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Video evidence offered in police shooting

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico State Police released videos Friday of an Aug. 9 incident in which Santa Fe Police officers fired on an SUV that was carrying four people, including a 4-year-old boy, and shot the driver in the face.

These videos, along with other evidence, are being reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office to determine whether or not the shooting was justified.

The video shows two officers standing at the driver’s side of a Ford Explorer stopped between police cruisers in an Allsup’s gas station at the intersection of Cerrillos Road and Calle La Resolana. The officers, according to earlier reports, were John DeBaca and Stephen Fonte.

The video shows the Explorer backing up and both officers jumping out of the way quickly, and the Explorer’s rear end appears to hit a car, apparently a police cruiser. The officers are obscured behind the vehicle as it pulls back and drives away.

Both officers, who earlier reports said fired on the vehicle, then are seen moving in the direction of the fleeing vehicle with guns drawn.

A separate video from a cruiser parked behind the SUV shows that cruiser getting hit by the SUV as it backs up.

Roberto Mendez, 25, the driver, had reportedly stolen the vehicle from a relative earlier that day. He was shot in the face by the officers and stopped a short distance away on Cerrillos Road.

Police said at the time of the shooting that Mendez drove forward toward the officers after backing up. That is not obvious from the video.

After Mendez stopped the SUV, the video shows him getting out of the vehicle and kneeling on the ground, holding his face as he awaits an ambulance. He recovered from the injury, said department spokeswoman Celina Westervelt.

It’s difficult to see details in the video of the shooting because the incident took place around midnight and the officers are wearing black against the dark-colored SUV.

Santa Fe Police Chief Ray Rael said previously that he did not believe the officers were aware of the other people, including the young child, in the Explorer.

The video shows the officers standing beside the SUV and one tries the door handle before the vehicle backs up. It’s difficult to tell whether the Explorer’s windows were tinted. As the SUV drives past a light, someone can be seen in profile sitting inside.

Both Westervelt and State Police Sgt. Emmanuel Gutierrez, whose agency investigated the shooting, did not know whether the SUV had tinted windows.

The dashboard cameras on police cruisers are meant to record audio, but sound is mostly missing in the videos provided to the Journal. Westervelt said that there are sometimes technical problems with the equipment that prevents it from recording audio.

Another video of the incident shows one of the passengers, Bryan Chavez, getting out of the SUV as it stops and running through a parking lot. He’s chased by at least two cruisers before being apprehended by police.

Also shown is a woman leading a young boy away from the SUV. The vehicle contained Mendez, Chavez, two women believed to be their girlfriends and the young son of one of the women, police said earlier.

Both officers involved in the shooting returned to work following a three-day leave and psychological evaluations. The city’s internal investigation into the case is still ongoing, Westervelt said.

The State Police investigation is finished, Gutierrez said. That evidence is being reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office, which will determine whether the shooting was justified.

When a search warrant was served on the SUV, police found items that included several hypodermic needles, a rubber strap and part of a tooth. There was also a soda can that had suspected narcotic residue on it. The search did not turn up any weapons.