Sheriff’s office investigates second officer-involved shooting in two weeks

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Sirens whined and shots rang out around Taos just after midnight Monday morning (Sept. 11) as law enforcement pursued and fired shots at the driver of a stolen tow truck, wounding a suspect identified as 22-year-old Corwynn Valencia, who was arrested following a chase that covered an estimated 9 miles in and around the town of Taos.

The event marks the second officer-involved shooting to take place in Taos in less than two weeks, both involving Taos Police Department.

An officer from Taos Tribal Department of Public Safety also fired a bullet that deflated a tire on the tow truck Valencia was allegedly driving during the pursuit, which caused the vehicle to eventually lumber to a stop along Sacred Vista Road in El Prado, where Valencia was arrested.

A criminal complaint released Tuesday afternoon (Sept. 12) by Taos County Sheriff's Office details the charges Valencia will hear during an arraignment that has not yet been scheduled. They include multiple counts of aggravated assault upon a peace officer with a deadly weapon; unlawful taking of a motor vehicle; criminal damage to property; aggravated fleeing from a law enforcement officer; leaving the scene of an accident involving damage to a vehicle; as well as one count of resisting, evading or obstructing an officer.

Midnight pursuit

Just after midnight on Monday, dispatchers disseminated a report of a stolen flatbed tow truck that had been taken from Vigil's Towing Unlimited along Camino de la Merced near Walmart.

Taos Police Department Officer James Suazo arrived at the scene within minutes, turning west from Paseo del Pueblo Sur onto Camino de la Merced, according to a criminal complaint filed this week. Suazo was joined by other local law enforcement officers. Suazo then noted the tow truck heading east in his direction. He also noted that the truck was carrying another vehicle, a black Toyota 4Runner. He activated his lights and sirens and gave chase.

The driver of the tow truck turned south on Reed Street. Suazo pulled in behind, but the driver would not pull over, according to the complaint, sparking a multiple-agency pursuit that would last for approximately 30 minutes.

The driver, who had still not been clearly identified, turned east onto Bertha Street and then north onto Salazar Road. Sheriff's deputies joined the pursuit, and the suspect then turned west onto Herdner Road, according to the criminal complaint, in an effort to avoid law enforcement.

But the suspect stopped the tow truck along Herdner. Deputies and Suazo were preparing to exit their vehicles when the tow truck was reversed into Suazo's police unit, pushing it into the deputies' vehicles, causing damage estimated at more than $1,000 to each vehicle, according to the complaint.

"I'm 10-4, but my vehicle is 10-7," one unit reported following the ramming, indicating that while they were not injured, their vehicle had been disabled.

Suazo quickly stepped out of his damaged unit onto the roadway, pulled his service weapon and fired at the driver, whilst giving them commands to stop, according to the complaint. One of those shots is believed to have struck the driver in the hand. "Shots fired, shots fired," crackled police radios, urging other law enforcement to respond to the escalating situation as the driver again fled.

A second Taos police officer, LeEvan Sanchez, arrived following the shooting to see the tow truck accelerating away from the scene and engaged as the then-sole unit involved in the pursuit, but was soon joined by one of the deputies, who was still able to operate their damaged vehicle. They followed the suspect onto State Road 240, then to Cotton Road, eventually reaching Blueberry Hill Road. Taos Tribal Department of Public Safety Officer Eric Montoya had blocked the intersection, his lights and sirens blaring as the tow truck approached and slowed to a stop.

As Montoya attempted to maneuver his vehicle to the driver side of the tow truck, another deputy arrived at the intersection. The suspect again reversed and then "jerked forward." Montoya took this as a threatening action, according to the complaint, and fired his service weapon, striking and deflating the right front tire on the tow truck. The suspect then crashed into the rear of Montoya's vehicle, pushing it several feet and causing further damage, also estimated at around $1,000, according to the complaint.

Arrest

The deputy was joined by sheriff's office Sgt. Jason Rael. Together, they continued to give chase as the suspect fled a third time.

On Sacred Vista Road in El Prado, the tow truck appeared to develop a mechanical problem and stalled. Rael and the deputy shouted at the driver to stop and surrender as he allegedly continued to attempt to drive the tow truck. The law enforcement officers then "charged" the truck, pulled Valencia from the vehicle and arrested him. "Let me check this guy over," law enforcement reported from the scene. "He might have been hit by one of the rounds."

Valencia was transported to Holy Cross Hospital, then taken to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where he was treated for his wound. He was later transported back to Taos and incarcerated in the Taos County Adult Detention Center, where he was initially held on two outstanding felony arrest warrants before the new charges were filed on Tuesday.

Taos Police Department is investigating the incidents related to the stolen vehicles. The sheriff's office is handling the investigation into the shooting.

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