Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Independent review underway six months after shooting death of Santa Fe officer’s son | Local News

Nearly six months after the shooting death of a Santa Fe police officer’s 2-year-old son at the family’s home in Rio Rancho, no charges have been filed in Lincoln Harmon’s death.

A report says Rio Rancho police believe Lincoln’s 4-year-old brother had discovered their father’s off-duty handgun in a kitchen cabinet and unintentionally fired it early one morning in December.

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, which became involved in the case March 7, said an independent legal review is underground.

“Once it is complete we will consider all the facts and make a decision,” Jerri Mares, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, wrote in an email.

Sandoval County District Attorney Barbara Romo had requested the assistance of the Attorney General’s Office, citing a conflict. The officer, Jonathan Harmon, previously was employed by the Bernalillo Police Department, which works closely with the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jessica Martinez wrote in an email.

Asked whether the Attorney General’s Office believes, at this point, charges are warranted or whether the case is being affected by it involving a police officer, Mares wrote, “We are following process. We weighed in on the IPRA matter and assigned the criminal matter appropriately.”

She was referring to a refusal by the Rio Rancho Police Department and city of Rio Rancho to fulfill media requests for documents in the case under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.

The New Mexican and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government filed a lawsuit in March against the city, contending it was violating the law by withholding police reports, tapes of 911 calls and other documents in the case.

A Rio Rancho spokeswoman said the city would await the outcome of the lawsuit before releasing the documents.

In response to a complaint from a KOAT-TV reporter about Rio Rancho’s unwillingness to release the records, the Attorney General’s Office wrote a March 7 letter that said the city “likely did not have the statutory authority to withhold many of the records.”

After taking over the case from the District Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office released the records.

In other accidental shootings by a child elsewhere, parents have faced charges soon after the incident. Last month in Fort Collins, Colo., for example, the mother of a 6-year-old boy who accidentally shot himself turned herself in within weeks of the shooting after being charged with child abuse resulting in death and unlawful storage of a firearm, according to published reports.

In January, Phoenix police arrested the father of a 2-year-old who accidentally shot himself; the arrest came a day after the shooting.

Jennifer Burrill, president-elect of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said prosecutors have “plenty of time” to make a charging decision.

“But, of course, when a law enforcement officer is involved in a case, they normally get the benefit of the doubt, which not all of our clients get, so I’m sure that any prosecutor, anybody from the Attorney General’s Office, is making sure to look very carefully at it before making a decision on whether or not they’re going to pursue criminal charges,” she said.

“Obviously, I don’t think anybody alleges that the officer pulled the trigger or anything like that,” she added, “but there is negligent homicide, which could be something that the Attorney General’s Office is looking at.”

Jonathan Harmon remains employed by the Santa Fe Police Department and is on alternate duty status, Deputy Chief Ben Valdez wrote in an email.

“Alternate duty status is non-field work conducting administrative tasks,” Valdez wrote.

The police department plans to conduct an “administrative investigation” after the investigation by Rio Rancho police is complete, according to Valdez.

“We have not received any findings on the investigation from Rio Rancho Police or their District Attorney’s Office,” Valdez wrote. “Once their process is completed, we can begin our administrative investigation.”

According to an incident report filed by the lead investigator Feb. 7 — two months after the Dec. 8 shooting — police were still awaiting final reports from the state Office of the Medical Investigator and the New Mexico Department of Public Safety’s forensic laboratories.

“We’ve not received those reports,” Lt. Jacquelynn Reedy, a spokeswoman for the Rio Rancho Police Department, wrote in an email. “The case is still considered inactive.”

Reedy added, “The AG’s Office will make the determination if charges should be filed.”

The investigator’s report deemed the incident “involuntary manslaughter.”

According to the report, Lincoln and his older brother woke up before their parents and went into the kitchen by themselves that morning. Their mother, Courtney Harmon, was in the master bedroom with her newborn infant, and their father was in another bedroom struggling to wake up.

The 4-year-old pushed a kitchen chair to a countertop and climbed on top “in an effort to get chewing gum” in a cabinet where his father occasionally would store his off-duty handgun. Because the gun was hidden and on the top shelf, Jonathan Harmon believed “it was out of reach of the children,” the report states.

“The gun is kept loaded to full capacity (6 rounds), and Jonathan probably had a round in the chamber,” the report states.

Jonathan Harmon kept his police-issued firearm in a safe upstairs and an unloaded rifle in a locked spare bedroom.

After finding the gun, the older boy “either ‘pulled it up’ (possibly pulling it out of the holster) or ‘pointed it up,’ (possibly at Lincoln) and unintentionally fired the gun, resulting in a fatal wound to Lincoln, ” the report states.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control and against gun violence, said it doesn’t track the length of time it takes for prosecutors to decide whether or not to file charges in cases involving the unintentional shooting by a child.

dr Regina Griego, a volunteer leader with Moms Demand Action in New Mexico, said each case is unique.

After listening to Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez speak about a bill that would have held gun owners liable if a child gained access to their weapon, she said, she learned prosecutors have “a cadre of tools for how to approach a case. So, it’s not a guarantee that they’re going to prosecute.”

Griego said the incident highlights the need for the secure storage of firearms.

So far this year, there have been at least 77 unintentional shootings by children, resulting in 31 deaths and 50 injuries nationally, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

“Firearms are the leading cause of death for our children in the state of New Mexico,” Griego said. “A lot of parents believe that through admonition, through training of their children, either their little ones or their teenagers, that that is somehow going to prevent it.

But, she added, “curiosity and/or defiance will trump that.”

Griego speaks from experience. She is the aunt of a then-15-year-old who shot and killed his parents and three younger siblings in Albuquerque’s South Valley in 2013.

“His dad thought he had trained his son how to use the guns, told him, ‘This is what you use the guns for,’ but he had a mental breakdown,” she said. “So, you just can’t guarantee what a child is going to do. Like I say, curiosity, [defiance or mental illness] will trump any kind of ammunition you give a child.”

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