According to a statement from New Mexico Department Public Safety, a terrible series of events led to police shooting and killing a homeowner in Farmington, New Mexico. The incident is tragic and is yet another example of why we need to evaluate how we respond to someone at our door.
Tragedy Unfolds in Farmington New Mexico—
The New Mexico Department of Public Safety statement says that based on the as-of-yet released body cam footage from the incident, New Mexico Police responded to a domestic disturbance call around 11:30 PM on Wednesday, April 5th. Officers confused the addresses and mistakenly approach the home across the street from where the call originated. Officers knocked on the front door and announced they were with the Farmington Police Department. When no one answered the door, officers asked dispatch to call the reporting party back and ask them to come to the door.
As officers stepped away from the door, the male homeowner opened the screen door, holding a handgun. One officer fired a single shot from his duty handgun, which struck the homeowner. The female homeowner also had a firearm and began shooting at police until she realized they were, in fact, officers.
Neither the woman nor officers sustained injuries, but the male homeowner suffered fatal injury and died on scene. Per procedure, the New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau is investigating the incident, and determining if the officer’s actions were justified under law rest solely with the district attorney’s office.
What Went Wrong?
I’ve seen comments on other posts of this story like: “the police shot this man because they went to the wrong house.” I understand we often try to make sense of what led to a tragic outcome like this, but it’s not always that simple. And as a factual matter, police didn’t actually shoot the homeowner just because they went to the wrong house. While that was a factor, it wasen’t the reason. If we stick to that as the sole reason for the shooting, we won’t learn what we can do to avoid tragedies like this.
Officer’s Mistake- The Response:
The first mistake was that officers confuse the address and respond to the wrong house.
Officers aren’t expected to be perfect, but is responding to the wrong address a reasonable mistake? Under some circumstances it could be, and then in another circumstance maybe not. Sometimes mistakes are reasonable, and lead to lawful but awful consequences.
I’ve included a Google Maps overview screenshot of the two homes in relationship to each other. I also included some screenshots from various news agencies’ stories about the incident that show the home where the officer involved shooting (OIS) took place.
The first screenshot is from KOAT7ActionNews. We can see the house numbers on the house near a walkway leading to the front door.
One of the following screen grabs is from the Durango Herald news, and the other from Google Maps. The images show the house number on both sides of the mailbox in front of the home.
I add the photos just for reference, but remember, the incident occurred at night, and these photos are what the location looks like in daylight.
It’s also important to understand that when responding to calls, it’s routine for officers to park a few houses away from the target address so they don’t roll into an ambush or give away their arrival. I don’t know if this is what the officers did that night.
A remedy is for the officer to check the house numbers and make sure it’s the address they are dispatched to. If in the time they exit the vehicle and walk to the house they transcribe or are unsure of the number, they should have dispatch confirm the address.
HomeOwner’s Mistake- The Response
The homeowners use a poor tactical approach to an unexpected late-night knock at the door.
Just like officers, we can’t expect homeowners to make perfect decisions. And just like officers, sometimes the mistakes are reasonable and lawful, but lead to disastrous outcomes.
In this post I wrote in 2020 called, Your Armed Response to the Late Night Knock at the Door Could Get You Killed I explained this very thing. While it’s certainly legal to walk around your home with a gun, even if the police are standing outside, it’s just not wise.
If the homeowners responded to the knock at the door with firearms, they must not have known who was knocking and weren’t expecting anyone. If you’re concerned enough to carry a firearm—and I’m not saying you shouldn’t—you shouldn’t open the door unless you know who is on the other side.
This is a perfect example of how a doorbell camera works in your home-defense strategy. Before approaching the door, check the video and identify who is knocking. If you don’t have a doorbell camera, arm yourself, take a position of cover inside the home, and talk to the person through the door. If the people on the other side say they are the police, call the police and confirm.
As part of your strategy, learn if someone can see you approaching the front door, and if so, use curtains to obscure the view. Officers don’t have a right to blast anyone inside the home simply for having a gun in their hand, but they may. I’m not saying it’s right or legal in every circumstance, but that isn’t the point. The point is, it’s happened and when you’re dead, it doesn’t much matter if you’re right or wrong.
Complete Home Defense—
I suspect I’ll receive some of the same responses I did when I wrote the article mentioned above. While most were positive, many took what I said as defending the officers and blaming the homeowner. That wasn’t my intent then, and it’s not my intent now.
I worked as a patrol cop in a busy southern California municipal agency nearly every moment on the night shift. I am also a civilian who wants to be secure in my home and doesn’t want to be shot by police. I’ve seen it from both sides, and realize that sometimes humans make mistakes. Sometime a series of mistakes and circumstances come together in such a way that tragedy happens. Other times, everything goes wrong, but somehow, tragedy is avoided.
I know that not all police officers receive the training or have experience. Not every cop has 15 years on patrol, every cop started day one with no real world experience. Which cop is responding to your door? You can’t control every circumstance, but what you can do is use best practices in your response that gives you the best opportunity not to get shot mistakenly.
That brings me to suggest this resource called Complete Home Defense—Tactics for Defending Your Castle. What I touch on in this article and so much more is covered in the course. You can get it on DVD or a digital download and I highly recommend it for anyone who has a firearm for home defense or just wants to fortify their home.
You might have a home fire plan. What about a home security plan? When we have plans and systems in place, we reduce the likelihood of making mistakes. If you have a firearm to protect your family inside the home, why not learn the best strategies to use that firearm in defense of your home?
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