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Murder charge filed against Las Cruces police officer


The 3rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office announced second-degree murder charges against Felipe Hernandez, a Las Cruces Police Department officer, during a news conference on Jan. 9.

Hernandez, 44, fatally shot Teresa Gomez on Oct. 3, 2023. As documented on video released by the city, Gomez, 45, was sitting in her car near the 1300 block of Burley Court when Hernandez rolled up on a police bike, unloaded a dozen profanities at her (which are quoted later in this story) and then shot her multiple times as she tried to drive away.

“From the very beginning of Mr. Hernandez’s interactions with Ms. Gomez, the ability to manage protocol was nonexistent,” Gerald Byers, the 3rd Judicial District Attorney, said during the conference. “Interactions with her, just on a human level, was exceptionally subpar and certainly did not meet the standards that LCPD demands of its officers.”

The decision to charge Hernandez is a rare one for Byers and the DA’s office, who typically don’t charge police officers after shootings or defer the decision to the state Attorney General.

The AG’s office announced charges in December 2023 against Brad Lunsford, another LCPD officer. Lunsford was charged two years after he killed Presley Eze at the Chevron on Valley Drive in 2021.

Lunsford and Hernandez join former LCPD officer Christopher Smelser – whom Byers initially charged, then handed the case off to the AG – as three police officers accused of crimes following deadly encounters in recent years.

During the news conference, Byers addressed this in response to a question from the Las Cruces Bulletin. He said his office was not adequately staffed in previous instances to handle a murder charge against a police officer, but now, that’s not the case.

“Felipe Hernandez was not in the zone of danger, such that he could be harmed by the vehicle driven by Ms. Gomez. Not at all,” Byers said.

Police killing on Burley Court

Shortly after the shooting, the Las Cruces Police Department held a news conference at City Hall. Jeremy Story, chief of LCPD, released a nine-minute clip of Hernandez and Gomez. Story described the video as graphic and difficult to watch.

“You’ll see things that are hard to watch and hear the officer speak in a way that is difficult to listen to,” Story said regarding the video, which can be viewed on the City of Las Cruces’ YouTube page.

The video showed Hernandez rolling up on Gomez around 4:40 a.m. Gomez and another man are sitting in a parked car as Hernandez shines a flashlight into the vehicle. Hernandez then tells Gomez to get out of the car. She initially refuses, saying, “Don’t touch me,” as Hernandez reaches for her arm, but then complies.

As Gomez exits the car, Hernandez recognizes the man in the passenger seat and begins addressing both citizens with a string of profanities.

After calling the man by name, Hernandez exclaims, “Holy fuck, you’re back on the fucking property. I’m going to put a warrant out for your fucking arrest.”

Outside the car, Gomez and Hernandez exchange words. He walks Gomez to the back of the vehicle and questions what she’s doing while continuing to use profanities. He tells Gomez, “The judge already ripped his ass,” referring to man in her car. When Gomez asked why Hernandez was questioning her, Hernandez responded with, “Because I’m doing a fucking investigation.”

The two continue, with Gomez saying at several points, “I really don’t have to answer this,” and telling Hernandez to be “nicer.”

“You don’t listen,” Hernandez tells Gomez at one point. “You’re just like (the passenger). You want to argue all the time.”

At another point, Hernandez threatened to shoot Gomez with his Taser.

Hernandez allows Gomez to return to the driver’s seat. After she sits down, Hernandez asks the man for more information. Gomez then starts the car. Looking up at Hernandez, she puts the car in gear and backs away. The driver-side door is open at this point, and it’s unclear from the video if it hits Hernandez. An affidavit given to the Bulletin stated that Hernandez was about nine feet from the car.

Still, Hernandez pulls out his gun. He yells, “Stop, stop,” before firing three times into the open door. As the car meanders to a stop, Gomez’s cry of pain echoes across the empty parking lot.

What’s next in the case

Jail records show that Hernandez turned himself in at the Doña Ana County Detention Center on Jan. 9. A Las Cruces city spokesperson confirmed that Hernandez was still on administrative leave.

Byers said that his office will not pursue pretrial detention, meaning Hernandez will be allowed to wait for trial outside of jail. Byers could have petitioned a judge to order Hernandez jailed by arguing he was a danger to the public.

“Felipe Hernandez, as a former police officer, there is no reason that we have to believe that he is a danger to the community per se,” Byers said, adding that he didn’t believe he could meet the standards of proof required to jail someone pretrial. “I'll add this asterisk: To me, that does not mean or diminish in any way, shape or form, the strength of our case.”

Next, Hernandez will likely face a grand jury to decide if the case should proceed. If convicted, Hernandez could face around a decade in prison for the charge. To prove Hernandez is guilty to a jury, prosecutors will have to show that Hernandez acted unreasonably and that Gomez did not provoke Hernandez.

In the news conference, Byers expressed confidence he could prove that.

“There’s also no sufficient provocation that would cause this situation to devolve from a second-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter,” Byers said. “Accordingly, we are going to proceed on secondary murder charges against Felipe Hernandez.”