DA sends Amelia Baca decision to Attorney General
LAS CRUCES — The decision to prosecute a Las Cruces Police Department officer is now in the hands of the New Mexico Attorney General — at least for now.
“The mere fact that the case has been referred to the Attorney General’s office for review should not be taken to indicate a presumption of innocence or guilt,” said 3rd Judicial District Attorney Gerald Byers. Sun-News Friday.
The decision is the latest in the ongoing case involving the fatal shooting of Amelia Baca.
Baca, 75, was shot twice by Las Cruces Police Department officer Jared Cosper on April 16. The department sent Cosper to Baca’s home in the 800 block of Fir Avenue after Baca’s daughter called 911.
Baca threatened to kill his daughter in the throes of a mental health crisis, according to a statement Baca’s daughter gave to police. Cosper’s body camera shows the officer walking towards Baca’s house and making brief contact with two members of Baca’s family as they calmly exit their house. Next, Cosper sees Baca holding two kitchen knives. For about 40 seconds, Cosper yells at Baca to “drop the knives, drop the fucking knives!” before shooting him twice. Baca spoke only Spanish, her granddaughter later told investigators.
The city has yet to confirm that Cosper killed Baca. However, a survey by the Sun-News confirmed his role in the filming. Since then, Cosper has been on paid administrative leave.
Shortly after body camera footage of Cosper became public, the Baca family and their attorney, Sam Bregman, called the 3rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office to file charges against the officer.
After the shooting, a task force led by an LCPD detective delivered their investigation and findings to Byers on June 21.
The DA said there was no time frame to make a decision on whether to prosecute.
“When evaluating a case for possible criminal charges, the laws applied are the same for average citizens and law enforcement,” Byers said. “There is no ‘special’ short-term time limit for making a charging decision that governs officer-citizen encounters.”
If the attorney general’s office doesn’t prosecute Cosper, the decision to charge will go to the district attorney’s office for the 3rd judicial district. From there, the district attorney’s office can ask other state district attorneys to review the case or decide on their own.
Earlier in July, prosecutors in the AG’s office unsuccessfully pursued a trial against a former LCPD officer charged with second-degree murder. In that case, a Las Cruces judge returned a directed acquittal, saying prosecutors failed to show that Christopher Smelser intended to kill Antonio Valenzuela.
“These cases are incredibly complex, emotionally charged and extremely important to law enforcement and the community as a whole,” Byers said.
Justin Garcia is a public safety reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be reached at [email protected]