HALF HOUR OF CHAOS »Albuquerque Journal
ALBUQUERQUE, NM – New Mexico State Police Officer Leonel Palomares had a bad feeling that February morning as he and officer Alfonso Montez waited on Interstate 10.
The two had been hired to stop Omar Cueva, a suspected drug trafficker who, according to Homeland Security Investigations, warned Palomares, was “paranoid” and carried a gun and a large amount of meth.
The officers were rehearsing the obstruction before hearing that another officer, Darian Jarrott, had stopped Cueva instead. Within minutes they learned that Jarrott had been shot and that Cueva was on their way.
Palomares suggested adding spike strips.
Montez disagreed and said they should try to take out Cueva for having just shot Jarrott, “having no regard for human life” and “based on his criminal history”.
In the chaotic half an hour that followed, Cueva exchanged shots with both officers and several other MPs and agents before he was shot.
Documents released late by the state police Friday Details of the February 4th persecution and interviews with those shot and shot at by Cueva when he left a trail of spent grenades between Deming and Las Cruces.
According to reports of incidents by the New Mexico State Police:
Palomares and Montez discovered that Cueva was trying to blend in with traffic on Interstate 10 near milestone 113, and officers followed him. He pulled on the shoulder and the officers pulled behind him. Cueva opened the driver’s door and shot the officers as they hid behind their vehicles.
Cueva then drove off, and both officers fired at the truck before chasing it down the highway. As they drove, Palomares said, he saw Cueva’s rear window “explode” and realized he was shooting at her.
The officers leaned back and used their shoulder to avoid being hit by gunfire when several other agencies joined them. Sometimes they almost collided as they chased Cueva at high speed.
Doña Ana County deputy sheriff Diego Herrera told investigators he heard about the shooting of a Deming state police officer and the pursuit of the suspect. Herrera said he called his brother, a police captain in Deming, and told him they were stopping Cueva in Las Cruces.
As the pursuit drew near, the chasing officers announced that Cueva would dodge spike strips and shoot authorities as he drove past.
Herrera was waiting at mile marker 132.
As the persecution approached, he noticed “a large gap” between Cueva and the officers who were persecuting him. He jumped into the chase.
“He didn’t want this guy to get away with it. In the mind of Deputy Herrera, this guy had to be stopped with everything that was needed, he would be stopped, ”wrote an investigator.
Moments later, Las Cruces police officer Adrian De La Garza jumped in front of Herrera and Herrera had to dodge to avoid bumping into the police officer.
De La Garza told investigators that he was about to eat something when he heard that an officer had been shot. He said he turned up the radio and heard the suspect was on I-10 and approaching Las Cruces.
De La Garza ran out of the train station and raced for the freeway to set up a spike strip. The officer saw that Cueva was already getting closer and decided that he had to try a tracking technique on the truck.
As De La Garza got closer, he saw Cueva aiming a pistol out of the back window and “taking the time to try to aim at him”. De La Garza hit the brakes and turned back and forth to avoid Cueva’s target before Cueva opened fire.
Shortly afterwards, De La Garza said, he and Cueva were both driving over spike strips and he heard “multiple shots” being fired by the authorities on the I-10 side. The officer told investigators it sounded like bullets hit his police car and Cueva’s truck.
De La Garza said he saw Cueva fall over the steering wheel as if he had been shot and he took the opportunity to perform a PIT maneuver on the truck. Cueva lost control of the truck and De La Garza assumed that once they came to a standstill, he would be “one step ahead” of Cueva.
That was not the case.
De La Garza fought back tears when he told investigators that when Cueva parked his car he was already standing with a gun in front of his hood.
The officer jumped out of the car and shot Cueva before he was shot in the arm.
De La Garza told investigators he fell to the ground thinking he was finished. He pushed that thought aside and said to himself: “Don’t give up.”
The officer got up and shot Cueva, who then retreated behind the loading area.
De La Garza said he saw Cueva’s head over the truck bed and came up to him and shot until his gun was empty. When he reloaded and “took a deep breath”, Cueva was motionless on the ground.
De La Garza said he then felt “his body was on fire” and realized that he could not move his arm. He had been shot through the biceps.
His police car had been shot several times, and cartridge cases were lying on the highway.
In Cueva’s truck, authorities found a shopping bag containing several packages of a crystal-like substance, an Aero AR-style .223 rifle with a protruding skull, and a hand-held Whistler radio scanner. Cartridges from the pistol and rifle were strewn across the truck, and loaded rifle magazines lay on the floor.
A Century Arms Canik 9mm pistol was located near Cueva’s body. On Cueva they found a bag with a crystal-like substance and a blood-soaked $ 20 bill with a bullet hole.
In Cueva’s house in Deming, authorities found a shotgun, various types of ammunition, a bag of pills, a digital scale, six cell phones and more than $ 1,000 in cash.
Authorities learned that Cueva’s wife, Laura Swanquist Chavez, appeared “distraught” for work after calling her that day.
The woman told investigators that she and Cueva met a year ago after she and her mother moved to Deming from California because “too many people died of COVID-19 in their town”. Cueva was halfway through a house at the time and told her he was thinking of “changing his life and raising a family”.
She said the two started dating, got married, and had a 7-month-old son. She described the relationship as “a loving one”. The woman said Cueva had “anger problems” and could be jealous, but never abused her.
Swanquist Chavez said they struggled with money while Cueva was working on construction before leaving his job so the couple could start a business selling cars and “goods”.
She told investigators that Cueva smoked marijuana to relieve “severe headaches” and that he would often “leave without notice or tell her what he was doing”. Swanquist Chavez said Cueva insists that she buy a gun from a local pawn shop because there are many “coyotes and wild animals” in her home.
She said Cueva received calls on February 4 and was “in and out of the house”. “They had made plans to spend time together, but she noticed he was gone,” wrote one investigator. “She also noticed that the box and gun were gone too.”
When investigators told Swanquist Chavez that her husband was killed in a shooting with authorities, she became “emotionally disturbed and unable to continue the interview.”