TAOS, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico police officer who opened fire on a minivan full of kids has a new job in law enforcement and will be back on patrol in the coming weeks. The Taos County Sheriff’s Department has hired former State Police Officer Elias Montoya. Now the sheriff who hired him is defending his decision, saying it’s time to move forward.
The dash-cam video that caught Montoya working as a State Police officer and firing his gun at a minivan full of kids made national headlines. It also cost Montoya his his job, until now.
“He is a member of my department now and I am proud to have him on board,” said Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe of the Taos Sheriff’s Department.
Hogrefe, who recently took office as Sheriff in January, says he’s hired Montoya to serve as one of his two new deputies. Montoya and a former Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Deputy Gilbert Atencio were picked over 15 other candidates.
“His experience, his qualifications,” said Sheriff Hogrefe. “(They) were the top 2 candidates throughout that entire testing process that took several weeks.”
Montoya is now training at the Taos County Detention Center, however, the Sheriff’ says he’ll likely be back on full-time patrol in Taos County in about two to three weeks.
Montoya resigned from his 12-year career from State Police after the shooting as part of settlement agree with the agency. Technically, Montoya wasn’t fired.
“It did not in any way affect his commission or certification,” said Sheriff Hogrefe.
Many haven’t forgotten about what happened though in October 2013. Montoya fired three shots at Oriana Farrell’s van with her five kids inside after a traffic stop spun out of control. Farrell was initially pulled over for speeding by a rookie officer. The dash-cam video shows Farrell refused to choose an option as to whether she would pay the ticket or show up in court, per New Mexico state law.
Video shows Farrell drove off, then stopped again and got into a screaming match with the officer. One of Farrell’s kids then attacked the officer, who then broke the window to the van as Farrell drove off.
Montoya, who had just arrived at the scene, then shot at the van’s tires, saying he didn’t know there were kids inside.
The video sparked protest against Montoya in Taos, but also a large rally in support of the officer.
Sheriff Hogrefe says he too has Montoya’s back.
“Mr. Montoya arrived and made a split second decision at that scene based on his belief that a handgun was present,” said Sheriff Hogrefe.
KRQE News 13 spoke to several people in Taos on Tuesday afternoon. Many said they support Montoya’s rehiring.
“A cop’s job is very tough and when it comes to making decisions like that,” said David Hernandez of Taos.
“The whole situation was unfortunate, but I think there’s two sides to the story,” said Mike Archuleta of Taos.
“I’d give him another chance because I think we need to change this (situation),” said Shapahn Laos.
Sheriff Hogrefe says he knows some won’t agree with his decision, but says it’s time to move on.
“He’s glad to be back into law enforcement, it is his passion,” said Hogrefe. “This is his home, this is his community, he’s well-thought of in the community, not only from his professional work standard, but as a coach, as a family man.”
The Taos District Attorney chose not to charge Montoya for the shooting. Meanwhile, the driver who started the whole thing, Oriana Farrell is still facing charges.