Man sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing Navajo Police officer

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A member of the Navajo Nation has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing a tribal police officer in 2017.

Kirby Cleveland, 37, was sentenced during a June 28 hearing in Albuquerque federal court for the shooting death of Navajo Police Officer Houston James Largo, a press release from the Navajo Police Department states.

Cleveland pleaded guilty to second degree murder and violating conditions of supervised release in a previous case as part of a plea agreement in December 2019, according to court documents.

He faced the maximum sentence of life in prison.

Largo was shot on March 11, 2017 while responding to a domestic dispute on tribal land in Prewitt. He was transported to a hospital in Albuquerque where he died from his injuries a day later.

According to a news release by the U.S. Department of Justice, Cleveland "became drunk and angry while at home with his children and his common law wife, who called the police."

When Officer Largo arrived at the residence, Cleveland shot him in the head, and Cleveland then fled the scene.

Several law enforcement agencies began a search for Cleveland and found him the next morning "hiding under a rock about a mile and a half away," the release stated.

"This has been a long and emotional journey for everyone, more so for the family of Houston. As his police family, it was important for us to stand with his family and support them during this difficult time. This sentencing brings some level of closure but the pain of losing a loved one never gets easy," Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco said in the department's release.

Houston James Largo

Largo, 27, was 'Áshiihíí (Salt People Clan), born for Kinyaa'áanii (Towering House Clan) and was survived by his parents, two brothers and a sister, according to a May 2018 press release by the Office of the Speaker.

The police department press release states that Largo's family members along with Francisco, Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety Executive Director Jesse Delmar and Navajo Nation Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie attended the sentencing hearing.

In January 2018, federal prosecutors notified the court of an intent to pursue the death penalty but pulled back those plans without explanation, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported in November 2018.

The Navajo Nation government continues its stance against the death penalty because it does not comply with Diné culture, tradition and values.

"We are grateful for the judge's enhanced sentencing of Kirby Cleveland but in comparison, 30 years is little for the life taken and the pain it has caused. Officer Largo was out there that night to answer someone's call for help and he will always be remembered by his department, his family and his people as a protector of his community," Francisco said.

Largo was a decorated police officer who worked with the Navajo Police Department nearly five years. He also served with the McKinley County Sheriff's Department and the Gallup Police Department.

“Officer Largo will always be remembered as a frontline warrior who devoted his life to serving and protecting our Navajo people,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in the DOJ news release. “Our prayers are with his family, his fellow officers and his community as they continue on the path of healing.”

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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