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Jal police officers charged on federal rights violations

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Jal police officers charged on federal rights violations

Levi Hill/News-Sun

Three Jal police officers, including one former officer, have been arrested and charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for violating a suspect’s constitutionally protected rights.

Jal police officers Corey Patrick Saffell and Ceasar Enrique Mendoza, along with former Jal police officer Robert Edward Embly, were arrested on two counts each of the deprivation of rights. Embly was employed by the Lea County Sheriff’s Department at the time of his indictment.

Saffell, 34, of Jal, Mendoza, 28, and Embly, 43, both of Hobbs, were scheduled for a hearing Monday to determine if they would remain in custody.

According to the indictment, on July 30-31, 2021, the three men were employed as police officers with the Jal Police Department when they allegedly violated the constitutional rights of a suspect (who was unnamed in the indictment) to be free from unreasonable seizure by a law enforcement officer, including the right to be free from an unlawful arrest and the right to be free from unreasonable use of force by a law enforcement officer.

“The officers conduct resulted in bodily injury to the man and included the use of a dangerous weapon,” a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office reads.

The News-Sun requested a copy of the statement of facts in the case to learn more about the charges, but was unable to obtain one from the U.S. Attorney.

“…we cannot discuss the case beyond what is contained in the court record, which is just the Indictment at this time,” an email response from the attorney’s office states.

Jal city officials confirmed Monday the charges stem from the 2021 case of Hector Nava, 45, of San Antonio, Texas, who died while in Jal police custody.

While the state coroner’s office ruled the death a drug overdose, the City of Jal settled with Nava’s family for $5 million in 2022.

According to the police narratives, an on-duty officer pumping fuel into his patrol unit around 11:30 p.m. on July 30, 2021, noticed a white pickup “slowly creeping around the parking lot with his head lights off.”

The report states the vehicle circled gas pumps, entered and backed out of a dead-end area, and turned east onto New Mexico Hwy. 128 without headlights, at which time the officer began pursuit.

After initially losing the unlighted pickup on the dark highway, the officer returned to the parking lot to find the white pickup there again, circling the pumps. The officer stopped and approached the driver, later identified as Nava.

According to the officer’s report, Nava’s erratic behavior, failure to state his name and unresponsive answers to other questions led to a call for a K9 unit and the officers’ decision to take him to the city jail for further questioning. Nava resisted arrest and refused to seat himself in the patrol unit.

The police reports state at least 12 occasions of using a taser to force compliance and subdue the struggling, but officers eventually forced Nava into the back of a second patrol unit.

After Nava was taken to a holding cell at the Jal Police Department, handcuffs were removed, he mumbled and made leg movements, then failed to respond to questions, according to the police reports.

He reportedly stopped breathing shortly after and officers began and continued life-saving techniques while awaiting emergency medical service assistance.

After EMTs arrived, and Nava failed to respond to their efforts, he was pronounced dead at 1:15 a.m. July 31, 2021.

The OMI’s report noted multiple marks on several parts of the body, indicative of the electronic shocks, but the medical investigators concluded they likely didn’t cause death.

Reports indicated Nava had been alive and moving his legs at least 10 minutes after the last shock incident. The coroner’s report cited drug overdose by methamphetamine as the cause of death in Nava’s case.

Jal City Manager Wesley Hooper said the town has seven police officers on staff at this time, but offered no other comment on the arrests of Jal officers.

“… we are still good on 24-hour coverage,” Hooper said in a text response. “Sheriff Helton has reached out and made his deputies available if we need extra coverage. We will continue to serve the community.”

While researching information on the case online, the News-Sun learned of a second case in federal court dating to the same weekend in July 2021 and also involving Embry.

That case is listed as a “civil rights” lawsuit involving a Jesus P. Herrera, 52, of Jal.

That case was initially filed in November in district court with case number D-506-CV-202301066. That case list’s Embry (spelled Embrey) and an officer Jose Sierra as defendants along with the Jal Police Department.

On Aug. 1, 2021, Herrera was charged with transportation of a firearm by a felon, resisting a police officer, aggravated battery of a household member and driving with a suspended license.

That case was dismissed without prejudice by the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

According to court documents, Herrera’s attorneys are the Jasso and Jasso Law Firm of Hobbs. Calls for comments from the firm were not returned as of press time Monday.

Herrera has a laundry list of charges filed against him in New Mexico and, according to an internet search, some charges in Andrews County, Texas, as well.

Charges in New Mexico stem back to 2003 when he was convicted of driving under the influence, a fourth-degree felony, driving with a suspended license, a misdemeanor and failure to maintain traffic lanes.

In 2017, Herrera was charged with eight separate counts including aggravated DWI, a third-degree felony, and resisting a police officer, a misdemeanor.

A News-Sun article from November 2017 states Herrera was arrested in Jal on his eighth DWI charge and with felon in possession of a firearm after he allegedly fired a shotgun at a vehicle and then attempted to elude police officers.

The 2017 article stated his seventh DWI arrest was made by Hobbs police officers in 2009.

In 2019, Herrera was charged with aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony, resisting arrest and open container. That case was dropped in late 2019.

According to court documents found online, the Herrera case will be heard by U.S. Magistrate Court Judge Jerry Ritter. A telephonic Rule 16 scheduling conference for that case has been set for Feb. 21.

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