Sheriff’s office releases video of September officer-involved shooting

'Tow truck' suspect appeared to have used vehicle as weapon

Video footage provided by the Taos County Sheriff's Office sheds light on what actually happened during a Sept. 11 officer-involved shooting in Taos.
John Miller
Posted

The Taos County Sheriff's Office recently released body camera and dashcam footage of a Sept. 11 officer-involved shooting in Taos, in which Taos Police Department Officer James Suazo wounded a 21-year-old Taos resident who had allegedly stolen a tow truck and led law enforcement on a tense 9-mile car chase that ended in El Prado.

A total of four videos were released to The Taos News – three recorded from body cameras worn by sheriff's deputies, and one filmed from the dashboard of a police unit driven by Taos Police Department Officer James Suazo, who is believed to have fired the shot that wounded suspect Corwynn Valencia as he fled authorities during the pursuit.

Shooting

The dash camera footage begins rolling just after midnight, when reports of a "stolen vehicle" taken from Vigil's Towing Unlimited on Camino de la Merced are first disseminated through Taos Central Dispatch. Suazo can be seen driving from the area around Taos Police Department through an all but empty town of Taos, passing only a few vehicles as his cruiser lights flash on empty sidewalks and darkened storefronts.

When Suazo turns onto Camino de la Merced, the tow truck driven by Valencia almost immediately comes into view heading in the officer's direction. The truck can be seen carrying a Toyota 4-Runner as it turns right onto the grassy shoulder of the roadway and heads down Reed Street. Valencia takes two more right-hand turns onto Salazar Road and then a left-hand turn onto Herdner Road, where police reports indicate sheriff's deputies joined the pursuit.

Just a short distance down the roadway, the tow truck comes to a stop and then suddenly begins reversing at a high rate of speed toward Suazo's police cruiser. Though not visible on the dashboard camera, police reports indicate that Suazo exited his vehicle before the tow truck made contact with his cruiser, drew his service pistol and fired at least one shot at the driver, striking him in the hand. The dash camera footage did not capture audio, so the shot is also inaudible. When the tow truck begins moving forward again, Suazo and a sheriff's deputy come into view standing along the south side of the roadway. Suazo appears to change out a magazine as though he has just fired his weapon.

Though Taos Police Department officers are assigned body cameras, no footage taken from Suazo's perspective was provided by the sheriff's office, leaving a question as to whether the officer failed to wear a body camera, the equipment malfunctioned or if the footage is being withheld at this time.

Arrest

Body camera footage did capture the perspective of three deputies, however – one armed with an assault rifle, and all making their way to Blueberry Hill Road to cut off Valencia following the events on Herdner.

According to police reports, Taos Tribal Department of Public Safety Officer Eric Montoya also fired shots at some point in this area of the chase, deflating a tire on the suspect's vehicle. Footage of this shooting, however, was not provided by the sheriff's office, likely due to jurisdictional restrictions with Taos Pueblo.

"Stop the vehicle. Stop the vehicle," one of the deputies shouts as Valencia reverses the truck and attempts to drive forward again. "If he moves forward...shoot him," another deputy says. Valencia drives the tow truck forward, and deputies return to their vehicles to give chase.

No other shots appear to be fired by deputies during this time or at any other point during the pursuit.

At Sacred Vista Road in El Prado, the tow truck appears to stall again. One deputy recommends, "Let's just extricate this [expletive]." He calls for cover. The deputy rushes toward the driver's side of the vehicle, opens the door and hauls Valencia out onto the ground.

Valencia is handcuffed and placed in the back of a vehicle. Another deputy reports to dispatch, "Let me check this guy over," he said. "I think he may have gotten hit with a round." The deputy calls for an ambulance, removes Valencia from the vehicle and administers first aid, wrapping the suspect's bleeding hand in gauze as they await a medic's arrival.

Investigation

While official documentation assessing the officer-involved shooting has not yet been released by the sheriff's office, taken together, the videos seem to substantiate police reports that recount a hectic pursuit, during which Valencia appeared to wield the tow truck as a weapon to avoid arrest.

Selected clips from the investigation can be viewed above.

For more on this story, check back at taosnews.com.

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