homicide.” It said he was Tased 18 times.

“I’m just really shocked that this escalated to the extent that a man was killed who was not accused of any crime, had not committed any crime, and was parked in a rest stop after traveling all day,” said attorney Eric Dixon who is representing Carroll’s family, including his two young children, in the wrongful death lawsuit filed in federal court.

The lawsuit alleges Deputy Dwayne Holder, who chased Carroll, was under the influence of alcohol. In his interview with New Mexico State Police, Holder said he had a shot and a half of bourbon about four hours before his shift began.

“The death of Robert Carroll never should have occurred and would not have occurred but for a complete lack of officer supervision, lack of appropriate police training, and the lack of appropriate planning during the events leading up to the Tasing of Robert Carroll,” the suit states.

The family is asking for compensation for the funeral and burial expenses as well as for the emotional loss it suffered.

Neither the McKinley County Sheriff’s Office nor the county manager returned calls requesting comment.

Robert Carroll’s car was parked off the side of Interstate 40 when McKinley County Sheriff’s deputies were called.(NMSP)

Acting strange

On May 18, a couple called 911 because a man — Carroll — was acting strangely near the Port of Entry in Gallup. They said he had knocked on their doors and was opening and closing his own car doors multiple times.

Deputy Holder responded to the scene. He later told investigators that Carroll, a Black man, was “asking about a girl and seemed under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”

Holder’s lapel camera video shows Carroll stumbling away from him, repeatedly falling down in the road and then getting back up. The deputy uses the Taser on him multiple times, including on drive stun mode held against his skin, before others arrived and helped handcuff him as he lay face down.

When they turned Carroll over they discovered he was not breathing. The deputies attempted to save him, but Carroll died.

The Office of the Medical Investigator found he had phencyclidine, an animal tranquilizer that is “more commonly used and abused illicitly,” in his system and that amplified the effects on his heart.

“Moreover, being placed in a prone position and restrained increased the likelihood of Mr. Carroll having a terminal cardiac arrhythmia or other lethal process,” the autopsy report states.

New Mexico State Police investigated the incident and turned over the case file to the 11th Judicial District Attorney’s Office on July 19 to determine whether the deputies should be charged in Carroll’s death.

The DA’s Office did not respond to calls about whether it had made a decision.

Officer Ray Wilson, a State Police spokesman, said the agency investigates in-custody deaths — such as from medical episodes, suicide, accidents, or death as a result of actions by officers — if an agency requests assistance.

It has investigated four each year since 2019, when it investigated five.

‘Fun, happy-go-lucky guy’

In a statement, Carroll’s older sister said she and her family have been struggling to cope.

“Ever since my brother’s death, I can’t think straight and been having to take time away from work due to my mind can’t think clearly, by knowing and seeing what the police had done wrong to my brother,” she wrote. “Robert didn’t deserve to be so treated in the way the sheriffs had done to him.”

Carroll’s half brother, Robert “Bobby” Daniels, told the Journal he has been frustrated in trying to learn about what happened.

He said Carroll was a “fun, happy-go-lucky guy” who raised dogs and was on his way to buy dogs in Phoenix. Carroll had called him hours before his death, early in the morning.

“Mainly he was calling me to tell me he was getting on the highway to get the puppies,” Daniels said. “He sounded good, we talked for maybe 35 to 40 minutes.”

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