Shooting spree suspect attempts to escape from jail twice

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Damian Herrera, the young man accused of killing five people in a June 15 shooting rampage in Northern New Mexico, has twice attempted to escape from the Rio Arriba County jail in Tierra Amarilla, and assaulted a guard in one incident, the county sheriff said Saturday.

Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan said officials are hoping to get Herrera transferred to a New Mexico Department of Corrections facility.

"We need to get him housed at another facility where he's going to be under constant watch because, obviously, he's a danger and a menace to our jail," Lujan said.

In a recent incident, Lujan said, Herrera, 21, told a jail guard there was a problem with his toilet. When the guard came to examine the problem, Herrera escaped his cell, locked the guard inside and assaulted another guard with a flashlight. He finally was restrained with help from a third guard, the sheriff said.

"I saw the video of it," Lujan said. "He was pretty out of control. We're concerned about him trying to escape."

The incident was Herrera's second escape attempt, the sheriff said. In an earlier incident, Herrera got out of his cell and "made it pretty close to the kitchen" of the jail before being restrained. Lujan did not explain how Herrera escaped his cell or provide more details on the incident, other than to say he does not believe anyone was assaulted or battered.

To ensure Herrera's safety and the safety of other inmates, Lujan said, Herrera is being held in a cell near the jail's booking area instead of in the general population.

Lujan said Herrera will face criminal charges in the violent escape attempt, but he did not specify what those charges would be.

Herrera, a student at The University of New Mexico-Taos from Ojo Caliente, is being held without bond as he faces five open counts of murder, accused of shooting his stepfather, younger brother and mother at their home in La Madera, and then fleeing in the family's truck. Police say he later fatally shot a Tres Piedras man and stole his truck, and then, after a long drive into Colorado and back, killed a man he encountered at a gas station in Abiquiú.

Police say Herrera led officers on a high-speed chase that ended when he crashed the stolen truck about 13 miles north of Española. Video footage of his arrest, released Friday, shows that he aggressively charged at a Rio Arriba County deputy and struggled with officers before they were able to handcuff him.

Herrera, in an interview with a state police agent after his arrest, denied killing his mother and younger brother and said he killed his stepfather in self-defense after the man killed his brother and mother. He also shot the two strangers in self-defense, he told the agent, according to a report released earlier this month.

Herrera also complained to the agent that two deputies and an Española police officer had unnecessarily roughed him up and stunned him with a Taser as he was peacefully surrendering.

The videos released Friday from the two deputies' lapel cameras tell a different story, however, in which Herrera aggressively resisted arrest and may have tried to grab a deputy's handgun as the officer tried to subdue him.

The deputy's firearm discharged once, accidentally, and he appeared concerned at one point that he would have to shoot Herrera to prevent the suspect from obtaining his weapon.

The video also appears to show officers removing a knife from Herrera.

A public defender has filed a motion saying a doctor's forensic evaluation shows Herrera is not competent to stand trial.

Contact Justin Horwath at 505-986-3017 or jhorwath@sfnewmexica­n.com.

This story first published in The Santa Fe New Mexican, a sister publication of The Taos News. 

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