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Agencies remain silent about the deadly police shooting that left one officer injured

May 20—More than two months after a Santa Fe officer was injured by a gunshot and attacked by a police dog when an arrest operation turned chaotic, neither city nor state police have said who fired the shot that struck Officer Charles Ovalle.

The state Department of Public Safety recently released a 258-page dossier on the ongoing New Mexico State Police investigation into the March 10 incident, which also left two men injured by Santa Fe police gunfire – one of them fatal. The trove of documents, photos and videos, which came in response to a public records request, offer new details about the incident but do not say who shot Ovalle.

Evidence in the file suggests a strong possibility of crossfire between Ovalle and two other officers who fired their weapons that day: Luis Ruiz and Manuel Romero. However, none of the data confirms that Ovalle was hit by friendly fire.

The Department of Public Security has withheld recordings and reports of interviews with Ovalle, Ruiz and Romero. It is unclear why that information was withheld. The agency’s records staff did not respond to questions.

Santa Fe police had attempted to arrest 35-year-old Rick Robert Chavez on several outstanding warrants charging him with aggravated assault on a police officer, aggravated fleeing, burglary, auto theft and other crimes. He led officers on a chase in a downtown neighborhood on the morning of March 10. The dangerous chase ended at Vereda de Encanto – where police say Chavez tried to get into the car of a suspected getaway driver.

Ovalle, Ruiz and Romero began shooting at Chavez and George Theragood Jr., 42, who were sitting in the driver’s seat of a car outside his home. Both were hit by bullets and Chavez died in a hospital two days later.

While Chavez was holding a gun, there is no evidence he pointed or fired the weapon, according to police reports. Police have not said Theragood was armed.

Theragood, who was treated for a shot in the arm, was jailed for several crimes after the incident but denies he had any intention of helping Chavez escape and insists he committed no crime before being struck by gunfire from police.

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Data is missing, mother of the civil servant

Reports indicate that Ovalle was hit by a bullet that injured his arm and lodged in his body armor. Almost simultaneously with the gunshots, Officer Alexandro Arroyo released a police dog named Ayke to help arrest Chavez. However, instead of chasing Chavez, Ayke ran toward Ovalle and bit the officer’s right arm above his gunshot wound.

The bullet recovered from Ovalle’s vest was entered into evidence after the incident, reports said, but the Ministry of Public Security has not provided evidence that would reveal whose weapon fired the bullet.

State police spokespeople did not respond to questions about the investigation into the projectile.

The Department of Public Safety provided videos of interviews with seven Santa Fe officers who were on the scene — and one who was not — but did not turn over recordings of interviews with Ovalle, Ruiz or Romero.

Public records requests — Santa Fe Police body camera footage and communications about the incident — have been pending with the city of Santa Fe since March 11. City administration staff sent a notice stating that the documents would be provided by May 10, but failed to provide them by that date. Archives staff did not respond to a more recent inquiry.

Santa Fe police have declined to answer questions about the shooting, referring questions to state police and citing the ongoing investigation. An internal administrative investigation into the shooting will begin after the New Mexico State Police complete its investigation, Deputy Chief Ben Valdez wrote in an email.

Interviews and reports from the seven officers on the scene indicate that Ruiz and Romero fired from one direction and that Ovalle was facing them.

A state trooper’s body camera video shows the same thing: When he arrived on the scene immediately after the shooting — as tensions appeared to have escalated — he told officers standing on one side of Theragood’s vehicle, “Crossfire if [expletive]you.”

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Several officers on the scene said in reports and interviews that they saw the police dog attack Ovalle, but did not know he had also been hit by gunfire until they saw him on the ground bleeding profusely.

Wrong place, wrong time?

Santa Fe police have named Theragood as a suspect in the incident, and he faces felony charges of aiding a criminal and disarming a police officer, as well as misdemeanor charges of resisting an officer. After he was shot, reports say, Theragood fought police as they restrained him, and tried to take control of an officer’s “less lethal” bean bag launcher.

Theragood was booked into the Santa Fe County Jail but was later released. A district court judge denied prosecutors’ request to keep him jailed until his trial.

His attorney, Michael Jones, said in a recent interview that he will investigate whether police “overcharged” his client for shooting him.

“It raises the question of whether the police overreacted in this situation,” Jones said. “Their theory that there was a grand conspiracy between Theragood and Chavez just doesn’t add up. Our job is to disprove that, and I think we will.”

Theragood and his wife, April Jaramillo, were both arrested and questioned — and both insisted he was a man caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Hours after Theragood was treated at a local hospital for his gunshot wound, a Santa Fe police officer sat down to interview him and said, “I believe there are multiple sides to every story.”

The officer asks Theragood if he wonders why he is there.

“Yes, I wonder,” Theragood says in the video. ‘I also wonder why I was shot. All I want to know is: why am I in handcuffs?’

Throughout the half-hour interview, Theragood occasionally groans in pain as he clutches his bandaged arm.

He tells the officer that he was driving away from his house that morning to pick up breakfast for his family when Chavez called him and moments later was driving next to his Lexus in an SUV with four flat tires. The vehicle was pulling an orange tractor on a trailer and police were in tow, he said. Chavez got out of the SUV and walked up to Theragood’s Lexus — amid police gunfire — and said, “I’m sorry. I love you, man,” Theragood told police.

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“It’s a pretty big coincidence,” the officer said. He tells Theragood that police suspected he helped Chavez escape, “and you happen to be outside, with the car running… what are the chances of that?”

“I didn’t help him,” Theragood says. “I [expletive] the car stopped, raised my hands and I [expletive] got out of the car.”

A state trooper also questions Theragood, asking if he saw Chavez or anyone other than police point or fire a gun during the incident. Theragood says no.

Hours earlier, officers questioned Jaramillo outside the couple’s home, next to ribbons of crime scene tape surrounding a piece of Vereda de Encanto.

Officers ask Jaramillo several times if Chavez had called her husband before Theragood left the house that morning, if Theragood had returned any calls or text messages or if Chavez had recently been to their home. She says no. Theragood walked outside to move his car so their son could go to work, she told police.

She went outside and saw police surrounding the Lexus – her car, she says – and then saw them shooting at it, with her husband inside. She yelled at the officers and told her son and daughter to go record video of the incident. She tells police in the interview, after which the officers ‘knocked’ her son to the ground and handcuffed him.

Police asked Jaramillo if she heard the gunshots.

“Yes, I heard the gunshots,” Jaramillo says. “I started screaming because my husband just got in the car and there’s no reason why they should shoot him.”

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