LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Office of the Attorney General’s Office and the Doña Ana County District Attorney declined to pursue criminal charges against a Las Cruces Police Department officer for the shooting death of 75-year-old Amelia Baca in April 2022.
The situation began when Baca’s daughter called 911, saying her mother suffered from dementia and was threatening the family with a knife. Family members had locked themselves in rooms, and others, including a five-year-old, escaped out a window. When Officer Jared Cosper arrived, two women, including an adult granddaughter, calmly walked out the door and asked the officer to take it easy on the elderly woman.
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Officer Cosper confronted Baca, who was standing near an entrance to the home with two knives in her hands. Cosper was heard on the body camera video yelling at Baca several times to drop the weapons. In some commands, Cosper yelled expletives at Baca to follow his orders. According to LCPD, Baca never complied with Cosper’s orders, and the officer shot twice, killing Baca. The event played out in less than a minute after Cosper’s arrival at the home.
KRQE News 13 obtained an Oct. 26, 2023, letter that was sent by New Mexico Deputy Attorney Greer Staley to Doña Ana District Attorney Gerald Byers. The letter stated that the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General reviewed Cosper’s shooting of Baca and now considers the matter closed based on the findings of the review.
“Our review is limited to potential criminal liability and does not address any potential
disciplinary and/or civil liability issues,” the letter stated in part.
The New Mexico Office of the Attorney General said it reviewed all available evidence and collaborated with Steve Ijames, a nationally recognized expert in the field of police officer use of force, who has reviewed approximately 3,000 use-of-force cases, according to the letter.
As stated in the letter, Ijames’ report on the shooting made the following conclusions:
- “Cosper did not use excessive force under the circumstances when he shot Baca.”
- “Cosper’s use of force was in self-defense.”
- “Cosper’s actions were consistent with a lawful use of force.”
- “Cosper initially engaged with Baca in a manner that is not consistent with generally accepted police practices. His tone and manner of communication were inappropriate and likely did not de-escalate the situation.
In August 2022, the City of Las Cruces reached a settlement with Baca’s family and agreed to pay the family $2.75 million, the maximum allowed under state law.
A federal lawsuit was also filed by Baca’s family against Cosper. The lawsuit alleged Baca’s constitutional rights were violated. Cosper challenged the counts against him citing his qualified immunity protections. Judge Robert Brack dropped those counts, ruling the plaintiffs did not prove Cosper violated Baca’s rights, and he is therefore entitled to his qualified immunity.
After the shooting, Cosper was placed on administrative leave. KRQE News 13 reached out to LCPD for an update on Cosper’s duties on Wednesday. LCPD Public Information Officer Dan Trujillo said Cosper is not on administrative leave, and per standard procedure, there is an administrative investigation underway.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico issued the following statement about the decision:
“Like so many in our community, the ACLU of New Mexico continues to mourn the unjust and unconscionable killing of Amelia Baca, a woman whose family called for help and in turn lost their mother to police violence. The shocking decision not to bring charges against LCPD Officer Jared Cosper for shooting 75-year-old Baca twice in the chest, is a stark reminder that the criminal legal system is not designed to protect the safety of our neighbors, or to bring justice for those who most need it.
“The fact that both the District Attorney and the New Mexico Attorney General’s office have found this violence justifiable under current legal standards shows how desperately we need changes to the law. New Mexico’s policies must reflect what our community knows all too well: the killing of Amelia Baca and killings by police across the state are too often far from justified; they are the tragic result of policy choices that give police too much power, roles that are too expansive, and little accountability. We must adopt strong, statewide, de-escalation policies and address the overly vague and permissive definition of justifiable homicide by law enforcement.
“In the year and a half since Amelia Baca was killed by Officer Cosper, 32 more families in our state have lost loved ones to police violence, joining nearly 200 other families who are mourning deaths at the hands of the police since 2013. We are holding the family of Amelia Baca and all New Mexican families who have lost loved ones to police violence in our thoughts and with us always as we continue to work toward meaningful change when it comes to law enforcement.”