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Report finds flawed tactics, poor communication in a probe of New Mexico trooper's death

Darian Jarrott
Darian Jarrott

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Flawed tactics and poor communications were among the key findings of a New Mexico State Police internal review of the deadly shooting of an officer who unknowingly stopped an armed drug suspect while he was being tracked by federal agents as part of an undercover operation in February 2021.

The report released Wednesday provides excruciating detail — partially drawn from dashboard and body-worn camera footage — of the death of Officer Darian Jarrott. He was killed by a burst of gunfire during a traffic stop on Interstate 10.

The report also describes the killing of drug trafficking suspect Omar Cueva-Felix after a 40-mile (64-kilometer) vehicle chase and a shootout with authorities in Las Cruces.

It concludes that two U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents and a State Police supervisor provided conflicting accounts about whether the supervisor received “full disclosure” about Cueva-Felix's criminal history and an HSI plan to arrest him along the interstate.

“Omar Cueva-Felix killed Officer Jarrott in cold blood, and unfortunately, we cannot change that," New Mexico State Police Chief Troy Weisler said in a statement that accompanied the release of the report.

The chief said the review resulted in several internal departmental policy changes and discussions about possible alternative actions and tactics for certain situations.

"The highlighting of mistakes by different individuals involved in the incident and noting areas for improvement is done solely to learn and find ways to operate more safely,” Weisler said.

Jarrott, 28, was the first New Mexico State Police officer killed in the line of duty in more than 30 year. A father of four, he became a state police officer in 2015 after working as a state transportation inspector.

The incident spawned multiple lawsuits that allege both HSI and Jarrott’s superiors were negligent and did not warn the officer of Cueva-Felix’s dangerousness beforehand. A federal judge in Albuquerque dismissed one of the cases last July with a ruling that the government was immune from liability.

A State Police supervisor had asked Jarrott to pull over Cueva-Felix at the behest of federal agents. The request was made after the suspect sold a large quantity of drugs to an undercover agent, showed off a large rifle and told them he wasn’t going back to prison.

Cueva-Felix, 40, of Deming, had what authorities described as an extensive criminal history in California and was known to carry firearms.

The fatal traffic stop occurred the afternoon of Feb. 4, 2021, on I-10, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) east of Deming. Within minutes, Jarrott was ambushed and shot multiple times. Cueva-Felix then led authorities on a chase that ended with him being killed in Las Cruces during a shootout that also injured a city police officer.

Eric McLoughlin, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations El Paso, said in a statement provided to the Albuquerque Journal that the agency is reviewing the report and the committee’s recommendations regarding joint enforcement actions. He also reiterated the agency's condolences for Jarrott’s death.

McLoughlin said the New Mexico State Police is among many law enforcement agencies with which his agency works and special agents are often embedded as task force members with other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

According to the review, no State Police officers were at an official operation briefing and Jarrott was not included in text messages with federal agents about the plan. It also noted that there was no incident command structure in place, even though two agencies and different HSI elements were working in cities 60 miles (96 kilometers) apart.

The review also found that Jarrott didn't appear to pick up on “danger cues" after stopping Cueva-Felix and should have “changed his tactics” once he spotted a handgun on the suspect’s hip.