A Farmington Police sergeant with a history of shooting armed suspects is at the center of an investigation into the shooting death of a 49-year-old Farmington man.
Sgt. Shawn Scott was the first on scene shortly after 3:30 p.m. New Year’s Day to an incident reported as a homicide at 912 Loma Linda Ave. in Farmington. The call came through the dispatch center on a pre-paid cell phone, and the caller reportedly stated that a “woman has been killed by a crazy man wearing a blue shirt.”
Upon arrival, Sgt. Scott was confronted by Mark Chavez, according to a press release from the Farmington Police Department. Chavez reportedly was armed with a “blunt impact weapon” that he would not put down.
Sgt. Scott deployed his department-issued taser at Chavez, but it reportedly did not stop the man from “aggressively” moving toward Scott, who opened fire on Chavez with his police revolver. He hit the man in the torso and leg, which allowed police to secure Chavez until he could be transported to San Juan Regional Medical Center for treatment. It was at the hospital that Chavez died from his injuries.
This was Chavez’s first brush with the law, as he had no criminal record in Farmington.
Sgt. Scott’s history
This is not the first officer-involved shooting tied to Sgt. Scott. The first incident was June 10, 2006, when Sgt. Scott was called to a domestic violence situation in the parking lot of the East Main Wal-Mart. Upon arrival he reportedly fought with Clint John, a 21-year-old Kirtland resident.
Sgt. Scott said when John reached for Scott’s police baton, the officer shot John four times. Scott was exonerated in the killing after a “professional and thorough internal administrative investigation,” former Police Chief Mike Burridge said at the time.
John’s family filed a wrongful death suit against Scott in New Mexico Federal Court and a jury came back with a not guilty verdict in the case.
The second incident involving Sgt. Scott was in 2009, when he and Officer Soren Nielsen were called to the intersection on Animas Street and Schwartz Avenue in reference to a person passed out behind the wheel of his vehicle. William Gann, a 26-year-old Farmington man, was in the vehicle and had a gun on his lap. He appeared passed out, but when the police began giving him commands, and he reportedly became combative, causing Sgt. Scott to shoot him in the hand and buttocks.
Sgt. Scott was placed on leave and was exonerated after a thorough investigation.
For the past two years, Sgt. Scott has worked with the Farmington Community Relations Commission and its Comprehensive Homeless Assistance Providers program to help combat the inebriate and street people problem in downtown Farmington. He traveled to Colorado Springs to investigate its success with a homeless reintegration program and has worked tirelessly with area non-profit organizations to solve this area’s homeless problem.
While working on the homelessness issue, he has remained a member of the Farmington Police Department, where he has served since July 1996. Before working in Farmington, Sgt. Scott was a police officer with the Aztec Police Department giving him nearly 20 years experience in law enforcement. He has an annual salary of $71,233 from the city of Farmington.
“I have a lot of faith in him,” said Lt. Taft Tracy, public information officer for the Farmington Police Department.
Lt. Tracy said the New Year’s Day incident will not only be reviewed by the New Mexico State Police, but also by the Farmington Police, which will conduct an internal review of Sgt. Scott’s actions. “We want to make sure he followed all of our policies and procedures.”
The New Mexico State Police was conducting interviews Jan. 3 and, according to New Mexico State Police Criminal Investigations Lieutenant Tim Johnson, that would take up the bulk of the investigation. The evidence should be sent to the crime lab early next week for processing, which could take up to six months.
Once the investigation is completed it will be sent to the district attorney’s office for further review. It will be up to the DA’s office as to whether Scott is exonerated in the shooting.
‘Use of force’
A “preliminary review of in-car video evidence showed Chavez aggressively advanced on Sgt. Scott with the weapon,” before Chavez was fired upon. This falls under the department’s “use of force” training that officers received at the academy and continue to update and refresh every two years.
The use of force training consists of everything from introducing officers to different levels of force to participating in “reality based” training using actors to assist in presenting various crime scenarios, Lt. Tracy explained.
The levels of force begin at the arrival of police on scene, followed by verbal commands, use of pepper spray, tasers and firearms. “It depends on what level of force an officer is faced with and being able to determine which tool to go to,” Lt. Tracy said.
On New Year’s Day, police believe Chavez may have “lured police officers to the scene” with the report of an alleged murder. Officers, however, checked the Loma Linda residence and did not find anyone injured or deceased.
“In discussions with Chavez’s family it was mentioned that Chavez had been struggling with alcohol addiction. However, to their knowledge, he had not made any threats to harm himself,” an agency press release stated.
Police Chief Kyle Westall and City Manager Rob Mayes would not answer questions about the incident, but Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts said he reviewed the case and is allowing the State Police to conduct their investigation, but he did say: “It does appear department protocol and policy was followed, and it is a tragedy any time there is a loss of life.”
Sgt. Scott has been placed on administrative leave with pay, pending the completion of the investigation.