ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. » The New Mexico State Police officer who fired shots at a minivan full of children during a chaotic October traffic stop has been placed on administrative leave, an agency official said on Thursday.
Officer Elias Montoya was placed on paid leave Wednesday pending a disciplinary investigation into the shooting outside the northern New Mexico tourist town of Taos, State Police Chief Pete Kassetas told The Associated Press.
Kassetas called for an internal investigation after video from a police cruiser’s dashboard camera taken Oct. 28 drew national attention.
The video showed Montoya shooting at the minivan as a Memphis, Tenn., woman drove away from a chaotic traffic stop that included another officer bashing her van’s window with his nightstick. The motorist, 39-year-old Oriana Farrell, had been stopped by state police for speeding and fled twice after arguing with an officer.
Montoya fired three shots at the minivan, which also was carrying Ferrell’s five children. Montoya wrote in a police report that he aimed "at the left rear tire in an attempt to immobilize the vehicle."
The footage also showed Farrell disobeying the officer’s orders, including driving off after being told to take her keys out of the vehicle.
When Farrell was pulled over a second time, the situation escalated as she pleaded for lenience while refusing the officer’s orders to get out of the van. She eventually exits the vehicle but tries to get back in as the officer, identified as Tony DeTavis in police records, tries to restrain her.
The video showed at least two of Farrell’s children getting out of the vehicle to confront DeTavis in her defense.
DeTavis bashed out the minivan’s front passenger window with his nightstick when Montoya and other officers arrived at the scene.
The mother and her teen son were arrested in front of a hotel after a brief chase. She has since been released on bond. She faces charges of child abuse, fleeing and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia for a pair of marijuana pipes that authorities say were found in the van.
DeTavis wrote in the police report that Montoya "later bought the entire family McDonald’s during the booking process." No phone number was listed for Montoya in Taos County.
Farrell’s attorney, Alan Maestas, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
In a letter to the Taos News, Farrell wrote that she hope the officers involved in the traffic stop would never experience what she and her family did.
"It is my prayer that your families never be made to endure that which mine has, as a result of this terrible situation," she wrote. "May you never be put in a position to protect your children from your ‘own kind.’"