New Mexico State Police flagged down a mother of five in her minivan on October 28 for driving 71 mph in a 55 mph zone. She argued with a police officer about a ticket and drove off. But did the police then have to fire three shots into the minivan, especially as they knew there were children inside?
Certainly not, as attorney Alan Maestas, who is representing the mother, Oriana Ferrell, made clear at a November 12th hearing in Taos. Ferrell, who is from Memphis, Tennessee, faces charges of intentional abuse of a child and aggravated fleeing of a law enforcement office for the October incident.
As Maestas says in the Taos News, Ferrell “was flat-out scared that something was going to happen to her children. We ought to talk about the stupidity and recklessness of shooting at a car that has five children in it.”
Some contend that Ferrell put her children into danger by fleeing and that the police were justified in their actions. But Eighth Judicial District Judge Jeff McElroy, who has reviewed a portion of dashcam footage of the pursuit, said he found it “disturbing and puzzling” and that “the court is concerned about the nature of these charges. It’s a bit of a mystery.”
Ferrell Was Cited and Drove Off But Did Police Have to Shoot?
As the Taos News relates, Ferrell, who homeschools her children (aged 6-18), was taking them on a trip to see the Rio Grande. After a New Mexico officer stopped her for speeding, she drove off after “declining to pay the fine or return to Taos to contest it before a judge.”
It was during the second encounter between Ferrell and the police that “a struggle ensued,” says the Taos News. Ferrell pulled over after about a half mile and the officer tried to force her from her vehicle. As court documents relate, Ferrell told the officer,
“Sir, I pulled back over, I didn’t run away You see my children. I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m just trying to take them to the Rio Grande.”
Ferrell’s 14-year-old son tried to intervene, only to return to the minivan after the officer produced a taser.
The Taos News recounts what next occurred and what Judge McElroy found a “mystery”:
Two other officers arrived, according to court documents, and the family locked themselves inside the vehicle. The arresting officer wrote that he smashed the passenger side window with his baton before Ferrell drove away again. A colleague fired three rounds at the rear tires “in an attempt to keep the vehicle from leaving,” he wrote.
The officers pursued Ferrell down State Highway 518 before turning north on State Highway 68 and proceeding at speeds of up to 100 mph, according to court documents.
After Ferrell stopped in front of the main entrance to Hotel Don Fernando, she and her 14-year-old son were arrested at gunpoint without incident. The four other children were placed in the custody of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department and then with a family known to Ferrell.
Ferrell has been held at the Taos County Adult Detention Center. Deputy district attorney Emilio Chávez says that Ferrell had “little reason to flee during the traffic stop.” To be released, he says that a $10,000 bond with 10 percent to the court should be issued, that she undergo regular drug screening and that she maintain residency in New Mexico; Chávez also noted that Ferrell had prior arrests for driving while intoxicated.
Maestas has instead requested a $10,000 unsecured bond for Ferrell. Noting that state officials had spoken of sending her children to their father in Atlanta should Ferrell remain in detention, Maestas suggested that he was abusive, adding that “these kids just want to stay together and sending them to dad isn’t the answer.” Ferrell says that she certainly plans to remain in New Mexico while contesting the charges.
At the November 12th hearing, Maestas emphasized that it was really the police who had endangered Ferrell’s children when they fired at her minivan. Indeed, two officers are now under investigation for their actions back in October. As Maestas says, Ferrell acted out of fear for her children and that “if someone ought to be charged with child abuse, it ought to be the New Mexico State Police” — not their own mother.
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