No charges for New Mexico officers who knocked on wrong door before fatal shooting

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Robert DotsonImage source, Farmington Police Department

Authorities in New Mexico will not seek charges against three police officers involved in a fatal shooting after arriving at the wrong house last year.

Officers in the town of Farmington fired dozens of shots and killed Robert Dotson, 52, because he appeared at the door of his home holding a gun.

At the time, the officers were responding to a domestic violence call from a house across the street.

The Dotson family filed a lawsuit against the department last year.

According to a complaint filed by the family in court, police arrived at the Dotson residence late on 5 April, 2023 and “parked down the street and did not have their lights on”.

When Mr Dotson opened his front door holding a weapon, police immediately opened fire, striking him 12 times. Another 19 shots were fired at his wife Kimberly, who was unharmed during the incident. Police later said she opened fire on officers with a pistol.

In a letter dated 26 January, New Mexico Deputy Attorney General Greer Staley said that the state’s justice department determined that the officers “did not use excessive force under the circumstances when they discharged their weapons.”

The letter added that the officers’ approach to the Dotson home – “although they erroneously approached the wrong house” – was “reasonable, appropriate and consistent with generally accepted police practices”.

An analysis of the incident included in the report concluded that Mr Dotson and his wife both created an “imminent threat of death or great bodily harm” to the officers.

Robert Dotson and his wife Kimberly

Image source, Law Office of Mark A. Curnutt

Doug Perrin, an attorney for the Dotson family, told CBS – the BBC’s US partner – that the family was disappointed in the decision.

“One of the disturbing things about the decision not to prosecute the police is the feeling that you may not be safe in your own home, because certainly Mr Dotson was not.”

After this week’s decision, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico called for “systemic change” in police use of force policies in the state.

“We hope law enforcement officials use this tragic event as a teaching moment and exercise due diligence when responding to calls and require de-escalation and rigorous use force standards,” said ACLU of New Mexico investigation and research manager Barron Jones.

A separate lawsuit has been filed to a federal court in New Mexico against the department for wrongful death and seeks unspecified damages.

The lawsuit alleges that one of the officers involved “opened fire instantly” and that Mr Dotson 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 lawsuit alleges.

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