ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - The man accused of shooting a New Mexico State Police officer in the leg in July could have been behind bars, rather than on the streets, had he not struck a plea deal with the Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez's office.
Now, the State Police Chief is sounding off about it.
Jonathan Molina was shot and killed in return by that officer, Kevin Smith, along I-25 near downtown Albuquerque last month.
The 23-year-old allegedly told the officer, 'I'm not going back to prison' when approached that Sunday morning. It would make sense, because Molina had just been released from jail in March.
KRQE News 13 has learned that in July 2017, Molina was arrested for leading Bernalillo County Sheriff's deputies on a dangerous, felony-level chase across Albuquerque.
He was already on parole for prior drug crimes at the time. After this new arrest, one judge immediately sent him back to jail until March 2018 for violating his parole.
Yet, when he faced Judge Jacqueline Flores in January 2018 for the chase, she signed off on a plea deal by DA Raul Torrez's office for probation, because prosecutors were worried about getting a conviction had the case gone to trial.
"When we did pre-trial interviews [with deputies], we were going to have a hard time identifying Mr. Molina as the driver," Joey Montaño with the DA's office said.
"In talking to the officials at BCSO, they had air support, there was video of the pursuit, the passenger bailed out and at the time of the stop when there was a PIT maneuver done, he was the only person in the vehicle, so? I mean, I don't know. I've never been to law school but...maybe I'm missing something?" NMSP Chief Pete Kassetas said.
BCSO Sheriff Manuel Gonzales also told KRQE News 13 that deputies did everything possible when investigating the chase, and that no concern regarding evidence was ever brought up by the DA's office. BCSO also says it did not know about the plea deal until after it was signed off on.
By March 2018, Molina was out of jail for the parole violation for the drug cases.
By June, he absconded from probation in the BCSO chase case. By July, Molina was dead and an officer was wounded.
Montaño said he recognizes the seriousness of the situation and that NMSP is frustrated, but that there's no way to have known Molina would shoot an officer.
"In weighing the uncertainty, in weighing the facts of this case... this was an outcome that we felt was good at the time," Montaño said.
"A predictor of someone's future behavior...a perfect example of gauging that is putting someone on probation and/or parole, which was originally done, and then he gets in a felony pursuit. So I think all bets are off after that," Chief Kassetas said.
Montaño points to the eight months Molina served from July 2017 to March 2018 for the parole violation as a win, though.
The max amount of time Molina could have received behind bars for the BCSO chase was 18 months.
Chief Pete Kassetas says Molina is just one example of a lack of communication and toughness in our state's criminal justice system.
"If someone's new to the system, there should be treatment. There should be diversionary programs. But if someone has been through those processes and just can't seem to get it, then there's nothing wrong with sending someone to prison that deserves to go to prison," Chief Kassetas said.
The officer that was shot is a four-year veteran of NMSP and is expected to make a full recovery.
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