Tabitha Clay is an investigative journalist with a focus on criminal justice and policing. She previously reported for the Rio Grande Sun.

lapel camera from Chaves County deputy Ricardo Delgado

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“Show me your hands, get on the ground now!” Chaves County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Ricardo Delagado yelled from the back of a pickup as he pointed a gun at Oscar Najera in June 2021. Moments later, Delgado and fellow deputy Raul Ramos shot Najera to death.

This image from Chaves County Sheriff’s Deputy Ricardo Delgado’s body-worn camera shows the moments just before Oscar Najera was shot to death by Delgado and fellow Deputy Raul Ramos. Delgado is seen pointing his gun at Najera while shouting for the man to show him his hands.

Today, April 6, the New Mexico American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Ives & Flores, P.A. filed two lawsuits: one against the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO), and one against the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy (LEA).

CCSO deputies Ricardo Delgado and Raul Ramos were responding to a 911 call from Najera’s girlfriend alleging a domestic altercation earlier in the day, the ACLU said. Within seconds of arriving, Deputies Delgado and Ramos yelled commands at Najera and then they shot him several times, killing him.

This is the first time in recent memory that the family of a man killed by police has attempted to lay the blame at the feet of the LEA, the organization responsible for ensuring all certified law enforcement officers are properly trained and qualified to patrol the streets. As previously reported by The Paper., for years the LEA has not fully tracked officer training or required compliance with legislative mandates in order for officers to remain certified.

In a 23-page filing in the First Judicial District Court, the ACLU and Ives & Flores detail multiple dismissals of misconduct by the LEA, including a misconduct report for excessive force previously filed against Delgado.

“According to one LEA member, Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza, the LEA never reviews video and relies solely on the written reports,” the suit states, a reference to the previous reporting by The Paper. “In addition, Sheriff Mendoza explains the LEA only has authority to discipline law enforcement who have utilized excessive force if that force is grossly excessive or shocks the conscious[ness] of the LEA members.”

Additionally, the suit details an alleged practice at CCSO of hiring officers accused of misconduct and then failing to train them. According to the suits, there has been an increase in the number of shootings deputies have committed since Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington took office.

Also noted in the suit is Herrington’s use of social media to declare shootings justified.

“Sheriff Herrington’s practice has been to immediately and without investigation declare CCSO shootings justified, usually on Facebook and usually in the comments section,” the suits state.

Herrington is an avid social media user; he has recently used the county’s social media page to endorse one of his own employees in a magistrate judge campaign, as previously reported.

“The killing of Najera is a culmination of many CCSO and LEA failures and displays a systemic problem throughout our state,” said Barron Jones, senior policy strategist at ACLU of New Mexico. “It is past time fatal officer encounters like this one be addressed with proper oversight and accountability.”

There is sure to be more to come, with another CCSO shooting on March 27, which left David Aguilera dead. Herrington posted a photo of Aguilera’s driver’s license on the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, along with a video saying two deputies were involved in the killing. Herrington said he had brought in the New Mexico State Police and the Roswell Police Department to investigate the incident. The Paper. is still waiting on requested records detailing that incident.

“Tabitha Clay’s reporting has been integral to exposing astounding dysfunction at the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board. This is the only agency that serves to police the police, and it’s failing New Mexicans,” Laura Shauer-Ives of Ives & Flores, P.A. said. “My clients are extremely grateful for her work and know the only hope of change comes from knowing what needs to be changed.”

Watch the lapel videos released by the ACLU here.