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Father said he is looking for the justice in his son's death

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FARMINGTON — A Farmington couple is suing the Farmington Police Department and four of its officers over the death of their son Daniel Turner, whose cause of death is listed as a homicide on the autopsy report.

The Farmington Police Department says its officers were not charged by the district attorney's office and their own internal investigation found the officers' actions did not violate departmental policies.

Walter and Tamara Turner filed a wrongful death lawsuit on July 15, 2019, against the City of Farmington and Farmington police officers James Prince, James Moore, Zack Wood and Jesse Griggs in New Mexico federal court.

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The lawsuit was first reported by the Santa Fe New Mexican earlier this month.

The Turners seek an unspecified amount of damages in the lawsuit.

The Turners' lawsuit

Daniel Turner's parents watched their son die right before their eyes. The autopsy report for their 40-year-old son listed his death as a homicide.

The contributing factors to his death were listed as "physical restraint applied by police officers and (Daniel Turner's) prone position while being restrained."

That's what led the Turners to file a wrongful death lawsuit, Walter Turner told The Daily Times. He wanted to get justice for his son.

"He was a good man. We wanted some help for him that night," Walter Turner said.

The complaint details the encounter Daniel Turner had with four Farmington police officers on the night of June 27, 2018. His parents called 911 around 11 p.m. that night after they noticed their son was acting strangely and was walking down North Carlton Street, hitting his head on the ground.

The lawsuit alleges Prince struck Daniel Turner three times on the left side of his head after he said Daniel reached for his taser. The parents dispute that claim.

Daniel Turner was rolled onto his stomach and placed in handcuffs.

Griggs, Moore and Prince were hands-on and kept pressure on Daniel's upper body while he lay prone and cuffed in order to restrain him on his stomach, according to the complaint.

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Wood kneeled on one or both of Daniel Turner's legs to keep him from moving. Tamara and Walter Turner told officers to get off Daniel because he could not breathe.

"Daniel stopped breathing less than three minutes after Daniel was handcuffed and he was restrained by rolling him onto his stomach and applying pressure to his upper body and his legs," the lawsuit states.

"We knew what happened," Walter Turner said about the autopsy report. "We knew exactly why he passed away."

Walter believes his son's death was preventable, and that it was due to lack of correct training.

He added if the officers had the correct training, they didn't use it, or his son would still be alive.

"He wasn't a criminal. He just needed some help," Walter Turner said.

City of Farmington responds

A June 11 statement from the Farmington Police Department described the incident as a medical call which led to Daniel being taken into custody.

"The call originally came out as a medical call because the man, later identified as Daniel Turner, was cutting himself and banging his head on the pavement. However, Mr. Turner began physically fighting with the reporting party, and police were also dispatched," according to Farmington police.

The department stated Daniel was taken into custody with limited force and that he suffered a medical emergency and stopped breathing. CPR was administered until paramedics arrived on scene.

A June 28, 2018, Facebook post by the agency stated Daniel was running up and down the street naked.

Walter Turner disputed this account, and it was not included in the June 11 statement by the department.

The officers were placed on administrative leave following the incident.

No charges were filed following the San Juan County Sheriff's Office investigation. The San Juan County District Attorney's Office did not recommend any charges be filed against the officers.

An internal affairs investigation found the officers did not violate its policies.

“Any death of a community member is a tragedy. The Farmington Police Department extends its condolences to Mr. Turner’s family and friends," Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said in a statement.

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Farmington police also said the department reviews policies, including use of force, and has made changes since the incident. In July 2018, it launched its Force Investigation Unit, which reviews every use of force by officers.

A response to the lawsuit by the City of Farmington in August 2019 claims the actions of the officers were reasonable, proper, legal and there was probable cause for the treatment of Daniel Turner.

The city also claims any injury he suffered was due to and caused by his own acts and conduct, as he unlawfully resisted arrest, and that Daniel Turner's use of illegal drugs and his actions while under the influence of methamphetamine caused or contributed to his death.

Mourning Daniel

Walter said no narcotics or drug paraphernalia was found during the investigation of their residence and that someone could have slipped the drugs into something Daniel drank. He said his son was not a drug user.

A memorial for Daniel Turner drew about 500 people to a beach in San Diego, California. The family lived in the community before relocating to Farmington in 2001.

As of the June 11 interview, Walter Turner said Farmington police never apologized to him and his family. He believed the agency had just shrugged off the death of his son.

Walter Turner said the protests that have taken place across the country in the wake of George Floyd's death are important, and he hopes smaller cities like Farmington can reform and change their policies.

"They had him handcuffed, they had him on the ground. They had him there for several minutes," Walter said. "All they had to do is get off of him and leave him alone."

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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