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Police chief calls for changes as ‘horrendous’ video of officer’s killing emerges


The bulk of a news conference Friday focused on changes and priorities that Las Cruces Police Chief Jeremy Story believes would make Las Cruces a safer place.

But it began with a graphic and blood-soaked video of the fatal stabbing of Jonah Hernandez, which left imagery impossible to forget among those who viewed it. The video was presented unredacted.

“The videos you’re about to watch are horrendous,” Story said. “They’re exceptionally difficult to see. If I were not required to release them (because of) the Inspection of Public Records Act, I would not. One thing I want to say on the record is that Officer Hernandez did nothing wrong. This could have happened to any of us, including me,” Story said.

Two videos – from surveillance footage and Hernandez’s body-worn camera, which the Las Cruces Bulletin has decided not to republish due to their graphic nature but can be seen on the city of Las Cruces’ YouTube page – showed that Hernandez approached a man identified as Armando Silva on Feb. 11 while responding to a trespassing call around 5 p.m.

Silva and Hernandez exchange a few words before Silva draws a knife and closes a five-to-ten-foot distance. Hernandez attempts to back away but trips on the asphalt. Silva leaps on top of Hernandez and stabs him repeatedly in the neck area. Hernandez tries to get up and leave the area but is unable to because of the injuries he’s sustained.

A frame grab from body camera footage of the deadly Feb. 11 assault on Las Cruces police officer Jonah Hernandez by Armando Silva, using a large kitchen knife.
A frame grab from body camera footage of the deadly Feb. 11 assault on Las Cruces police officer Jonah Hernandez by Armando Silva, using a large …

Off camera, Silva is then confronted by a witness recently identified as Isaiah Astorga. After another brief exchange, Astorga can be heard firing his gun and killing Silva. Astorga and another bystander rush to Hernandez’s aid and attempt to save him. The entire encounter lasts only a few minutes.  

After the videos, Story outlined three short-term and three long-term items he said would make Las Cruces safer.

The first goal was to fill LCPD’s 25 vacancies.

“If I had those 25 positions filled, I could do a lot of things I can’t do now,” Story said. “I could add officers to hot-spot crime areas. I could add detectives to property crime. But I have to fill those positions to make that happen.”

LCPD is funded to have 220 police officers, according to the budget of the city of Las Cruces. But over the last four years, the department has struggled to stay fully staffed. At its lowest point in 2021, LCPD had 165 officers.

Low recruitment and poor retention are not unique to LCPD. Departments across New Mexico and the U.S. have experienced a similar phenomenon. This has led to the department increasing incentives like hiring bonuses and salary to become more competitive in the job market.

“The pool of qualified police officers, all agencies are fishing from that pool,” Story said.

The city council and city manager recently agreed to a new contract with the police union that significantly raised officer’s salaries. The pay was one part, but Story said community support and department morale were also essential to fill the gap.

Story's second point was to replace the city’s unconstitutional ban on panhandling. Parts of the ordinance became unenforceable after a federal judge found that panhandling constituted free speech in 2015. That ruling led to several successful lawsuits across the U.S. and caused Las Cruces to amend and stop enforcing the ordinance in 2018.

The problem with the Las Cruces ordinance, Story said, is that part of it’s enforceable, and part of it’s not. That leaves officers in a legal word problem about when and how those laws can be enforced. There’s also the issue of humanity, something Story pointed out.

“We have to be thoughtful about this. We cannot rush it,” Story said. “At the same time, we also need to get on it.”

The third thing was the establishment of the Real Time Crime Center. The center utilizes security cameras and databases to surveil public spaces and inform officers about situations as they enter them.

Dozens of U.S. cities (including Albuquerque) have similar systems, although advocates like the ACLU have raised questions about the civil rights issues that arise from the surveillance.

Story also outlined three long-term goals, which included reforming the state’s laws around involuntary commitment and bail reform.

Two bills were introduced in the state legislature this year that would’ve made it easier for a judge to have people involuntarily committed following a ruling of incompetence in a criminal matter. Both bills died quickly in the short session. Across the state, officials have illustrated a problem with competency in the criminal justice system.

“When competency is raised, usually by the defense attorney, it goes to district court. There’s an evaluation. If the person is deemed incompetent … it comes back down to either municipal court or magistrate court with an order to dismiss,” Story said. “Zero discretion is given to the judge.”

Story said 576 cases in municipal court were dismissed following this pattern. All 576 involved four people, Story said.

“There are zero consequences for all this crime. Nothing. It’s dismissal, and that’s it. There’s no treatment. There is nothing that happens from all this crime,” Story said.

The next topic Story outlined was bail reform.

In 2016, the voters of New Mexico approved a constitutional amendment that effectively ended cash bail. Instead, the legislature instituted a system that is meant to keep only the most dangerous people in jail before a jury can decide their guilt.

Story acknowledged that the idea behind bail reform is not the problem. Indeed, he said he was one of 616,887 New Mexicans who voted in favor of the reform.

“The problem was that people should not be held in jail for six to eight months because of the inability to pay a small bond. I don’t disagree with that notion.” Story said. “The problem is that we went from keeping too many people in jail to almost nobody in jail.”

Contrary to that statement, the Doña Ana County Detention Center had 616 people incarcerated as of the publication of this article. Before bail reform, the number was about doubled. Story said that the burden to keep someone jailed is unreasonable, something other public safety officials have also said.

“It’s not working for us. It’s broken,” he said.

The legislature has passed a bill that may change this dynamic. Senate Bill 271, also called the Repeat Offender No Bond Hold, would allow judges to hold someone without bond if the person is already out for an active felony case and is accused of committing another crime. That bill has not yet been signed into law by the governor.

“Right now, the entire New Mexico system is set up to protect criminals over everyone else. Of course, I believe in constitutional rights. I believe in civil liberties. But all those are being applied to the criminals and victims be damned,” Story said.  

The sixth and final suggestion Story outlined was a call to focus on fentanyl.

“If you overlay the data on fentanyl seizures, the increase in crime and increase in homelessness, they line up,” Story said.

Story said it was important not to be fatalistic about fentanyl. He suggested creating a law that would mandate treatment for people who’ve been convicted of drug-related crimes. Additionally, he said treatment should be mandated for people who have used certain drugs in the commission of a crime.

“We treat addiction differently than we treat any other disease,” Story said. “We don’t wait till stage four cancer or somebody is in hospice care to start treatment. But we say people need to hit rock bottom before treatment. Rock bottom is death or overdose at this point. It’s too late. If we really care about these people, we will find a way to get them treatment long before it gets to that point.”

By the end of the conference, Story spoke about the feelings that this entire incident and process had stirred in people.

“Unbridled anger, even righteous anger, will not accomplish anything positive,” Story said. “We have to focus our emotions on productive goals while maintaining our humanity.”  

Officer Jonah Hernandez, stabbing video, body camera, police call for changes, Jeremy Story