No injuries, minor damage reported in incident

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FARMINGTON — A Farmington police officer has resigned after violating safety procedures during a Jan. 4 incident in which his weapon was “accidentally fired” while responding to a report of a stolen vehicle.

Farming police Chief Steve Hebbe announced that the officer involved “has been separated from the department and is no longer an FPD officer” in a video released to the media and posted on the Farmington Police Department’s Facebook page today.

The officer, whose name has not been released, submitted his resignation on Jan. 19, according to FPD public information officer Georgette Allen. He was on probation — meaning he had graduated from field training within the past year — when the incident happened and had worked for the department for about a year when he resigned, Allen said.

Hebbe said the officer responded to a report of a stolen vehicle from a residence in the 700 block of West Arrington Street around 4:51 a.m. on Jan. 4. The officer spotted the vehicle, which was occupied, parked at the Bisti Giant Gas Station, so he activated his overhead lights and pulled in behind the vehicle.

The officer had drawn his weapon, radioed for backup and exited his vehicle when the stolen vehicle started slowly backing up and stopped in front of the officer’s car. Hebbe said the officer leaned back into his vehicle to activate the siren “in an effort to get the driver to remain where he was.”

When the officer leaned back out of his car, “he accidentally fired one round,” Hebbe said.

The stolen vehicle fled, and though officers pursued immediately, the chase was abandoned for public safety reasons when speeds became dangerous, according to the Jan. 4 press release. A passenger in the stolen vehicle — who was in the gas station store at the time of the shooting and was located later — identified the driver, who was found in the vehicle around 1:19 p.m. on Jan. 4 near mile marker 55 on U.S. Highway 491.

No one was injured during the incident, and Hebbe said there was a single bullet hole in the stolen vehicle in the back near the license plate.

The incident is under investigation by FPD and the San Juan County District Attorney’s Office, and though the investigation has not officially been closed, Hebbe said the preliminary opinion “is that no criminal charges will be filed against the officer, as he simply made a mistake.”

However, an internal affairs investigation found that the officer violated FPD’s policy and safety standards, Hebbe said.

“Safety is our overriding principle, and unfortunately, the officer’s actions fell short,” Hebbe said.

The call qualified as “a high-risk contact,” a situation in which officers use discretion in terms of whether to draw their weapon, and the investigation that questioned whether he was justified in drawing the weapon is still under review, Allen said.

Allen said all officers go through extensive training, including refresher courses, regarding firearms procedure and safety, and the FPD doesn’t have any immediate plans for further or more intensive training.

Hebbe said he wasn’t “happy to have to be announcing this type of incident, but admitting when we fall short and telling our community we are working to be better is the first step to being the department you expect us to be and we strive to be.”

“Ensuring safety for citizens and employees is something that we cannot compromise,” he said.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.

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