The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

By Ron Warnick
Staff writer 

Police officer cleared in bodyslamming incident

 

Last updated 8/17/2021 at 4:01pm



A Tucumcari police officer who was shown last month on a video posted to social media body-slamming a suspect has been cleared after an internal investigation, and he was returned to his job.

That didn’t satisfy the suspect’s lawyer, who said he was “outraged” by the police department and its officers and vowed to file a lawsuit.

Tucumcari officer Justin Garcia had been placed on administrative leave until a review of the July 17 incident could be completed, stated acting police chief Pete Rivera in an email Wednesday to the Quay County Sun.

“The investigation showed no violation of policy, and Officer Garcia returned to full duty,” Rivera wrote.

Rivera did not answer a follow-up question or return a phone call.

The police department initially stated in a Facebook post last month that two officers were placed under review after the use-of-force incident against Pete Apodaca, 43, of Tucumcari in the parking lot of Lowe’s Market.

A criminal complaint filed against Apodaca identified the officers as Cpl. Herman Martinez and Garcia, the latter who applied use-of-force on the suspect.

Apodaca is charged with battery on a police officer, two counts of resisting, evading, or obstructing an officer, driving while license suspended, no proof of insurance and failure to register a vehicle. The battery count is a fourth-degree felony that could lead up to 18 months in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.

Apodaca is scheduled to attend a preliminary examination hearing Wednesday morning in Tucumcari magistrate court regarding his case.

According to the criminal complaint against Apodaca, officers were sent to Second Street to investigate a possible drunken driver and pulled over a van in the Lowe’s parking lot that matched the description. Officers found the van had been driven by Apodaca, whose revoked driver’s license included an arrest clause.

Apodaca acknowledged his revoked license and begged not to be arrested, according to the complaint. He resisted arrest as Martinez tried to handcuff him near the van and struck Martinez in the face, the complaint alleges. Garcia arrived to give aid and “performed an arm bar takedown” on Apodaca.

Josh Daniel of Tucumcari, who was in the grocery at that time, began shooting the video with his smartphone when he said he saw police “swarming” in the parking lot.

Daniel’s footage showed a handcuffed male being detained by two officers near an open rear passenger door of a Tucumcari police vehicle.

The footage showed as Apodaca was about to be placed in the car, he lunged away from one of the officers. The officer responded by lifting Apodaca in a bear hug and throwing him headfirst to the pavement. Both officers subdued him as he laid on the parking lot, where he could be heard moaning.

According to the criminal complaint, Apodaca “attempted to run” from Garcia.

“Officer J. Garcia grabbed ahold of Apodaca and threw him to the ground to prevent him from escaping,” Martinez wrote. “Apodaca landed on his shoulder and head during the takedown, cutting his ear and head on the pavement.”

Martinez stated he contacted a dispatcher to send medics to his location. Apodaca complained of having trouble breathing. An ambulance arrived and took Apodaca to Trigg Memorial Hospital for treatment, the complaint stated.

Vanessa Apodaca, Pete’s wife, told the Quay County Sun days later her husband had suffered a fractured collarbone, two cracked ribs, a concussion and chunks of skin missing from an ear. She said he later was taken to an emergency room at a Clovis hospital.

Adam Oakey of Albuquerque, Apodaca’s lawyer, emailed a statement Friday to the Quay County Sun.

“We are all outraged by the conduct and actions of the Tucumcari Police Department and their officers,” Oakey wrote. “Officer Garcia had the opportunity to assist Officer Martinez in handcuffing Mr. Apodaca behind his back, but instead, immediately resorted to physical violence and excessive force.”

Oakey wrote that Garcia’s use of force “unnecessarily jeopardized the life of Pete Apodaca and resulted in serious lifelong physical and mental injuries to him.”

“Officer Garcia clearly had control of Mr. Apodaca when he restrained Mr. Apodaca from behind with a full body lock before slamming Mr. Apodaca’s head and shoulder directly onto the pavement,” Oakey wrote, referring to police body-cam footage obtained and broadcast by an Albuquerque television station. “There was no need for physical violence and this type of force and there are many additional ways in which someone can be taken down. We must look at the policies and training or lack thereof in this Department.”

Oakey stated he would “seek justice” by filing a lawsuit for the injuries Apodaca sustained and would “shed light on the dangerous and violent practices of the Tucumcari Police Department.”

Medics also treated Martinez at the scene for cuts he suffered during the altercation, and he later drove to the hospital for treatment of other injuries, he wrote.

According to jail records, Apodaca was booked into the Quay County Detention Center on a contempt-of-court order the morning of July 21, four days after the incident.

He was released by court order four hours later on the condition he not possess illegal drugs, not leave the county, remain under house arrest and wear an electronic ankle monitor.

 
 

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