LAS CRUCES – A trial to determine if state police should pay out for Darian Jarrott’s death could be coming as early as next year.
Over the last year, lawyers in the case filed and completed dozens of depositions and motions. Meanwhile, critical deadlines have come and gone, and the parties are scheduled to meet in December to discuss a trial date in 2023.
The collection of courtroom maneuvers marks the latest developments nearly two years after Omar Cueva shot and killed Darian Jarrott during a traffic stop on Feb. 4, 2021. After the fatal shooting, Darian Jarrott’s widow, Gabriella Jarrott, filed a wrongful death tort claim on June 10, 2021.
Gabriella Jarrott alleged that New Mexico State Police withheld information about Cueva when the agency instructed Darian Jarrott to pull him over. In court filings, they say that Jarrott had no idea how much danger he was in.
“Officer Jarrott was sent into an ambush without protection, backup, or even the information needed to know the danger he was in,” Gabriella Jarrott’s civil complaint reads. “As a result, he was brutally murdered.”
Deposition of NMSP sergeant details events that led up to killing
Unknown to Darian Jarrott, Homeland Security Investigations had followed Cueva for some time.
Court filings show HSI believed Cueva was smuggling fentanyl from Phoenix to Deming. Filings also show that an HSI undercover agent overheard Cueva say he “wasn’t going back to jail.” Cueva carried a semi-automatic rifle for such an occasion.
As HSI tracked Cueva across the desert, they called the New Mexico State Police to help pull him over before he got to Deming. Specifically, HSI called Jarrott’s sergeant, Mark Madrid.
Madrid is one of 14 people deposed by Gabriella Jarrott’s lawyer, Sam Bregman. At the time of the shooting, Madrid oversaw a half dozen NMSP officers in the Luna County area. Though Darian Jarrott was stationed in southwest New Mexico, he was not one of Madrid’s officers.
However, most area officers were either sequestered in Silver City for a meeting or training in Lordsburg when HSI requested help arresting Cueva. Madrid told Bregman that reality left him in charge of Jarrott and left Jarrott in charge of patrolling the area around Deming.
Still, Madrid said he thought Jarrott would be capable of patrolling the area alone.
In the deposition, Bregman pushed Madrid on this point. He asked if the Department of Public Safety, which oversees NMSP, had any policy regarding the number of officers in a given area and what NMSP do when they need backup. Bregman asked Madrid on who state police officers rely.
“We rely on ourselves, sir,” Madrid answered. “We can reach out to other officers, but we work by ourselves.”
Later, Bregman asks Madrid about HSI’s request to get NMSP to pull over Cueva. Madrid said he reached out two days before the shooting to get more info on Cueva. The conversation was brief, Madrid said.
On the day of the shooting, Madrid said HSI contacted him. An HSI agent told Madrid that Cueva was on his way to Deming and possibly to Las Cruces. Bregman asked if HSI’s call heightened Madrid’s concern about Cueva. Madrid said it did not — but said he felt like HSI was confused about what they were doing.
“I think they were not knowing what was going on,” Madrid said. “I believe they were hinting at something that wasn’t there.”
Madrid said he was referring to the fentanyl, adding that HSI seemed unaware of Cueva’s location. However, the HSI agent had sent Madrid four photos of four different vehicles, saying that Cueva was likely in one of them. Madrid passed that info to Jarrott. He told Jarrott to be on the lookout for Cueva’s truck.
That was the extent of NMSP’s knowledge of HSI’s involvement with Cueva, Madrid said. As far as he knew, no other NMSP officers were working with HSI for the operation.
A tactical team — including an NMSP officer who didn’t tell Madrid or anyone else he was working with HSI — was trailing Cueva a few miles back. The camera inside Jarrott’s police unit shows the team arriving on scene minutes after Cueva shoots him.
It’s unclear from Madrid’s deposition why Jarrott pulled Cueva over. Madrid testified that he never asked him to. However, Bregman pointed out that Jarrott could have interpreted the “be on the lookout” order to mean that he should pull over Cueva if he got the chance.
Jarrott does pull over Cueva’s white truck about noon on Interstate 10 east of Deming. In body camera footage, Jarrott tells Cueva he pulled him over because his window tint was too dark. Not more than five minutes later, Jarrott asks Cueva to step out of his vehicle. As he does, Cueva reveals a semi-automatic rifle and ambushes Jarrott, shooting and killing him.
Cueva returned to his truck, speeding toward Las Cruces, and eventually other officers began a pursuit. Cueva was killed after a crash and exchange of gunfire with officers from several departments on Interstate 10 in Las Cruces less than an hour later.
Some hurdles remain
On Sept. 15, Bregman confirmed to the Sun-News that he intended to take the case to trial.
A scheduling order filed at the beginning of the process shows that the time for mediation has come and passed, as has the time for depositions. In all, Bregman deposed Jarrott’s sergeant, Orlando Ayers, and the chief of the NMSP, Tim Johnson, along with a dozen others in 2022.
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Yet, even as the case hurls toward trial, lawyers representing the state of New Mexico and the department of public safety believe that no trial is needed.
In a motion for summary judgment filed on Sept. 12, the state’s lawyer, Mark Jarmie, said that Bregman couldn’t prove that Gabriella Jarrott had a valid complaint.
“(Gabriella Jarrott and Bregman) has taken fourteen depositions and been provided with thousands of pages of discovery,” Jarmie’s motion reads. “Now, discovery is closed, and (Gabriella Jarrott and Bregman) can still not sustain her … claim.”
A hearing has not been scheduled to resolve Jarmie’s motion as of the publication of this article.
If the case moves forward, both sides have until mid-November to file their final witness lists and mid-December to submit final exhibit lists.
If the preliminary witness lists remain mostly unchanged, the trial is expected to be lengthy. Jarmie’s witness list includes 69 police officers from HIS, NMSP, and local agencies like the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office and Las Cruces Police Department.
Bregman’s witness list was similar in make-up but smaller. He listed 23 witnesses, most of whom are police.
According to the scheduling order, jury selection hearings will begin mid-January and end around the same time as the first anniversary of Jarrott’s death.
Justin Garcia is a public safety reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be reached at JEGarcia@lcsun-news.com
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