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“It’s a tragedy”: LCPD chief addresses deadly shooting of 75-year-old woman for first time since video release

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - On Monday, the chief of the Las Cruces Police Department offered his condolences to the family of a 75-year-old woman shot and killed by an officer while providing more perspective on the deadly call.

“It was a tragedy," said Chief Miguel Dominguez. "No family wants to be put in this position. No officer wants to have to face that situation."

The police chief said multiple offers responded to the 800 block of Fir Avenue on April 16th as 75-year-old Amelia Baca was in crisis. He said she was threatening other members of the home.

The city released an edited version of the body camera video on Friday evening.

Below is a transcript of ABC's conversation with the chief on Monday, April 25th.

KATE: "You released that video that depicts exactly what happened from the officer's point of view that Saturday night this month. Talk about what the video shows."

CHIEF DOMINGUEZ: "First of all, I'd like to say it was a tragedy. No family wants to be put in that position. No officer wants to face that situation. The video obviously shows some sort of crisis going on and the lady that was involved did actually have weapons in her hand. We put out some information as far as as the 911 call to add a little perspective... the officer also knew that there was people inside that were held up. Their lives were in danger as well."

KATE: "We read that this officer did have crisis intervention training. I bet you probably can't comment on this specific case, but talk about the department's investment in crisis intervention training."

CHIEF DOMINGUEZ: "The department is hugely invested in CIT. Everybody has to have 40 (hours), but we go well beyond that to make sure that officers get as much training as they possibly can to include de-escalation training. We try to get as much training as far as CIT is concerned."

KATE: "Your officers, sergeants, lieutenants have to make split decisions in the moment. If you could, speak to just generally, the intensity of the moment and how you have to think quickly."

CHIEF DOMINGUEZ: "The dynamics of that call, there was several officers who were dispatched. There were two officers that were in close proximity. The dynamics just did not lead to any further assistance or any other option for the officer. It just happened so quickly."

KATE: "The ACLU is calling for an outside investigation. The officer-involved incident task force is made up of officers from around the region, but do you know if there will be any other investigation into the shooting?"

CHIEF DOMINGUEZ: "As far as the ACLU, I'm not sure, but we will provide everything we have to the D.A.'s office and if they require any further investigation, we'll do so."

KATE: "Speak to when an officer might use lethal force."

CHIEF DOMINGUEZ: "With lethal force, time and distance dictates most of it. The dynamics of this call were very close proximity. She was about four or five feet away from the officers as the video depicts. (It was) closing distance with deadly weapons in her hand. Plus, the officer (had) knowledge of the other people inside the residence having their lives threatened and being barricaded themselves, including children. Time and distance buys us the opportunity to have other options. There were other officers there. Had we had a little bit more time, we would have maybe gotten another taser or less lethal option available. But because of the distance and the way it played out, the officer really had limited options at that point."

KATE: “So the closing distance was critical in determining whether to use lethal force or a taser?”

CHIEF DOMINGUEZ: “Most definitely. The distance between our officer and the female involved were extremely close. It's a harrowing experience for the officer, as you can imagine."

KATE: "Can you speak to what type of knives they were or is that part of the investigation?"

CHIEF DOMINGUEZ: "It's part of the investigation, but you did see the size. I would be speculating at this point."

KATE: "Just speak to the challenges of any call involving some sort of mental health crisis. How often have you used the Crisis Triage Center?"

CHIEF DOMINGUEZ: "We use the Crisis Triage Center often. In this case, we would have loved to have gotten that female to the hospital so she could have been evaluated and gotten further assistance. We do use Crisis Triage. When we encounter folks in the street or other places and they want to go to the Triage Center."

KATE: “Would you say that your officer’s safety could have been at risk if he did not use lethal force?”

CHIEF DOMINGUEZ: “The officers’s safety was definitely at risk.”

KATE: "So, it's a challenging decision, but your officers have to think on the fly, they have to rely on instinct, right?"

CHIEF DOMINGUEZ: "More their training. They rely on their training. As you can see, everybody's stressed at that point. People - officers at that point have to rely on training and the repetitions that are received during that training because it is a stressful situation. Officers tend to get scared. I'll say it: Officers do get scared at that point. That's why we train and train and train so when that does happen, officers have that training to rely on."

KATE: "Talk about that suspected threat to other residents in the home. How did that impact the officer's mindset going into it?"

CHIEF DOMINGUEZ: "It's all the priming that goes into the way the officers receive a call through dispatch. They know there's people in the house. They know that their lives have been threatened. From the 911 call, you can see that there was other folks inside the residence, including children. They were fearing for their lives. That was pretty plain to hear on the 911 call."

KATE: "Is there anything else you would like to add?"

CHIEF DOMINGUEZ: "Again, it's a tragedy and our condolences go out to the family. No one wants to be in that situation. No family wants to be in that situation and no officer wants to have to do that. Unfortunately, that's the nature of the job. We do what we can."

KATE: "What was your reaction to learning she did have a mental health crisis and had dementia as well?"

CHIEF DOMINGUEZ: "It's a tragedy. Anytime an officer has to use deadly force, you feel for the folks that were involved and the officer as well. It's just a tragedy."

Kate Bieri

Kate Bieri is ABC-7’s New Mexico Mobile Newsroom reporter and co-anchors ABC-7’s weekend evening newscasts.

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