LAS CRUCES — The New Mexico State Police chief acknowledged that police mishandled a traffic stop that ultimately ended Officer Darian Jarrott’s life.
On February 4, 2021, Omar Cueva shot and killed 28-year-old Jarrott on Interstate 10, as seen in Jarrott’s body camera footage. Cueva then sped five miles east towards Las Cruces. There, officers from the Las Cruces Police Department caught up with Cueva.
After Cueva’s truck was destroyed, a shootout ensued between Cueva and LCPD officers. After Cueva fired several shots from a semi-automatic rifle, an LCPD officer managed to kill him.
A few months later, Jarrott’s widow filed a lawsuit against the New Mexico State Police and other agencies involved in the shooting. Through these lawsuits, it became clear that Cueva was more than a random traffic stop gone wrong.
“Officer Jarrott was ambushed without protection, support or even the information necessary to know the danger he was in,” the civil complaint reads. “As a result, he was brutally murdered.”
What we already knew
Court records show that Homeland Security Investigations — an investigative agency of the Department of Homeland Security responsible for investigating cross-border crime — had been investigating Cueva for several weeks.
The undercover agents had also learned that prior to the shooting, Cueva had told another that he “wouldn’t go back to jail.”
As they approached Cueva, HSI used undercover agents to buy fentanyl from Cueva in Deming. They then contacted the New Mexico State Police and requested the agency to move Cueva over. Mark Madrid, then an NMSP Sargent, testified that HSI informed him that Cueva was en route to Deming. Madrid said HSI seemed confused as to what they wanted.
“I don’t think they knew what was going on,” Madrid said, according to a transcript. “I think they hinted at something that wasn’t there.”
Madrid added that HSI does not appear to know Cueva’s whereabouts. HSI Madrid later sent four photos of four vehicles and said Cueva was likely in one of them. Madrid relayed this information to Jarrott and told Jarrott to keep an eye out for Cueva’s truck.
A tactical team – including two NMSP officers who didn’t tell Madrid they work with HSI – tracked Cueva back a few miles. The camera at Jarrott’s police unit shows the team arriving at the scene minutes after Cueva shot him.
On August 8, Jarrott’s attorney, Sam Bregman, questioned NMSP chief Tim Johnson for testimony.
In a transcript accompanying an application filed Nov. 8, Johnson said the moment Jarrott drove past Cueva constituted a mistake. Instead, Johnson said NMSP should have conducted a “high-risk” stop involving multiple officers who displayed overwhelming force against Cueva.
The story continues under the document:
In a previous statement, Madrid said he didn’t think the stop was high risk based on the information HSI gave him.
“He should have asked more questions,” Johnson said of Madrid. “It should have been handled differently.”
Johnson also said someone should have reported that the two NMSP officers working with HSI to apprehend Cueva were in the area. Both officers knew how dangerous Cueva was and were familiar with the plan to arrest him.
But that information never got to Jarrott or Madrid.
Johnson pinned the communications breakdown on “everyone” and said he wasn’t sure the two NMSP officers ever informed Madrid of their involvement. Johnson said the miscommunication ultimately cost Jarrott his life, whether it was a communication from the HSI to NMSP or NMSP internal.
Justin Garcia is the public safety reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be reached at [email protected].