Authorities in northwestern New Mexico on Friday released body camera footage of police officers opening fire and killing a homeowner after they showed up at the wrong address in response to domestic violence call.
The video released by the Farmington Police Department — just over a week after the April 5 nighttime shooting — showed officers arriving at the home. They walked up to the front door, passing the address that was posted on the home and illuminated by an exterior light, knocked on the door and announced themselves.
While knocking twice more, the officers can be heard asking a dispatcher to confirm the address and to tell the caller to come to the door. The dispatcher states the address of a home across the street.
It was soon after that the homeowner, armed with a handgun, opened the door and the officers immediately began shooting, firing multiple rounds as they backed away. The man can be seen dropping to the ground.
About a minute afterwards, a woman can be heard screaming inside the home and more shots ring out.
Authorities have said the man’s wife returned fire from the doorway, not knowing who was outside, prompting the officers to fire again. She was not injured but could be heard screaming and crying after the second volley of shots were fired.
Dispatchers also received a frantic call from the man’s daughter, saying she heard bangs and then gunfire and that her dad needed help. She and two other children were inside the home at the time of the shooting.
The video showed a chaotic scene erupting about 4 minutes after officers first arrived at the wrong address. Once the gunfire stopped, sirens could be heard blaring as more officers arrived.
The homeowner’s wife can be heard pleading with officers. “Help! Somebody shot my husband. Please! Please! My kids are upstairs,” she said.
Officers were asking her to come outside and one yelled to put her in handcuffs as she was led away from the home.
Why officers approached the wrong address remains part of an ongoing investigation, Farmington police said.
Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said Friday that the department was releasing the video out of a desire to be forthcoming and transparent about what he has called a dark day for the police force and for the family of homeowner, who was identified as Robert Dotson, 52.
The department said the video also was reviewed by the Dotson family and their attorney before it was publicly released.
“All of us — the men and women of the Farmington Police Department — recognize the severity of this incident. We will do everything possible to more fully understand what transpired here,” Hebbe said.
“Once again, we wish to express our condolences to the Dotson family and as your chief of police, I wish to convey how very sorry I am that this tragedy occurred. We will continue to provide updates as we are able.”
Three officers have been placed on paid administrative leave pending an ongoing investigation. The officers have not been identified.
The case comes amid an ongoing reckoning across the country over use of force by law enforcement officers.
The State Police Investigations Bureau continues to review the case, saying findings will be shared with the district attorney for further review.
An experienced investigator in officer-involved shootings who viewed the footage said he understands why Dotson would have a gun ready after getting a knock unexpectedly late at night. However, the officers believed they were going into a domestic violence situation and they are taught domestic violence calls are among the most dangerous, said Edward Obayashi, who is also deputy sheriff and policy advisor for the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office in California.
He said officers on domestic violence calls can find themselves facing people “hell-bent” on killing officers or being killed by officers themselves.
“I’m not saying this is the situation here,” Obayashi said. “But the officers definitely based on their training and experience nationwide are taught this. As soon as they saw the gun, instinctively that’s exactly what went through their mind.”
How law enforcement ended up at the wrong address is what Obayashi has more questions about. Investigators will be looking at all 911 calls and other communications to figure out how much information officers had going in, he said. They’ll want to know how serious the reported domestic violence incident was and whether officers had information about weapons or prior history with police, he said.
“It’s tragic. Was it a justified shooting? Excessive force? Here, it’s not an issue for me,” Obayashi said. “It’s what led up to that is the issue. Who screwed up here?”