SILVER CITY, N.M. (KRQE) – Did New Mexico police officers give a big break to a district attorney who was caught on camera weaving all over the road?
The Silver City Police Department and New Mexico State Police are facing that question now, as newly released witness video and police lapel camera video shows officers likely didn’t follow standard procedures while investigating a traffic stop involving the Sixth Judicial District Attorney, Francesca Martinez-Estevez.
Lapel camera video (recorded by Silver City Police) shows officers were concerned for Estevez’s sobriety. At one point, an officer claims that he believe’s Estevez is “loaded.” At another point, Estevez appears to be giving herself a practice run of the heel-toe walking test. However, in the end, police let Estevez go free and clear, without questioning her of any wrongdoing.
Grant County 911 calls on Estevez Incident:
Estevez has so far refused KRQE News 13’s multiple requests for comment.
The incident occurred earlier this month on Saturday, June 11, in Silver City. Initially, a witness called 911 around 1:05 p.m., reporting a possible drunk or reckless driver heading east on Highway 180, toward Silver City.
The witness also captured around five minutes of video of the car driving. At multiple points, the witness video shows a dark blue Dodge Charger driving into on-coming traffic and on to the shoulder of the road.
Silver City Police’s Response
Silver City Police caught up with the reported driver around 1:20 p.m., roughly 15 minutes after the initial 911 call. The car was already pulled over in a gas station driveway along N. Pope Street in Silver City. According to police documents, the car was a state-owned, dark blue Dodge Charger registered to the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. DA Estevez was sitting behind the wheel.
According to police reports, Silver City Police Officer Leticia Lopez was the first officer to make contact with Estevez, who rolled down the window of the car she was driving.
“I have a flat, and I didn’t know I had a flat and I kept going over, and over!” claimed Estevez while making a swerving motion. “I don’t know, I felt a flat… I was coming in from Deming, and the car kept swinging this way.”
Lapel video shows that within about two minutes of the initial contact, Officer Lopez offered to help Estevez change her tire.
While initially Estevez told the officer that she was coming in from Deming, lapel camera video shows Estevez’s story soon changed.
“You were in Deming?” asked Officer Lopez.
“No, I was coming from Lordsburg,” replied Estevez.
Deming is located southwest of Silver City, while Lordsburg is located southeast of Silver City. Estevez later said she was coming from her home, near Gila, northwest of Silver City.
Lapel camera video shows Officer Lopez and District Attorney Estevez soon began unpacking the trunk of the car in efforts to remove a spare tire. The video indicates that Officer Lopez clearly knew who Estevez was.
“Yeah, there you go Francesca, how are you? Congratulations,” said Officer Lopez while helping Estevez unpack her trunk.
Officer Lopez’s congratulations for the DA came as Estevez won a primary election contest against a Democratic opponent just days earlier.
According to police dispatch logs, a supervising corporal with Silver City Police, Jason Woods, and a rookie officer, Kyle Spurgeon, arrived on the scene just a few minutes after Officer Lopez.
Lapel camera video shows Officer Lopez requested the help of Officer Spurgeon in changing the district attorney’s tire.
“We’re going to change the whole thing?” asked Officer Spurgeon.
“Yeah, I think we have to change the tire,” replied Officer Lopez.
While officers attempted to change the tire, Estevez was allowed to freely walk near her car and use her cell phone. At one point, Officer Lopez asks Officer Spurgeon, “what do you think?”
“She’s loaded, she almost fell down,” replied Officer Spuregon.
Despite the statement, the initial reports of reckless driving that were given to officers, lapel camera video indicates that neither Spurgeon or Lopez ever questioned or tested Estevez on her sobriety.
“I didn’t think I did anything wrong except I swerved to try to main control,” maintained Estevez.
As the minutes ticked on, according to police reports, Corporal Jason Woods eventually requested for Grant County emergency dispatchers to send a New Mexico State Police officer to the scene, and to take a complaint from the witness who reported Estevez’s initial reckless driving.
Police lapel video shows the witness speaking with Silver City police officers. Multiple police reports state that the witness showed the video of Estevez’s driving to officers on scene.
While Estevez’s car had a flat tire when police made contact with her, the witness told police he never saw Estevez’s car hit anything. He also indicated that he lost track of the car somewhere in Silver City, before he found her again.
“She got into College, all of those streets and (she was) flying through stop signs,” said the witness.
The witness also indicated that he was skeptical of the idea that the car had a flat tire when he initially saw it driving erratically, roughly 15 miles west of Silver City.
“There’s no way she was even going with a flat tire, there’s no way,” said the witness. “Was she drinking?”
“That’s what we’re still trying to determine right now, yeah,” said Cpl. Woods.
However, reports show that police never determined the answer to that question.
New Mexico State Police’s Response
Police lapel video shows New Mexico State Police Officer Alyssa Flores-Carrasco eventually arrived on the scene, and spoke with Estevez.
At one point in the lapel video, Silver City PD Officer Lopez indicates her concern to NMSP Officer Flores, saying, “you need to see the front of the vehicle.”
According to police reports, there was vegetation and grass stuck in the front grill of Estevez’s car. As both officers Lopez and Flores-Carrasco looked at the front vehicle, lapel video recorded the two officers quietly speaking about their concerns.
“Yeah, I don’t know what she ran over in here,” said Silver City Police Officer Lopez.
“Do you smell anything?” said NMSP Officer Flores-Carrasco.
“I can’t… I smell just perfume, but I don’t know if she’s on prescription meds… I don’t know what,” said Silver City Police Officer Lopez, as she turned off her lapel camera.
Shortly after, both officers Lopez and Flores-Carrasco ultimately decided that neither agency would conduct a DWI investigation. Lapel camera video recorded Officer Flores-Carrasco’s explanation as to why she was not going to take the case.
“Yeah I’m not, because I’ve already done this… something like this in Santa Clara, where they had me take it … and it’s a mess,” said Officer Flores-Carrasco.
“No, no, here’s the thing, we’re not going to make you take… we’re not going to make you do a DWI,” responded Officer Lopez.
During the nearly two hour traffic stop, District Attorney Estevez was seen on lapel camera video appearing to practice a “heel-toe” walking test on her own. At another point in the video, officers let Estevez move her car in an effort to get a better placement for a jack.
Video shows Estevez nearly bump the car into a power pole, then rev the engine of the car in neutral.
Shortly before 3 p.m., nearly two hours after the initial stop, a tow truck arrived and changed Estevez’s tire. After saying “thank you” to officers, lapel video shows Estevez was allowed to drive off on her own, no questions asked.
Officer Conduct Investigation
Silver City Police never initially filed any official report related to the stop. The department began investigating the incident on June 14, 2016, the same day that New Mexico State Police issued a public statement, saying they would investigate their officer’s actions as they related to a traffic stop involving District Attorney Estevez:
“The Silver City Police Department received a call from an individual who was following a possible intoxicated driver operating a state vehicle in a reckless manner. When the officers stopped the vehicle, they encountered District Attorney Francesca Estevez, who was identified as the driver. The Silver City Police Department initially conducted an investigation. The reporting party then requested that the State Police respond. A State Police officer arrived on scene. Ms. Estevez was released from the scene without any action by either agency.
We take this matter seriously and have launched an investigation to determine exactly what steps or actions State Police officers took while assisting the Silver City Police Department,”–Sgt. Elizabeth Armijo, New Mexico State Police.
New Mexico State Police says it is still conducting an internal investigation into its officer’s actions.
Silver City Police says it’s also investigating what its officers did and didn’t do. So far, no officers have been put on any kind of leave in relation to the incident.