The Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office has determined that a Las Cruces police officer’s actions were justified in the Feb. 17 shooting of 23-year-old Nathaniel Montoya.
In a letter dated May 3, 2018, District Attorney Mark D’Antonio stated, “After an extensive review of this case we have concluded that the shooting by Officer Joseph Campa was justified under New Mexico law. This office will not be taking any action against this officer.”
Campa, a seven-year veteran of the Las Cruces Police Department, was not injured during the incident and was immediately placed on administrative leave. That’s standard protocol for such an incident. He returned to duty in late February.
The multi-agency Officer-involved Incident Task Force learned that Montoya was the primary suspect in the Feb. 16 shooting death of 29-year-old Abraham Gomez on the 2300 block of Sambrano Avenue. A witness told investigators he saw Montoya and Gomez in a scuffle outside an apartment. Montoya fled the scene before police arrived and Gomez was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. The investigation revealed Gomez suffered one gunshot wound to his back. Montoya was the primary suspect in Gomez’s death.
Police learned Montoya left the Sambrano address in a Dodge Durango, but that vehicle was found abandoned the evening of Feb. 16 on Bataan Memorial East between Roadrunner Parkway and Rinconada Boulevard. A witness told officers the driver of the Durango entered a purple minivan before it was seen heading east along Highway 70.
About noon on Saturday, Feb. 17, investigators learned the minivan was reported stolen. Its owner indicated the vehicle was not running properly the day before, so it was left on the side of the road. Investigators believe Montoya exchanged the battery from his Durango into the minivan and was then able to start it.
Shortly after 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17, an LCPD officer spotted Montoya driving the minivan on Galina Drive and initiated a traffic stop. The minivan briefly stopped but fled from the officer. The officer engaged in a pursuit that traveled south on Rinconada, south on Sonoma Ranch Boulevard and then west in the eastbound lanes of traffic on Lohman Avenue. Campa heard of the pursuit on his unit’s radio and joined the pursuit near Rinconada.
Investigators learned that Campa exited his unit and gave several commands for Montoya to show his hands. Investigators believe that’s when Montoya raised a firearm that appeared to be a sawed-off shotgun. Campa fired several rounds striking the suspect. Montoya was pronounced dead on the scene. The weapon in Montoya’s possession was later determined to be a .22 caliber rifle modified to resemble a shotgun. It was located between the two front seats of the minivan.
A 33-year-old pedestrian, standing between two vehicles in the Valero’s parking lot, was injured when the minivan entered the property and struck several parked cars. Officers and a doctor who happened to be nearby provided first aid until the pedestrian was transported to a local hospital. His injuries were not life-threatening.
Investigators learned Campa was not wearing a body camera at the time. Campa had been working earlier in the day as part of the initial shooting investigation on Sambrano Avenue. He left the station, leaving his lapel camera to charge in its docking station. Campa went home for a short while and, on his way back to the station for an overtime assignment, heard radio transmissions of the pursuit. He then joined other officers in the active pursuit.
Two surveillance cameras from the Valero store show the minivan speeding into the parking lot followed by several LCPD units.
The Officer-Involved Incident Task Force includes investigators from the Las Cruces Police Department, New Mexico State Police, New Mexico State University Police and the Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Office. After completing its investigation, the task force forwarded its findings to the District Attorney’s office for review.
The pursuit, which reached speeds of 60 miles per hour, continued west on Lohman until the minivan entered the parking lot of the Valero Corner Store, at 1401 E. Lohman Ave., and crashed into several parked vehicles. Campa pinned his unit to the driver’s side of the minivan.