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State agency won’t charge New Mexico officers in killing of man at wrong home

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The New Mexico Justice Department has declined to file charges against police officers who went to the wrong address on a call last year and fatally shot the homeowner when he answered the door armed with a gun.

The Justice Department said that after a review, “there is no basis for pursuing a criminal prosecution” against three Farmington police officers.

The fatal shooting of Robert Dotson, 52, on April 5 prompted an apology from Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe, who called it a tragedy.

The officers were responding to a domestic violence-related call at a house around 11:30 that night, but they mistakenly went to a different house across the street, officials have said.

Video released by the police department shows the officers discussing whether they were at the right address before the door opens and the shooting occurs.

The state Justice Department review included a report by Seth W. Stoughton, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, whom the state attorney general’s office hired to review the shooting.

Stoughton wrote in his report that the way the officers approached the Dotson home was reasonable, even though they approached the incorrect dwelling.

“In this case, Mr. Dotson opened the front door and storm door, then partially exited the house while raising a firearm into a firing position, pointed in the direction of the officers,” Stoughton wrote.

The state Justice Department notified the local district attorney and Hebbe, the police chief, of its decision Friday, the department said in a statement.

Robert Dotson and wife Kim Dotson.
Robert Dotson and wife Kim Dotson.Courtesy Law Office of Mark A. Curnutt

Department prosecutors also met with members of Dotson’s family to explain the decision, the statement said.

Dotson was a longtime auto mechanic and a doting family man, his wife said. An attorney for the family, who has sued the city of Farmington and the three officers involved, has said Dotson was blinded by a flashlight when he opened the door.

“Why would he not raise his gun?” said the attorney, Tom Clark.

Another attorney for the Dotson family did not immediately respond Tuesday night to a request for comment about the decision not to file charges.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New Mexico, alleges that the first officer who shot at Dotson “opened fire instantly” and that the two others then also fired.

“Mr. Dotson opened his front door and was blinded by police flashlights. The police did not announce themselves, and Mr. Dotson had no idea who was in his yard shining bright lights at him,” the suit says.

It seeks damages under the Wrongful Death Act, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. It does not specify dollar amounts.

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