ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The family of a man shot by police in New Mexico after they I replied to the wrong address is suing the city and three officials.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, alleges that Robert Dotson and his family were deprived of their civil rights when officers in the northwestern New Mexico city of Farmington mistakenly showed up at their home on the night of April 5. Officers responded to the wrong address after receiving a domestic violence call from a home across the street.
The lawsuit alleges the officers acted inappropriately that night and created risk to Dotson and his family. The 52-year-old and his wife were upstairs when they heard a knock. Dotson put on his robe, went downstairs and grabbed his handgun from the top of the refrigerator, given the hour and not knowing what he would find, the lawsuit says.
According to Tom Clark, one of the family’s attorneys, neither Dotson nor his wife viewed the footage from their Ring camera at the front door before he fell to the ground.
Video from the front door camera system showed the officers backing away and shining their flashlights on the door as Dotson opened it. Gunfire ensued, with officers shooting Dotson twelve times.
“Their extreme, unreasonable actions demonstrate a complete and reckless disregard and willful indifference to Plaintiffs’ rights and the life of Robert Dotson,” the lawsuit states.
At the time, the police chief called the shooting tragic and promised his agency would work with New Mexico State Police investigators. This investigation has been completed and is currently being reviewed by the state Attorney General’s Office.
Luis Robles, an attorney representing the officers, echoed the chief’s sentiments in an interview with The Associated Press.
“They all wish it hadn’t happened, and yet it did. And that’s the tragedy of it. It didn’t have to happen,” he said.
Robles explained that the lead officer used the computerized dispatcher terminal in his patrol car to locate the home and the mapping system pointed the marker at the Dotsons’ home rather than the apartment where the call came from.
Body camera Footage released by Farmington Police After the shooting, it appeared officers were walking past the address, which was illuminated by an exterior light on the home as they approached the door. The officers knocked and announced themselves.
As they knock twice more, officers can be heard asking a dispatcher to confirm the address and tell the caller to come to the door. The dispatcher gives the address of a house across the street and the officers realize they were in the wrong place.
The Video released by police showed a chaotic scene that erupted about four minutes after officers first arrived.
According to the lawsuit, Dotson was blinded by the officers’ flashlights when he opened the door.
The lawsuit says Dotson’s wife, wearing only a robe, came downstairs after hearing the shots and found her husband lying in the doorway. She darted outside, not knowing who was out there. The police fired back, each of their 19 shots missing the woman.
When the shooting stopped, sirens could be heard as more officers arrived. Dotson’s wife could be heard pleading for help and saying someone had shot her husband.
Lawyers for the Dotson family said in the complaint that Farmington police handcuffed the woman and her two teenage children and took them to the station for questioning rather than admitting their mistake. They claim that the officers involved did not initially disclose that they were at the wrong address.
While Robles acknowledged the officers’ error, he disagreed that their reliance on the technology amounted to reckless disregard.
“I think that’s basically the misunderstanding about the tragedy,” he said. “It is tragic that the officers showed up at the wrong house. Equally tragic is that Mr. Dotson believed he could point a gun at someone because they were knocking on his door at night.”
The blame clearly lies with the officers, who decided to open fire before even telling Dotson they were police officers, Clark said.
“We believe that any dispute over the legality of the officers will in due course be decided by a jury in our favor,” Clark told The Associated Press on Friday.
Lawyers for the family have questioned training and oversight within the Farmington Police Department when it comes to use of force. The complaint proposes that damages be awarded to deter other cities and police departments from engaging in such behavior.