By Sharna Johnson: Freedom New Mexico
A private firm is investigating last week’s Taser-dart shooting of a Tucumcari teen to determine whether any policies were violated and whether excessive force was used.
Tucumcari City Manager Bobbye Rose wrote via e-mail the Albuquerque-based Robert Caswell Investigations was recommended by the New Mexico Municipal League. She said state police were contacted “but would not do the investigation unless it was a criminal matter.”
Rose wrote the city wanted to “get a fair and independent opinion” regarding the incident.
Caswell’s Ricky Folley said the investigation should be concluded “sometime next week.” He declined to discuss the case further.
Tucumcari Police Chief Roger Hatcher was placed on paid administrative leave Tuesday and the investigation was launched into his use of a Taser on Kailee Martinez. Hatcher said he found the 14-year-old girl, after she had a fight with her mother, walking near a city park. When she ran from him, he said he shot her with his Taser because he didn’t know where she was going and she had run into the street without looking.
One of the probes lodged in Martinez’ head and was later surgically removed. The surgery left her with multiple staples and stitches. She’s since been released from the hospital.
In the meantime, police Administrative Assistant Lorenzo Emillio is handling the department’s administrative duties, Rose said. Shift sergeants will oversee their respective shifts and Assistant City Manager Mike Cherry would handle “issues or out of the ordinary circumstances.”
The investigation is expected to cost less than $5,000. However, Rose said the final cost will depend on whether or not investigators are called on for testimony.
Attorney Donald Schutte said he represents Martinez’s family and has notified the city of intent to file a lawsuit.
“Obviously she’s going to have some pretty significant medical expenses and we’ll be looking for the city to be paying for those,” Schutte said. “We don’t have anything personal against either the chief or the police department. We just want to know whether or not this was an appropriate use of what’s essentially a weapon on a child.”
Schutte said the family will await results of the investigation before deciding whether to proceed with a lawsuit.
Hatcher said Tuesday he’s been instructed by city officials not to talk about the case with media. But last week he said he had a “lawful reason” for firing the Taser dart. His report shows Martinez’s mother, Stacy Akin, had been hit and scratched in a fight over a cell phone.
Akin said she drove her daughter to police headquarters after they fought about a cell phone. Martinez then walked away from the police station and Hatcher went to find her.