LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (KVIA) -- The police officer involved in the shooting of an elderly woman will not face criminal charges, the New Mexico Attorney General's office decided.
In 2022, an officer shot and killed 75-year-old Las Cruces resident Amelia Baca while responding to a call. Baca was holding two knives when she walked up to the officer.
Later in the year, Baca's family filed and settled a multi-million dollar lawsuit with the city.
A Senior District Judge ruled the shooting constitutional on September 5, 2023, the Third Judicial District Attorney's office tells ABC-7.
The New Mexico Attorney General's office sent its formal determination and prosecutorial review to the D.A.'s office on October 26, 2023. The D.A.'s office provided the accompanying letter from the Attorney General's office to ABC-7.
"Dear District Attorney Byers:
As per your request, the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General has conducted a review of the fatal shooting of Ms. Amelia Baca on April 16, 2022, for potential prosecution. We comprehensively reviewed all available evidence including, police reports, witness statements, videos, and photographs. Additionally, we sought assistance from Steve Ijames, a nationally recognized expert in the field of police officer use of force, who has reviewed approximately 3,000 use-of-force cases.
Mr. Ijames provided a thorough and detailed report concluding that Officer Cosper did not use excessive force under the circumstances when he discharged his weapon and shot Ms. Baca. Mr. Ijames recognized that Officer Cosper initially engaged with Ms. Baca in a manner that is not consistent with generally accepted police practices. His tone and manner of communication were inappropriate and likely did not de-escalate the situation. However, Officer Cosper’s use of force was in self-defense. Officer Cosper was placed in a position of competing interests. As such, he could not disengage himself from the confrontation with Ms. Baca in light of her use of knives and threats made before he arrived, the knowledge of a barricaded child inside the home, and the physical boundaries of the residence. Ms. Baca’s approach toward Officer Cosper with knives in her hands and refusal to comply with repeated commands to drop the knives created a life-threatening situation for the officer.
New Mexico evaluates whether an officer’s use of force is excessive under the standard articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). See State v. Ellis, 2008- NMSC-032, ¶ 25; see also NMSA, 1978, § 30 -2-6 (1989) (defining justifiable homicide by a public officer). As explained by Mr. Ijames, Officer Cosper’s actions were consistent with a lawful use of force because a peace officer may justifiably use deadly physical force when threatened with serious harm or deadly force. This inquiry is an objective standard, viewed from the perspective of the officer at the time of the incident with the understanding that officers often must make split-second decisions in difficult situations about what type of force is necessary. To hold an officer accountable for the use of excessive force, the State would be required to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt that a reasonable officer would have acted as the officer did under the totality of the circumstances. UJI 14-5173 NMRA. For the reasons explained in Mr. Ijames’ report, which is attached to this letter, the State would be unable to meet this standard of proof under the circumstances of this case.
Therefore, we have determined that no criminal charges can be sustained under these circumstances. As such, the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General considers this matter closed.
However, our review is limited to potential criminal liability and does not address any potential disciplinary and/or civil liability issues.
Thank you for contacting the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General."Greer E. Staley, Deputy Attorney General of Criminal Affairs