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Deputy shooting should lead to policy reviews

The fatal shooting of a Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputy, his comrade-in-arms charged with his murder, is too shocking to be absorbed quickly. So many questions. So many what ifs. So many tears to be shed for the victim, the accused shooter, their fellow deputies and most of all, their families, children and their two unborn babies.

We know this from last week’s incident: Returning from a prisoner transport trip to Arizona, two deputies stopped for the night in Las Cruces. They began drinking, arguing in a public bar, continued fighting at the hotel until the dispute exploded in gunfire — those are the bare facts of the case.

One deputy, Jeremy Martin, was found wounded and bleeding at the Hotel Encanto in Las Cruces. The other, Tai Chan, was in a stairwell with a Glock. His attorney says there is more to the story, and of course, our justice system demands no judgment until a trial.

Chan is pleading not guilty and faces an open count of murder.

What sparked the ugly fight? It’s a mystery, known to Chan and to Martin, who will not be able to give his version of events.

What is so senseless is that both deputies had strong service records — Chan had just received a commendation for his work in solving a burglary earlier this month.

There appears to be no whiff of rogue cop in their makeup or work history. It is a tragedy whose scars will linger, both at the department and with their families.

Answers could come later, as the police investigation continues and when the trial begins. In the meantime, as in any tragedy, our community must gather around the survivors.

Supporters are raising money for the Martin family through the Jeremy Martin Fund at the State Employees Credit Union or online at

In addition to his pregnant wife, Sarah, Martin leaves behind three children. Chan and his girlfriend also are expecting a baby. They will need support, too.

Sheriff Robert Garcia, in announcing the news that his department has been shattered, struggled to hold back tears. In a statement, he reminded everyone just how shocking this incident was:

“The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office is a close law enforcement family and this is a tragedy for all. Both deputies involved were exemplary individuals. Please keep the families and the Sheriff’s Office in your prayers.”

Eventually, the sheriff’s office — which we are sure is conducting its own investigation — should review its policies.

First, of course, investigators must look to see whether there were any clues at the workplace that bosses missed. Excess drinking that spilled over into a workday? Disputes with fellow officers? Expressions of temper?

The department needs to review policies on travel and drinking. On a work trip, even after hours, workers still are representing their jobs in a way that doesn’t happen when folks are sitting in an easy chair at home, beer in hand.

Off to the bar with a friend, the deputies left their work car behind, following department guidelines that they shouldn’t drink and then use a sheriff’s office vehicle.

A prohibition on consuming alcohol while on work trips is the next logical step. A deputy’s weapon can be locked in a gun safe at home. On a road trip, the weapon is too close at hand — tragically, in this case.

— The Santa Fe New Mexican