Mayor Dennis Kintigh, from left, Police Chief Phillip Smith and District Attorney Janetta B. Hicks discuss the exoneration of two Roswell Police Department officers after a jury concluded that the officers had not violated the rights of Rudy Lucero through the use of excessive force in 2009 when Lucero was killed in a shootout with police. (Randal Seyler Photo)
Mayor Dennis Kintigh announced that a jury in a federal civil rights case exonerated two Roswell Police officers on Wednesday.
The lawsuit stemmed from the Sept. 23, 2009, gunfight in which Rudy “Vato” Lucero was killed by Roswell Police officers.
“Family members of Lucero initiated a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Roswell and the RPD officers,” the mayor said. “Claims of racial profiling and use of excessive force were pursued by two highly regarded trial lawyers, Damon [auth] Richards, of Lubbock, Texas, and Gary Mitchell, of Ruidoso.”
Lucero, 26, pulled a gun and opened fire on two Roswell Police officers after they attempted to approach him. Kintigh said Lucero’s behavior made the officers suspicious.
Lucero was wanted on a federal warrant for violation of his supervised release, but the two Roswell officers did not know that he was wanted as they approached him, Kintigh said during a press conference at City Hall.
The police officers fired 18 shots, and Lucero had six spent casings in his .38 caliber revolver. Several of Lucero’s wounds were to his backside, which was consistent with the officers’ testimony that Lucero fled as he shot back at the officers. The shootout ended when Lucero was shot in the head by one of the officers.
Lucero had served time as a juvenile for shooting at a police officer in 1998, the mayor said, and had also served time after being arrested as a felon in possession of a firearm.
“Presiding Federal Magistrate Judge Carmen E. Garza issued a directed verdict dismissing the accusations of racial profiling when the plaintiffs failed to establish the bare minimum of a case during their presentation,” Kintigh said.
The city of Roswell, and the two officers, were represented by Brian Evans and Carla Williams of the Atwood Law Firm in Roswell.
“The diverse eight-person jury of four men and four women carefully deliberated on the evidence presented and concluded that the officers had not violated Lucero’s rights through the use of excessive force,” Kintigh said.
The mayor declined to identify the two officers involved, saying they have been through enough. Both officers are still with the department, Police Chief Phillip Smith said.
“One of the unenviable tasks of law enforcement is having to take a life to protect lives,” Smith said. “This decision by an independent body is a positive reflection for both our agency and our community.”
Kintigh said it was a real concern for him that the Albuquerque Police Department’s allegations of bad behavior not taint the Roswell community.
District Attorney Janetta B. Hicks said that with the majority of the television news coming out of Albuquerque, the public perception of law enforcement across the board could be negatively impacted by the events in Albuquerque.
Smith said the Roswell Police Department trains continuously in the appropriate use of force and active shooter situations.
“You have to train continuously, that is the nature of the job,” the police chief said.