SANTA FE (KRQE) - Newly-released dash cam video shows what happened in the seconds a stolen car investigation turned into a chaotic scene and a controversial police shooting.
It all happened in early August in Santa Fe. SFPD Officer Stephen Fonte spotted a Ford Explorer that had been reported stolen. Fonte and fellow officer John DeBaca tried to block the SUV in at an Allsup's convenience store parking lot off of Cerrillos Road.
Behind the wheel was Roberto Mendez, 25, and inside the vehicle were two women, another man and a 4-year-old boy. Fonte and DeBaca say Mendez refused to turn the car off or get out even after officers identified themselves and ordered him too.
Instead, the officers say Mendez was trying to get away.
"He's got the car floored, I mean, you hear the revving," said Fonte in an interview released through a public records request. "You can see him physically trying to put it in gear."
From fellow officer Amanda Montano's dash cam, you can see the SUV suddenly spin backwards, hitting DeBaca's car and almost DeBaca himself.
That's when Fonte opened up fire. He said he was aiming for the tires because he saw passengers inside the vehicle.
"I didn't want to hit the female in the back, but I knew a police officer was in serious danger so that's why I was trying to disable the vehicle," Fonte said.
Mendez then starts driving forward to get away. DeBaca said in a recorded interview with investigators that he believed his fellow officers and the public could be in danger, so he made the decision to shoot into the SUV.
"This person had no regard for the safety of anybody," DeBaca said. " I remember seeing basically an angle of [the driver's] head where I felt that was an appropriate time to take the shot and I did so."
One of DeBaca's shots hit Mendez through the cheek, but he kept driving away onto Cerrillos Road anyway with Officer Montano in pursuit. He didn't get far, pulling over near the intersection of Cerrillos Road and Siler Road.
Montano's dash cam spots the other male passenger jumping out of the SUV and making a break for it. He's caught soon after.
Meanwhile, Mendez stumbles out of the SUV and falls to his knees, holding his bloodied face. On the other side of the car, a woman and a 4-year-old boy leave the SUV.
DeBaca and Fonte both said they spotted passengers in the car before firing shots, although DeBaca said during the interview he didn't see the 4-year-old boy.
The DA's office has not ruled whether the shooting was justified or not yet. SFPD says the internal investigation into the shooting is ongoing.
Mendez hasn't been charged with a crime in connection with the case. He has a lengthy criminal past including past charges for battery on a police officer and aggravated assault.
Some brazen thieves made off with a man's prized possession, and now the victim is hoping for some holiday justice. Little did the suspects' know, their entire crime was caught on camera.
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