Man charged with killing Navajo officer was drunk

Susan Montoya Bryan
The Associated Press
This undated photo provided by the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, shows Navajo Nation police officer Houston James Largo. Largo died after responding to a domestic violence call near the small town of Prewitt in March.


Albuquerque, N.M. – A man charged with killing a Navajo Nation police officer who was responding to a domestic violence call had been drinking and was intoxicated the night of the shooting, according to a criminal complaint released today.

The complaint details the call that sent Officer Houston James Largo to a home on the nation’s largest American Indian reservation and what followed when the 27-year-old decorated officer stopped a vehicle on a dark road near that home in rural New Mexico.

Kirby Cleveland, 32, is accused of shooting Largo with a .22-caliber rifle after the officer stopped a pickup truck that was taking him home. Cleveland walked home with the rifle and told his wife that he had shot Largo and that she needed to go help the officer, the complaint said.

Cleveland has been charged with murder and made his first appearance in federal court in Albuquerque today. Shackled and wearing a black- and white-striped jumpsuit, he stood before the judge alone and acknowledged that he understood the allegations made in the criminal complaint.

The judge ordered an attorney to be appointed for him and scheduled another hearing for Wednesday.

At the time of the shooting, Cleveland was on probation for forcing his way into a home on the Navajo Nation armed with a baseball bat and assaulting a woman in 2012, court records show. That case resulted in a two-year prison sentence.

The officer’s shooting has reignited concerns about the vast territories that Navajo and other understaffed tribal police departments have to patrol. They are often alone while encountering volatile situations involving alcohol or other substance abuse and domestic violence.

Cleveland’s wife told authorities he had been drinking and became angry as she and her children watched television, according to the criminal complaint.

At one point, he grabbed his rifle, went outside and fired several shots. That’s when the woman called police. She eventually drove Cleveland to a neighbor’s house.

Later that night, she heard what sounded like several gunshots and looked out the window to see Largo’s patrol car in the road with the lights flashing. Cleveland then came inside and told her about the shooting, according to the complaint.

After arguing with Cleveland, she drove to scene and stayed until authorities arrived.

The man who was driving Cleveland home told investigators that Largo had handcuffed him to his truck, which was still running. Cleveland fled, and the driver saw the officer rush toward the back of the vehicle. He yelled for the officer to come back but there was no response, the document says. It was not until other officers showed up that he learned Largo had been shot.

Another neighbor saw the patrol car’s flashing lights and headed toward them. That woman saw the officer lying in the road, bleeding from his head, according to the complaint. He was having trouble breathing, and she tried to call 911 but had no cellphone service.

She went to the patrol car in hopes of using the radio, but the vehicle was locked. She went back and got Largo’s keys and then radioed for help.

The woman told investigators that Cleveland came back at one point and asked for the keys to free the man handcuffed to the truck. She refused, and Cleveland left.

Once dawn broke, authorities said Cleveland was found hiding under a large rock more than a mile from the scene.