Baca found guilty


May 24, 2017

Tony Bullocks

Anthony Baca, led to his seat by a Curry County Deputy Maricsa Acuna, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after he was found guilty of shooting Clovis Police Officer Chris Caron.

CLOVIS — The bicyclist who shot a Clovis police officer during a traffic stop last summer was sentenced Tuesday to 15 years in prison, following a day-long jury trial.

Anthony Baca, 34, was found guilty on three charges: assault with intent to commit a violent felony on a peace officer, aggravated battery upon a peace officer and resisting, evading or obstructing an officer.

"We see every day officers getting shot just for doing their job," said District Attorney Andrea Reeb, addressing the jury Tuesday for closing statements.

"Say, ladies and gentlemen, that this is not going to happen in Clovis, New Mexico."

The incident occurred Aug. 29, 2016, shortly before midnight. Officer Chris Caron, 23 at the time, pulled over Baca for riding his bicycle in the middle of the road near 10th and Wallace streets.

Caron said during his testimony that he did not initially intend to arrest Baca or even to write a citation, but only to give him a verbal warning.

Video footage of the stop was recorded on Caron's body camera and admitted as evidence during Tuesday's trial. The recording shows a night vision perspective from Caron's chest height, starting from Caron's initial greeting to Baca after pulling him over and ending minutes later with Caron shot in the leg, lying on the ground and being assisted by fellow officers.

In between, the video shows a dramatic escalation. Baca is initially calm and cooperative, but begins to flee as soon as Caron discovers his outstanding arrest warrant and tries to detain him. The chase ends a few yards down the road, in a confined outdoor parking space on the 900 block of Wallace Street. Canon deploys his Taser at Baca, but it doesn't take. Immediately after, there is a flash of light, and Caron is on the ground calling "shots fired" into his radio.

The gun was never found, but investigators found circumstantial evidence of a bullet casing and gunshot ricochet off a nearby wall. Reeb said the body camera footage, played in slow motion, reveals Baca pulling a black object from his waistband.

The courtroom's audience was mostly supporters of Caron, many in police uniform.

Caron said he wanted to be a police officer or a military service person since he was a kid, but he chose police work to stay closer to loved ones.

"I have a lot of family around here and I love my family very deeply," he said during testimony "I can't imagine doing anything else."

Baca's defense attorney, Julita Ann Leavell, raised doubts during trial as to Baca's intent, an important point considering "intent to kill" is a requirement for returning a guilty verdict on the assault charge.

"The intent of Anthony Baca never changed from wanting to run away from Officer Caron," said Leavell, in her closing argument.

"He clearly had an intent to run," said Reeb. "But that intent can change ... (Baca) fired at (Caron) for one reason and one reason only. He fired at him to kill him."

Sandra Baca, who was in court to support her son, told the newspaper Anthony Baca "knows what he's doing."

"If he was going to (shoot to kill) he would have done it. He's not going to be playing around."

"He didn't do anything but run," she added.

Later the night of the shooting, Caron was treated for a "grazing gunshot wound" on his left thigh at Plains Regional Medical Center. He was back at work within a few days, he said.

Baca was at large for another two days after escaping from Caron, before turning himself in to police Aug. 31 through a local attorney.

The jury deliberated for just over an hour before returning the guilty verdicts.

Reeb asked Judge Drew Tatum to give Baca the maximum possible sentence of 15 years, which includes two one-year enhancements for a prior violent felony conviction.

Leavell requested Tatum issue Baca's sentence to be concurrent with, rather than consecutive to, the existing sentence of two years he is already serving in the Curry County jail.

Tatum noted the escalating violence evident in Baca's prior conviction history, as well as a "lack of respect and total disregard for the work of law enforcement in this community."

He said he believed Baca has a "low to non-existent capacity to reform" and that his behavior "just shows a disregard for life and humanity."

"This easily could have turned out to be murder," he added.

Baca's sentence is 15 years consecutive to his existing sentence. He will receive credit for 265 days of previous custodial time.

Leavell said she was impressed with the "professionalism" of everyone involved in Tuesday's trial, even if the outcome wasn't ideal for her client.

"I didn't have to pull teeth. Everybody did their job," she said.


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