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Pursuit policy questioned after deaths in I-25 crash | Local News

Jeannine Jaramillo’s alleged crimes in Santa Fe and Cibola counties within months of each other are strikingly similar: stolen cars, reckless chases and claims of a kidnapper or male aggressor who doesn’t appear to exist.

The outcomes differ widely.

When Jaramillo was suspected of leading Cibola County deputies into oncoming traffic at high speeds in September 2021, they called off the pursuit. They later found the stolen vehicle at a residence and took Jaramillo into custody, according to records of the case.

Earlier this month, three Santa Fe officers, rushing to rescue a woman they thought had been kidnapped and carjacked at knifepoint, followed a vehicle Jaramillo was driving onto Interstate 25, where they sped after her in the wrong lanes, court documents say.

Jaramillo slipped by oncoming vehicles, then sideswiped a truck; the stolen Chevy Malibu she was driving came to rest on the side of the highway. She and one officer who followed her down the highway avoided the multi-vehicle collision that killed 43-year-old Santa Fe police officer Robert Duran of Rio Rancho and retired Las Vegas, NM, firefighter Frank Lovato, 62, who crashed head on.

A second collision injured two other drivers, including a police officer.

Authorities say Jaramillo, 46, made a false kidnapping claim and was alone in the Malibu. She now faces two first-degree murder charges and other counts in the crash.

The tragic case has raised questions in the community about whether the officers pursuing Jaramillo followed the Santa Fe Police Department’s policy on chases and has raised some criticism of the city agency’s policy, which provides little specific guidance on pursuits and hasn’t been updated nearly two decades.

In that time, advocates have pushed for policies that place heavier emphasis on reducing risk, and many law enforcement agencies nationwide have made revisions, restricting officers from engaging in dangerous chases except in the most dire circumstances.

Federal data shows collisions caused by law enforcement chases kill hundreds of people in the nation each year, many of them innocent bystanders.

First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies has said the Santa Fe officers chasing Jaramillo in the wrong lanes of I-25 faced a situation justifying drastic action.

“There is an exception if a person is in a potentially life-threatening situation,” she said. “The information they had at the time was this was a kidnapping in progress. I don’t believe they violated the [state] statute or their own policy.”

Santa Fe Police Chief Paul Joye, appointed to the position last week, declined to comment on Jaramillo’s case or the deadly pursuit, noting it’s still being investigated by New Mexico State Police and will be reviewed by a city pursuit commission.

“I want to be respectful of the process and let it play out the way it is going to play out,” Joye said. “There are a lot of important decisions that need to be made, and there is a lot to this investigation into what was going on and what decisions were made in real time based off of what information they had.”

A state police spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Jonathan Farris, an advocate for the nonprofit pursuit for change, an organization that pushes for safer police pursuit policies, called the Santa Fe Police Department’s chase policy vague and said it doesn’t give much direction for when an officer should give up on a pursuit .

“There is not a lot of stuff in this policy for officers to go off of,” he said.

The pursuit policy is about two pages long and was last updated in 2004. It states:

“Law enforcement officer may initiate a high speed pursuit to apprehend a suspect who the officer has reasonable grounds to believe poses a clear and immediate threat of death or serious injury to others.”

The policy also says an officer “shall not initiate or continue a high speed pursuit when the immediate danger to the officer and the public created by the high speed pursuit exceeds the immediate danger to the public if the occupants of the motor vehicle being pursued remain at large.”

Under the policy, Joye said, anyone from the pursuing officer to a supervisor could make a call at any time to end a pursuit.

“There are a lot of things that need to be considered,” he said. “The gravity of the crime, the danger to the community, whether or not the driver is identified. All of those things — weather, traffic, what is everything looking like — those are things that are being looked at and constantly being addressed in real time.”

Farris, whose son Paul Farris was killed in 2007 when a cab he was riding in was struck by a Massachusetts state trooper chasing a driver suspected of a traffic violation, said law enforcement agencies nationwide have wrangled with vague pursuit policies. Many don’t give officers or supervisors enough direction on how to approach high-speed pursuits.

Even the International Association of Chiefs of Police provides a model for pursuit policies that creates gray areas, he said.

“I typically don’t make a big deal of police officers going after a person in a situation where there is any sort of a violent felony,” Jonathan Farris said. He added: “In many of those cases, sadly, they are in a position where innocent bystanders, people in other vehicles are indeed are going to be put in a dangerous situation.”

Still, he acknowledged officers face tough split-second decisions, and often the concern for a victim takes precedence.

Farris said many newer law enforcement pursuit policies ban officers from engaging in wrong-way chases for “virtually any reason,” noting the suspect is already placing drivers in jeopardy.

The Cincinnati Police Department recently implemented a new policy limiting police chases to incidents involving “violent felony offenses.” The Atlanta Police Department also updated its policy last summer, restricting pursuits to cases in which someone is at risk of being harmed.

In Chicago, police are barred from chasing suspects for traffic- or theft-related offenses and are asked to weigh the pursuit’s risk to the public.

The Milwaukee Police Department in 2017 shifted to a policy that bars chases except in the case of a violent felony, but in 2018, it returned to its broader policy, resulting in a nearly 155 percent spike in chases.

Twenty officers were injured in pursuits, one fatally, while 165 suspects were injured, five of whom died.

Only 38 percent of the department’s chases that year resulted in an apprehension, the data showed.

Retired Police Capt. Tom Gleason, an advisory board member for the national nonprofit PursuitSafety, said a police pursuit is similar to a game of Russian roulette — every second it continues, the likelihood of someone will be hurt increases.

Gleason said he advocates for law enforcement agencies to weigh “risk verses outcome” in their policies.

Some advocates for safer police pursuits have fought for a broader use of technology to help track fleeing suspects, including a GPS dart that can be shot from the front of a police cruiser to track a vehicle.

Lucas Aragon, a spokesman for PursuitSafety, said his sister, Kimberly Aragon Nunez, died in Albuquerque in 2010 after a bank robber crashed into them during a police pursuit.

Aragon said he learned the bank bag the robber was carrying had a GPS device inside that could have been tracked, reducing the need for the high-speed pursuit.

“Most police chases don’t require a chase,” he said, “unless there is a child in the car being kidnapped or something like that.”

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