How police shootings are reviewed in New Mexico is often controversial and that remains true in the case of State Police Officer Oliver Wilson’s fatal shooting of motorist Jeanette Anaya in Santa Fe in November 2013.
Teresa Anaya, mother of Jeanette, maintains the process that determined that her daughter’s shooting was justified was a cover-up.
Former District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco, who presented the case to an investigative grand jury, says that’s not true. She says the shooting was handled fairly and notes that, in another case that she handled in recent years, a Santa Fe officer’s non-fatal shooting of a robbery suspect was found to be not justified. “It’s up to the jury,” she said.
Now the 162-page transcript of the grand jury proceeding of the Anaya shooting has surfaced, posted last week on the website of the Santa Fe Reporter newspaper as part of a joint report with New Mexico In Depth. The transcript provides a rare glimpse at a process that takes place behind closed doors and is intended to remain secret, although during her recently ended tenure as DA, Pacheco did provide some information about such proceedings with a judge’s permission.
Wilson says on the transcript that he feared for his life after Jeanette Anaya nearly ran over him while backing up as he was walking toward her car. The shooting took place following a car chase that ended with Wilson using his patrol car to bump Anaya’s Honda to the side of the road.
But Anaya’s passenger that night – now a “person of interest” in a recent Santa Fe homicide – maintains Anaya was trying to drive away when the officer started shooting. Wilson eventually fired 16 shots.
Teresa Anaya, in a recent interview with the Journal, said she believes the grand jury presentation was a complete sham.
“From the beginning, it was easy to see that what he did was wrong and we thought he was going to be charged,” Teresa Anaya said. But, after reading the grand jury transcript, she said, “we were in disbelief.”
“How can this be? How could they have covered this with the grand jury transcript saying what it says? Oliver Wilson did perjure himself, and State Police and Angela Pacheco did cover for him.”
Toward the end of the testimony of passenger Jeremy Muñoz, Pacheco does appear to attack his credibility by questioning him about why he told police officers the night of the shooting that he didn’t know Jeanette Anaya’s last name. Earlier in his grand jury testimony, he says Anaya was a friend he’d known for years. In response to Pacheco’s question, Muñoz says he was shaken up just after the fatal shooting.
But Pacheco doesn’t linger on the issue and said Thursday that it was unlikely that this brief piece of testimony would be crucial to a case involving so much testimony and other evidence, including video of the shooting. She said she couldn’t remember why she brought up the issue of Muñoz’s conflicting accounts about knowing Anaya’s name.
Starts as traffic stop
Anaya, 39, was shot and killed by Wilson after a pursuit through Santa Fe a little after 1 a.m. Nov. 7, 2013. Wilson initially intended to pull Anaya over for what he considered a questionable right turn onto St. Francis Drive – although Pacheco has said dash-cam video showed nothing irregular about Anaya’s driving.
Anaya, wanted on a minor warrant for concealing identity, refused to pull over and led Wilson on a chase that reached speeds of 87 mph through town. Wilson managed to force Anaya to stop on Camino Carlos Rey near Herb Martinez Park.
In the video, Anaya apparently backs up after being stopped by Wilson’s bumping maneuver and hits Wilson’s patrol car. Wilson, who’s out of the patrol car by this time, begins firing shots shortly after the collision, but it’s unclear in the video whether Anaya’s car is moving backwards or forwards as the shots begin to ring out. Wilson ends up firing a total of 16 shots.
One bullet went through Anaya’s back and exited through her neck and another entered the back of her head and went out her left cheek, according to grand jury testimony from State Police Agent Eric Armijo, and she was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
In the transcript, Wilson says, “… As I got out, I remember seeing the windshield, the rear windshield of the vehicle coming towards me, and I remember my weapon firing. I remember seeing the muzzle go up and down. I remember feeling terrified and my thought was to prevent myself from being crushed between the vehicles, my vehicle and, and hers.
“And … it’s … as I fired at the, the vehicle, I saw it coming towards me and I, um … the vehicle then struck, struck the, the front of my vehicle and the driver began to drive away. I didn’t know if my shots were effective through the rear window. I … so I ran along and at that point the vehicle was … after it struck my, my unit … .”
Muñoz testified, “At that point when we start driving away and when we start turning this way, and he’s already behind the vehicle, I can see him standing behind the vehicle and that’s when the shots start.”
Teresa Anaya says it’s easy to see that Wilson was not justified in firing his weapon.
“The way I see it, he has an aggressive personality,” she said. “He was angry because Jeanette didn’t stop for him in the first place. He lost his temper, he lost control and started shooting. That’s not training. We’re not in the battlefield. We’re not the enemy. How can he even think that was part of what he was trained to do or even say that his life was in danger? He lied, and the investigation and the DA supported his lies.”
State Police in charge of probe
Most of the witnesses in this case were from State Police. The State Police typically investigates all officer-involved shootings in New Mexico and investigated one of their own as they considered Wilson’s use of force.
Pacheco’s presentation to the grand jury in January 2014 lasted more than seven hours. It took the jurors just 48 minutes of deliberation to decide that Wilson’s actions were justified. No criminal action was taken toward Wilson after the hearing.
Teresa Anaya believes a cover-up began as soon as State Police came to her door, just blocks away from where Jeanette was shot, the next morning. She said a State Police officer told her the Santa Fe Police Department fired the fatal shots, even though SFPD never joined the pursuit, and she said that officer was cold with her after the news made her hysterical.
“When I asked him who shot her, he said city police,” Teresa said. “And, as God is my witness, I know that’s what I heard. I think from that point on it was a cover up.
“I started asking, ‘Is she OK? Is she at the hospital? Where is she?’ And he said, ‘Get a hold of yourself, ma’am. We don’t know what happened. It’s under investigation.’ Really, am I supposed to sit here calm? It was just so cold and so cruel. There was no compassion whatsoever.”
Teresa said she can’t remember that officer’s name. Former SFPD spokeswoman Lt. Andrea Dobyns, who was working the graveyard shift that night, testified for the grand jury that SFPD didn’t join the chase because dispatchers couldn’t give a reason for the pursuit and she said it was against department policy to join a pursuit for a traffic violation.
An investigative grand jury does not have a specific target or suspect and does not issue indictments. Instead, this grand jury had to vote on whether or not Wilson was justified.
Pacheco told the Journal in an interview Thursday that New Mexico district attorneys review the evidence in police shootings just like any other case and discuss whether a crime was committed with their staff. After review, prosecutors present the case to a grand jury if they believe the shooting was justified instead of meriting a criminal charge. It’s not a perfect process, she admits.
“There’s no easy way to prosecute police shootings,” she said. “How can we do that in a way that everyone is happy with? There’s no easy answer. No matter what we do, somebody will be upset.”
The other witnesses in the Wilson proceeding were State Police investigators, including the officer who reconstructed the crash at the end of the chase and the one who investigated the bullet trajectories.
Santa Fe defense attorney Mark Donatelli – who previously represented Anaya’s passenger, Muñoz – said there’s a big conflict of interest in investigating officers from a department that Pacheco depends on for evidence in other cases.
He believes that special prosecutors should be brought in on officer-involved shootings, and he points to Randi McGinn prosecuting two Albuquerque police officers for shooting and killing homeless camper James Boyd in the Sandia foothills in March 2014 as an example.
“Spence’s office had cases in which State Police had witnesses that she depended on,” Donatelli said. “It’s an appearance of a conflict that needs to be avoided. Why would a prosecutor do anything to question their credibility? That one should have been turned over to a special prosecutor.”
Pacheco said she is very limited on the kinds of witnesses that can be brought in and depends on the agency that conducts the investigation.
But because Wilson can’t be seen in the video when Anaya’s car is backing up, Wilson’s own testimony about fearing for his life was crucial.
Recently, SFPD named Muñoz – the only witness other than officers – a person of interest in the homicide of 35-year-old David Dickerson, whose remains were found in a water cistern near a Santa Fe shopping center last year. SFPD spokesman Greg Gurule said Thursday that detectives weren’t releasing more information about that investigation at this time.
Pacheco defended her process Thursday, pointing out that, in another investigative grand jury proceeding she handled, the jury determined that SFPD officers weren’t justified in the non-fatal shooting of car robbery suspect Roberto Mendez as he pulled away from an Allsup’s in 2013.
She said that prosecutors now are trying to find new ways to review police shootings, but the perfect method has yet to show itself.
“I think all of us are learning that there has to be a better way to deal with it so the community feels better about the process,” she said. “We’re all trying to figure out a good process that people can believe in. We all (prosecutors) need credibility in the community.”
Teresa Anaya confirmed that a civil suit over her daughter’s death is in the works, but declined to comment further on that. She did bring the case to Attorney General Hector Balderas’ attention. Spokesman James Hallinan said he was limited in what he can say about the investigation, but he provided a short written statement.
“The Office of the Attorney General is aware of Ms. Anaya’s concerns and has stated that we will review matters related to the proper procedure for examining officer involved shootings,” he wrote. “Reviewing matters such as this for proper procedures and protocols will assist in establishing benchmarks and best practices for law enforcement and prosecutors in all future investigations.”