Clovis police officer should have been cleared months ago

 

April 14, 2019



Six months after a Clovis police officer shot and killed a suspected car thief, officials last week finally determined the officer was justified in his actions. The process lasted about five months too long.

The shooting victim, his family and friends, plus the officer who fired the deadly shots and his family of supporters all deserved a far-swifter resolution in this tragedy.

A report generated by an independent panel of district attorneys concludes the actions taken by Officer Brent Aguilar were “likely objectively reasonable and necessary.” A summary of reports the panel reviewed indicates Aguilar indeed faced a deadly threat just after midnight on Oct. 8 near a convenience store on South Prince Street. (See the report online at easternnewmexiconews.com)

Why it took so long to reach that conclusion is difficult to understand. The same result could have — should have — been reached a few weeks after the shooting, when state police investigators finished their work. In fact, city of Clovis officials effectively declared Aguilar innocent of criminal wrongdoing one week after the shooting. Police Chief Doug Ford and City Manager Justin Howalt were so sure he did nothing wrong, they sent him back to work on Oct. 15.


In fact, state police completed their investigation before Thanksgiving, handing over their reports to the panel of prosecutors ... who couldn't find time in their busy schedules to review those documents and lift the cloud of suspicion that's been hanging over Aguilar all this time.

That's particularly important because everyone knows Aguilar's history of controversy, which is constant fodder for social media.

He's involved in at least two pending lawsuits alleging he used excessive force, including one in August 2014 that includes much-viewed video of Aguilar slamming a mouthy Jorge Corona into the pavement. The video shows Aguilar breaking Corona's face after Corona allegedly attempted to "turn" on Aguilar while handcuffed. (A jury later found Corona innocent of resisting arrest and was hung on charges he failed to show identification.)

In October, however, we now know — according to the document released on Thursday — that Aguilar was a man who felt he faced "a threat of death or great bodily harm" when he killed Arron Chavez. What was he supposed to do? Let Chavez cut him?

Sadly, the information the DA panel considered before clearing Aguilar was available long before they took time to act on it. The three prosecutors — Francesca Martinez-Estevez, Tim Rose, Marco Serna — even scheduled multiple meetings, then canceled them, because of their supposed busy schedules.


While they dallied, cop-haters spent the time working themselves into a frenzy about how Aguilar had “murdered” a young man who made a mistake and was just trying to run away.

Worse, state police themselves painted Aguilar as a criminal suspect for far too long with their actions, refusing to release public documents related to the incident because records involving “individuals accused but not charged with a crime” are exempt from public disclosure. No one was accused but not charged with a crime except for Aguilar.

Maybe it's not fair to blame the DA panel for the slow response. Maybe they really are too busy for the jobs they've been tasked with completing. If that's the case, then the system needs to change so such cases can be decided by people who have time to review them.

The delay in justice for Aguilar empowers police critics who already are claiming "coverup" — one so convoluted six months were needed to manufacture the story. It also stains the credibility of Ford and Howalt and anyone else who decided Aguilar could go back to police work with the criminal investigation far from concluding.

All because ... why exactly? Because three people had more important things to do? Couldn't talk on the phone? Couldn't email each other?

What's left to do is for law enforcement officers to release all the incident reports, video, audio, witness interviews and any other records they have related to Chavez' death. All of this secret keeping has led to allegations so horrendous only physical proof can make them go away.


Of course they should have done that six months ago as well.

Brent Aguilar may have made some mistakes in his law enforcement career, and he's had to pay the price with public scrutiny.

What happened last Oct. 8 should not have been allowed to drag out for so long. Chavez and Aguilar deserved better.

— David Stevens

Publisher, Clovis Media Inc.

 
 

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