LOS LUNAS, N.M. (KRQE) – The Valencia County Sheriff’s Office is facing a federal lawsuit for excessive force over a 2018 deadly shooting. Deputies say their lives were in danger, but attorneys say the evidence tells a different story.
It started with an anonymous tip about a stolen car outside a mobile home in the rural El Cerro Mission area roughly 10 miles east of Los Lunas. It ended, with Valencia County Sheriff’s Deputies Joseph Rowland and Juan Rodriguez shooting and killing 40-year-old John Bailon in January 2018.
The courts will now have to weigh in on how it all unfolded. “The officers didn’t have a justifiable right to shoot this man,” Attorney Steven Chavez said.
Chavez filed a federal lawsuit against the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office this month for wrongful death and excessive force. “He didn’t have any weapons in his hands, and he was just trying to flee from them,” Chavez said.
There is no body-camera video, just belt tape audio. Bailon ran out to the stolen Honda and hopped in as deputies caught up and held the car door open, according to the lawsuit. It states they tased him through the opening as Bailon started the car and threw it in reverse.
Then, deputies opened fire. Within seconds Bailon crashed to a stop. “You can’t just shoot people because they’re running from you and that’s what we believe happened in this case,” Chavez said.
Chavez said the evidence contradicts the deputies’ claims that their lives were in danger as one of them was in a “vulnerable” position. After the shooting, deputies gave Bailon CPR but he didn’t make it.
Defense attorneys filed a response to the allegations against the deputies in court. “At all times, Defendants’ actions were justified, reasonable, were undertaken in good faith and without malice,” the court document stated.
A Valencia County Sheriff’s Office internal affairs investigation found the deputies followed department policies. The Sheriff’s Office declined KRQE’s interview request because of the pending litigation.
Joseph Rowland is now a lieutenant with the department, and Juan Rodriguez now works for New Mexico State Police.