The New Mexico Department of Justice has decided not to press charges against three police officers involved in the shooting death of a Farmington man in April, after they responded to the wrong house during a domestic violence call.
In a letter released Jan. 26, the New Mexico Department of Justice said it had made its decision following a review of the fatal shooting last year of Robert Dotson, 52, who was killed in the doorway of his house in Farmington after the officers opened fire because he had a gun.
The letter, signed by Deputy Attorney General Greer E. Staley, said the Department of Justice found that the officers "did not use excessive force under the circumstances when they discharged their weapons" and that "the officers' initial approach to the Dotson home, although they erroneously approached the wrong house, was reasonable, appropriate and consistent with generally accepted police practices." The department was aided in its investigation by Seth Stoughton, a former police officer and professor at the University of South Carolina's Joseph F. Rice School of Law.
In September, Dotson's family filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of New Mexico against the Farmington Police Department for wrongful death and other claims.
Police knocked on Dotson's door at 11:30 p.m. on April 5, according to the complaint filed by Dotson's family in court. Dotson grabbed his gun from the top of the refrigerator and went to open the front door. The complaint says "police vehicles were parked down the street and did not have their lights on."
Three officers standing outside the door immediately opened fire, according to the complaint. Dotson was hit by 12 bullets. His wife, Kimberly, wearing just her robe, came down the stairs to find out what happened, the complaint says, and the officers fired an additional 19 bullets at her but missed.
When Dotson's wife emerged in the doorway, she opened fire with a handgun, the public safety agency said shortly after the incident, prompting return fire from the officers.
The New Mexico Department of Justice said that the officers' "approach, knock on the door and announcement at the incorrect address did not foreseeably create an unnecessarily dangerous situation."
"Unexpectedly, Mr. Dotson opened the front door and storm door, then partially exited the house while raising a firearm into a firing position and pointed in the direction of the officers," the letter adds. "At that moment, Professor Stoughton concluded that Mr. Dotson presented an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm to the officers, and all three reasonably fired their weapons."
The letter added that when Kimberly Dotson fired toward the officers, "those shots again created a second imminent threat of death or great bodily harm to the officers."
Staley said that, after considering the findings, the state would be unable to meet the standard of proof to hold the officers accountable for the use of excessive force. "Therefore, we have determined that no criminal charges can be sustained under these circumstances," Staley said.
An attorney for the Dotson family expressed disappointment in the findings. "One of the disturbing things about the decision not to prosecute the police is the feeling that you may not be safe in your own home, because certainly Mr. Dotson was not," the attorney, Doug Perrin, told local CBS affiliate station KRQE.
Farmington Police Department Chief Steve Hebbe said in a statement that he appreciated "the AG's office and their exhaustive look at this case. At the same time, this was extremely tragic, and I continue to say that I am extremely sorry for the Dotson family's loss."
Stephen Smith, Cara Tabachnick and Elias Lopez contributed reporting.
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