Police realized they were at wrong house before killing man, video shows
"New Mexico police officers were questioning whether they were at the right house shortly before they fatally shot an armed homeowner this month at what turned out to be the wrong address, according to body-camera video released Friday.
The release of the video comes more than a week after Robert Dotson, 52, was killed by police in Farmington, N.M., on April 5, when officers showed up to the wrong house in response to a domestic violence call. Three officers who fired their weapons have been placed on paid administrative leave, and the fatal mix-up is being investigated by the New Mexico State Police.
After the officers appeared to laugh at the notion that they mixed up the addresses, police backed away and shined a light on Dotson once he came to the door of what authorities thought was the house with the domestic violence report, video shows. But the officers were supposed to be at an address across the street, according to police. When Dotson opened the screen door and began to raise his firearm, police opened fire on the homeowner, who quickly fell to the ground, according to body-cam video.
The police shooting resulted in a chaotic scene in which Dotson’s wife exchanged gunfire with authorities and, the video shows, screamed in anguish: “Please help, somebody shot my husband!” Neither Dotson’s wife, who has not been publicly named, nor the officers were injured.
The Farmington Police Department released on Friday audio from the 911 calls and six videos from the fatal encounter, including one posted to Facebook of police narration and clips from the body cameras of the three officers, whom have not been publicly identified. Farmington Police Chief Steven Hebbe said in a news release that his officers “recognize the severity of this incident,” and vowed to release additional records and files in the coming weeks.
“We will do everything we can to ensure a fuller understanding of what took place. I believe that the footage will help to provide a greater understanding of what transpired,” Hebbe said. “Once again, we wish to express our condolences to the Dotson family and as your chief of police, I wish to convey how very sorry I am that this tragedy occurred.”
When reached for comment, Dotson’s wife directed The Washington Post to Shon Northam, the family’s California-based attorney. Northam did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Saturday.
There have been 1,066 people who have been fatally shot by police in the United States in the last 12 months, according to a Post database. So far, 285 people have been shot and killed by police in 2023, the database shows.
At around 11:30 p.m. on April 5, police were responding to a domestic violence call on Valley View Avenue in Farmington, a northwestern New Mexico city near the Colorado border that’s roughly 200 miles outside of Albuquerque. The three officers responding to the report knock three times on the front door of the wrong house, announcing that they are police, video shows. As they wait for an answer at the door with an Easter Bunny decoration, one of the officers asks if they’re at the right house, according to video.
“It’s not 5308?” the officer asks. “That’s what it said right there, right?”
His colleague replies, “No, it said 5305, isn’t it?”
When the officer who knocks at the 5305 address asks to confirm the correct location, the radio dispatcher tells him the home they’re looking for on Valley View Avenue is 5308, not 5305, video shows. The officer confirms he hears the address from the dispatcher and appears to say, “Don’t tell me I’m wrong,” before laughing at the idea they were at the wrong house, according to body-cam video.
Seconds later, one of the officers utters an expletive, and they all step away from the front door when they hear someone approaching. As officers shined a flashlight on the front door, the person who answered at 5305 was Dotson, who was carrying a handgun, according to the New Mexico Department of Public Safety.
When officers see the man at the door begin to raise his firearm, one of them yells, “Hey, hands up!” Then, the officers start firing what sounds like roughly eight shots at Dotson, according to body-cam video. New Mexico authorities say the three officers each fired at least one round.
After the initial gunfire concludes, Dotson’s wife can be heard on the video screaming, “Oh my God!” Moments later, Dotson’s wife picked up her dead husband’s handgun and began firing from the doorway, video shows.
“Please don’t,” one of the officers says just before they exchange gunfire with the woman.
The shooting went back-and-forth until she realized they were police, and proceeded to put down her gun and comply with their commands, authorities said.
“This is the police department,” one of the officers says, according to video. “We’re here to help you.”
That’s when the woman asked for their help, not knowing the officers were the ones who mistakenly killed her husband. When police finally entered the home, Dotson was wearing a robe as he laid lifeless next to a handgun, video shows. An official on police radio confirmed that the Dotsons’ three children were upstairs at the time of the fatal encounter.
Dotson was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the New Mexico State Police. Dotson’s wife has not been charged with a crime for exchanging gunfire with police.
Police said that Dotson’s family and their attorney watched the videos at the San Juan County District Attorney’s Office before it was released to the public on Friday. Authorities say that two of the officers have been on the Farmington force for five years, while the other has been a member for three years.
Dotson was an automotive technician in Farmington, according to his LinkedIn profile. His colleagues lauded him on LinkedIn for knowing “how to get the best out of his fellow workers while maintaining a professional attitude.”
In the days since the shooting, Hebbe, the Farmington police chief, has repeatedly expressed remorse over the incident.
“I can’t tell you what happened in this case,” he said at a news conference. “The results of it are terrible.”