What began as a routine traffic stop in New Mexico ended with a police officer bashing the window of a family minivan with his baton and a second officer firing shots at the van, which had five children inside.
The chief of the state police is promising a full review of the episode, which was captured on a police dash-cam on Oct. 28 near the city of Taos and aired by Albuquerque station KRQE.
It began when police pulled over Oriana Ferrell, 39, for speeding. An officer approached the car and asked her to wait, but she drove away. When she was pulled over a second time, the drama escalated.
“Get out of the vehicle! Get out of the vehicle right now!” an officer shouted at Ferrell. She did — and then her 14-year-old son got out of the van and rushed the officer. After a scuffle, the child ran back into the van.
By this point, backup had arrived. Moments later, an officer used his baton to smash a passenger-side window. And a second officer, appearing to aim low, fired three shots as the van sped away.
The chase came to an end outside a hotel. Ferrell was arrested and charged with intentional abuse of a child and fleeing an officer. The son was arrested and charged with battery.
The New Mexico state police chief, Pete Kassetas, called the incident “an intense, 43-minute-long, dangerous situation that placed the public at risk.”
“I have, of course, reviewed the video and do have concerns relating to the conduct of the officer who discharged his firearm,” the chief said in a statement.
Greg Meyer, a retired police captain and expert on the use of force, watched the video and told NBC News that he also had concerns. He said that it was possible the second officer was firing at the tires, but that it would take more investigating.
“I would be asking a lot of questions about the window smash — what’s he trying to accomplish there? And the gunfire — what’s he trying to accomplish there?” Meyer said. “Until we know why, it’s difficult to judge thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the reasonableness of what happened here.”
According to court documents obtained by The Taos News, the family had locked themselves inside the van before the first officer smashed the window. A police account said that the second officer fired “in an attempt to keep the vehicle from leaving.”
Alan Maestas, a lawyer for Ferrell, told a judge that it was unjustified.
“She was flat-out scared that something was going to happen to her children,” he said in court, according to the newspaper. “We ought to talk about the stupidity and recklessness of shooting at a car that has five children in it.”
Ferrell was also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, the newspaper reported. Ferrell, from Memphis, Tenn., has prior arrests for driving while intoxicated, and two apparent marijuana pipes were found at the time of the arrest, the paper said.
The four other children, ages 6 to 18, were put in the care of family friends, state police told the newspaper.
First published November 18 2013, 5:56 AM