Santa Fe Reporter: Santa Fe Police Detain Mateo Romero - Officer Mooney Video

Pueblo artist can't sue police officers for handcuffing him at gunpoint

A well-known Pueblo artist can't sue the police officers who pointed an assault rifle at him, handcuffed him and detained him, the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled.

In a September 18 decision first reported by The Albuquerque Journal, the court said the officers who pointed the weapon at Mateo Romero and detained him were acting on reasonable grounds. Therefore, they enjoy "qualified immunity" and can't be sued even though the Cochiti Pueblo artist had not committed any crimes, Judge Briana Zamora wrote.

"Plaintiff was not detained longer than necessary to dispel the reasonable suspicion that gave rise to his detention in the first place," Zamora wrote in the 17-page decision of the circumstances which led to the unusual incident in Santa Fe on July 7, 2014.

"Here, officers had reasonable suspicion to detain Plaintiff in order to conduct an investigation based on information from a 911 call," Zamora continued, referring to a woman who called police and reported a burglary in progress.

Santa Fe Reporter: Santa Fe Police Detain Mateo Romero - Lt. Carlos Video

There was no burglary, however. Romero had pulled into the woman's driveway to clean up a mess involving his dog.

“I tried to talk to her to explain that I was cleaning up," Romero told The Associated Press shortly after the bizarre encounter. “But she got all hysterical and I just backed away. I couldn’t leave. It was crazy.”

Romero sued officers Louis Carlos and Christopher Mooney, as well as the city of Santa Fe, accusing them of violating his constitutional rights. A district judge dismissed his case, The Journal reported, which prompted his appeal to the higher court.

Police videos obtained by The Santa Fe Reporter show the Carlos and Mooney receiving the call and responding to the scene. In one clip, Romero can be seen calmly walking around the rear of his vehicle before slowly placing himself on the ground with his face down.

At this point, the same video shows Mooney pointing a large weapon at Romero even after the artist had complied with all requests. The court decision accepts the officer's contention that he "deployed his service rifle in the low-ready position, where the rifle is held with both hands with the muzzle pointed at the ground in front of the suspect."

In 2012, Romero was involved in an incident in which his firearm discharged at a gas station in Santa Fe. He did not face charges in what his attorney said was a case of self-defense.

Romero was one of the original complainants is Harjo v. Pro Football Inc., the landmark case that led to the first cancellation of the Washington NFL team's trademarks. The federal courts eventually ruled that he waited too long after turning 18 to challenge the franchise's racist and stereotypical imagery.

Read More on the Story
Appeals Court affirms dismissal of suit over dog poop incident (The Albuquerque Journal December 3, 2019)

New Mexico Court of Appeals Decision
Romero v. Mooney (September 18, 2019)

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