FARMINGTON — A local attorney sent a letter to Farmington police last year warning that one of its officers was going to shoot or kill somebody.

And last month, that officer, Christopher Blea, shot and injured a burglary suspect, Michael Chavez.

On Nov. 28, Victor Titus, a partner at Farmington's Titus and Murphy Law Firm, filed a tort claims notice against Farmington police and five of its officers, including Blea. A tort claims notice tells a public agency that someone may file a lawsuit against it.

The tort was filed on behalf of Alejandro Ortiz, who Blea and four other officers stopped last November. It stated that Blea and the officers violated search-and-seizure and use-of-force laws.
Victor Titus
Victor Titus (courtesy photo)

The day after filing the tort, Titus sent a letter to Farmington Police Chief Kyle Westall about Blea. Titus' letter said "this cavalier cowboy attitude by Officer Blea is not only contrary to law but is going to get somebody shot and/or killed."

Titus' letter urged Westall to "stop Officer Blea now before we have" an officer-involved shooting.

"I hate to say I told you so, but that's the way it worked out," said Titus in a phone interview this week. "The officer shootings are out of control, and somebody has to do something."

Blea declined to comment for this story.

When Titus wrote the letter, there hadn't been an officer-involved shooting in Farmington in two years. This year, Farmington police have been involved in three officer-involved shootings. Two were fatal.

The third shooting was on March 22. Blea stopped Chavez on Cherry Avenue, north of 16th Street. Chavez, 41, had active warrants for his arrest for alleged burglaries, and he ran from his car toward several businesses in the area. Blea chased him and fired shots when Chavez allegedly pulled a cellphone from his waist in a threatening way, police said.

Farmington police Sgt.
Police stand by the scene of a shooting near Schofield Lane and 16th Street on March 22.
Police stand by the scene of a shooting near Schofield Lane and 16th Street on March 22. (Daily Times file photo)
Dave Monfils also fired shots during the incident.

Chavez was shot in the elbow and the foot. He was treated at the San Juan Regional Medical Center and then arrested and booked into jail on the burglary charges. He has not been charged with a crime in connection to the shooting.

After each of this year's three shootings, the involved officers were placed on paid administrative leave. All have since returned to restrictive duty, said Lt. Taft Tracy, who works in internal affairs.

Tracy said the police department investigated the circumstances in Titus' tort claim and letter.

In a response letter to Titus dated March 26, Tracy wrote that of the five officers involved in the Ortiz traffic stop, all but Blea were exonerated.

The department investigation found that while Blea did not violate any search-and-seizure or use-of-force laws, he was not courteous and performed unsatisfactory as a police officer.

"I found his performance didn't meet the standards he knows he can meet," Tracy said in a phone interview.

Blea stopped Ortiz, 19, just after midnight on Nov. 2 in south Farmington. Officers had been attempting to locate a car that peeled out of an apartment complex several blocks away.

Blea issued a felony stop, meaning that he and other officers pulled their weapons on Ortiz and his passengers. According to the police dashboard camera that recorded the stop, Blea used a felony stop because Ortiz had tried to evade him before he turned on his siren.

Video from the dashboard camera shows Blea ordering Ortiz and his drivers out of the car one at a time. The video shows a police K9 unit on scene, and as the dog barks, Blea threatens that it will bite Ortiz and his passengers.

Blea charged Ortiz with a third-degree felony for child abuse because one of his passengers was 17 years old. Ortiz was also charged with drunken driving, resisting and evading a police officer, an open container violation and a minor in possession of alcohol.

Prosecutors quickly dismissed the child abuse and fleeing charges. A judge dismissed the DWI and other violations, said Titus.

Titus said that Blea's aggressiveness and how quickly he decided to pull his gun on teenagers is what prompted him to write the letter to the police chief.

"Why does Blea have his gun drawn when he had no information (the teenagers in the car) have committed a crime?" Titus said. "If somebody flinches or says the wrong word, somebody could have gotten shot."

An internal investigation report of the incident was sent to Blea's patrol supervisor, Tracy said. The department declined to discuss further details.

Farmington police hired Blea in December 2010. Before that, he was a police officer in Los Lunas, Tracy said. In 2009, Los Lunas recognized Blea as Officer of the Year.

Ryan Boetel can be reached at rboetel@daily-times; 505-564-4644. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel.