Española Police Department Officer Yvonne De La O is on administrative leave for three days beginning Monday after she reported being shot at by a suspect during a traffic stop.
She began a pursuit of the car, which was joined by New Mexico State Police, Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office and Ohkay Owingeh Tribal Police.
The driver, later identified as David Mendez, 28, of Española, was stopped and taken into custody in Ohkay Owingeh. The passenger, Desiree Gonzales, 23, of Española, was also taken into custody.
E911 Dispatch logs show De La O was dispatched to 399 Lower San Pedro Road to check on the occupants of a silver sedan. The caller told dispatchers it appeared someone was sleeping in the vehicle.
De La O told dispatch 10 minutes later the vehicle had fled the area when she attempted to make contact with the driver.
“Shots fired,” De La O said over the radio, as she was pursuing the car.
The chase continued on Middle San Pedro Road to Upper San Pedro Road where the car turned left before turning right and driving southbound on US Highway 284/85, dispatch records show.
When Mendez reached La Puebla, he turned around and began driving north in the southbound lanes into oncoming traffic.
De La O pursued, allegedly crossing over the median at the Bonecutter Lane turnoff, before being told by other officers to get “parallel.”
Parallel is a law enforcement term for chase situations which means traveling parallel to a vehicle in the correct lane of traffic, as law enforcement officers are not permitted to endanger lives during a pursuit, such as by driving into oncoming traffic.
Mendez made the turn onto State Road 106, and then turned left at State Road 76, where State Police and the Sheriff’s Office joined in the pursuit. The chase continued and went north on McCurdy Road at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, until reaching the Ohkay Casino where Española Police Department Officers were advised to cancel the pursuit, dispatch logs state.
Department Deputy Chief Roger Jimenez and Lt. Richard Trujillo told Department officers to cancel the pursuit at city limits.
Mendez continued North on State Road 68, until turning into Ohkay Owingeh.
State Police stopped the vehicle on Tortilla Flats, using a pursuit intervention technique, which means the patrolman used his vehicle to bring Mendez’s car to a stop.
Sheriff’s Office Maj. Randy Sanches said Cpl. Isaiah Anaya and deputies removed Mendez from the vehicle, and tried to handcuff him, but Mendez was resisting the arrest and holding his hands near his chest. Anaya used his taser to make Mendez comply, because he was believed to have a gun either in his hand or near his body.
Sanches said Mendez was taken into custody without further incident.
Tribal Police, State Police, Sheriff’s Office and the Española Police Department all arrived on Tortilla Flats to look into the incident, but the Sheriff’s Office took control of the scene. Sanches said city police were sent away because they had canceled the chase at the edge of city limits and had no jurisdiction.
That did not stop interim chief David Osuna, Deputy Chief Roger Jimenez, Det. Byron Abeyta, and multiple officers from arriving in Ohkay Owingeh. They were later cleared from the scene.
Tribal Police Sgt. Bryce Gabaldon said at the scene he was there to help the agencies in charge, but since the chase did not begin in the pueblo, their agency would not be investigating.
Sanches said Sheriff James Lujan tasked city police with investigating the area where the initial traffic stop occurred, but officers that searched the area of Middle San Pedro road were unable to locate any bullet casings or broken glass in the area.
A search warrant was obtained to search the vehicle for firearms, and was signed by Rio Arriba Magistrate Judge Alexandra Naranjo, but no weapons were found inside the vehicle, Sanches said Tuesday.
During an initial interview with Anaya, De La O said she believed she was shot at approximately four times, Sanches said.
Gonzales, the passenger in the car told Anaya during an interview they never fired at De La O, and that Gonzales was parked on Middle San Pedro Road in front of Mendez’s mother’s house, using the WiFi to make a phone call, Sanches said.
“She told him that she was sitting in the passenger seat changing her clothes when the officer pulled up behind them,” Sanches said. “She said (Mendez) just took off, and that she told him to stop.”
Gonzales said there were never any shots fired.
Mendez declined to provide a statement.
The back window of the car was allegedly already shattered and was held together by tint, Sanches said, and when the vehicle sped away, it hit a bump and simply fell in. Initially deputies thought the window had been shot out, but the evidence did not support that conclusion.
No evidence of shooting
“The officer from Española Police Department reported multiple shots being fired from the vehicle. There is no evidence to support that report,” Sanches said. “No casings found, no gunshot residue. The Sheriff (James Lujan) is right now at the scene (of the initial traffic stop) looking to see if there’s glass, and he’s canvassing the neighborhood.”
De La O was placed on administrative leave for three days as a result of the incident, as a precautionary measure, Sanches said. She told Anaya the leave was part of city policy.
When asked about the incident Monday, Jimenez said he had not had a chance to speak to any of the officers involved in the incident, he was just glad they were all safe and in good health. He declined to answer any questions about the incident because of the active investigation being conducted by the Sheriff’s Office.
All of the Department officers involved in the chase or incident were asked to submit supplemental reports about the incident, to be forwarded to the Sheriff’s Office, Sanches said.
Jimenez said in a Tuesday phone interview he had not yet received any details from the Sheriff’s Office concerning their investigation and had not yet reviewed supplemental reports drafted by Department officers, but confirmed De La O was on leave at the direction of Osuna after what he called “a traumatic event.”
A public records request for all reports related to the incident was submitted Tuesday.
Sanches said Tuesday it is not immediately clear whether or not De La O has lapel footage of the incident and the Sheriff’s Office was still waiting for supplemental reports from the Police Department.
“The incident is still under investigation,” Sanches said.
Mendez was charged with aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer, driving with a suspended license, and reckless driving. Gonzales was charged with resisting, evading or obstructing an officer. Both were booked into the Rio Arriba County Detention Center.
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