Documents detail undercover operation that led to NM officer's death
Darian Jarrott, a father of three with a fourth on the way, was the first NM State Police officer shot and killed in the line of duty in more than 30 years
By Matthew Reisen
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Minutes after Omar Cueva shot and killed New Mexico State Police Officer Darian Jarrott along Interstate 10, he called an undercover agent with Homeland Security Investigations to tell him he had been pulled over by the police. Cueva told the agent he "did not give them a chance" and still wanted to meet up to sell the agent 5 pounds of methamphetamine.
Meanwhile, the agent received word that an officer had been killed.
A ranking agent with HSI told State Police investigators he knew there was a plan to have State Police pull over Cueva between Deming and Las Cruces "if the opportunity came." If not, the 39-year-old would have been busted by multiple HSI agents in armored vehicles when he met up to sell the meth.
Agents told State Police investigators they knew Cueva was armed and had told them he "was not going back to jail." Cueva was killed in a gunfight with authorities in Las Cruces shortly after he killed Jarrott.
Documents released Friday by State Police detail HSI's undercover operation into Cueva and the events leading up to the killing of Jarrott on Feb. 4. The 28-year-old father of three, with a fourth child on the way, was the first State Police officer shot and killed in the line of duty in more than 30 years.
According to New Mexico State Police incident reports:
HSI Agent Hector Huerta, an acting supervisor for the Deming Office, told investigators that, a few weeks before the shooting, a confidential informant tipped them off to Cueva and "how he wanted to sell a large amount of narcotics." He said that, on Jan. 28, an undercover HSI agent met Cueva at a truck stop in Las Cruces and bought a pound of methamphetamine and 4,000 fentanyl pills.
"During this transaction, Mr. Cueva was acting paranoid, took a photo of surveillance vehicles, and was armed with a fully loaded Ak-47 rifle," the report states.
The undercover agent tried to buy the rifle from Cueva, but he declined, saying it was for "protection" as he had been set up before. HSI planned to arrest him at the next deal, but that was canceled after Cueva had to go to Arizona to resupply.
Cueva said he could meet to sell 5 pounds of meth on Feb. 4 and HSI chose State Police Officer Leonel Palomares, a K-9 officer, to make a "high-risk" stop and gave him "full disclosure" on "everything they knew about Cueva." Meanwhile, HSI sent out a "be on the lookout" advisory on Feb. 2 as Cueva was traveling on I-10 between Arizona and New Mexico.
By Feb. 3, Huerta told investigators, Cueva was back in Deming and HSI reached out to State Police Sgt. Mark Madrid for assistance in a possible traffic stop. Madrid told him "his guys would be available."
Huerta said the plan was still for Officer Palomares to make the stop and he did not "know where the breakdown in information happened" or why Jarrott made the traffic stop.
Palomares told investigators he had originally been asked to stop Cueva on Jan. 28. He had been briefed by State Police Sgt. Sean Wood on Cueva's background and was told he needed a second officer with him during the stop. Palomares said the stop was canceled after Cueva sold all the narcotics to an undercover agent.
Investigators learned through HSI that there were two plans of action for the Feb. 4 operation. The first involved Officer Palomares pulling Cueva over with a group of HSI agents in an armored SUV ready to act as a "quick reaction force." If State Police officers were unable to locate Cueva along I-10 and he reached the meeting place in Las Cruces, the undercover agent would give a signal when he confirmed the meth was there and tactical agents would move in to arrest Cueva.
On Feb. 4, HSI held a 45-minute briefing in Las Cruces at 10:30 a.m. The plan was to monitor Cueva's home until he was seen leaving. The vehicle description would be sent out and Palomares, who was "onboard," and another State Police unit would make the traffic stop. No State Police officers were at the briefing.
"I questioned Agent Huerta on why on his Ops plan stated this was not a high-risk operation. Agent Huerta (said) it was an oversight on his part. But, based on everything they had planned for this operation, it was indeed a high risk," one investigator wrote.
Palomares said at first HSI told him Cueva was in an SUV with his family. Then, that he was in a truck and alone.
As they waited to make the stop, Palomares told his partner "he did not have a good feeling about (the) traffic stop" and the two began rehearsing how they would make the stop. If they saw a firearm, "a felony stop would immediately be executed."
At 11:25 a.m., HSI agent Matthew Rodriguez sent out a text message saying that four officers were staged at mile markers 102 and 132. At 11:59 a.m., Rodriguez sent another text that another officer, Jarrott, was at mile marker 98. Within minutes, Rodriguez sent a text that the officer pulled over Cueva at mile marker 102.
Two HSI agents were traveling westbound in an armored vehicle when they saw the traffic stop and wondered where the officer's backup was. They stopped 200 yards away and watched as a dark silhouette fell to the ground next to the truck. At first, they assumed Jarrott had taken Cueva to the ground until they saw Cueva's truck pull away.
HSI Agent Garrett Olsen told investigators he asked Rodriguez if Officer Jarrott was part of the operation and Rodriguez replied "he did not know" because he only spoke with Sgt. Madrid — who had details on Cueva. Olsen said that, after the shooting, he wondered if Jarrott knew how dangerous this traffic stop could be and the HSI Special Agent in Charge, after viewing Jarrot's dashcam video, "was concerned" that Jarrott did not have all the information with "reference (to) HSI's knowledge of Mr. Cueva."
Palomares said they were waiting to make the traffic stop when they were advised HSI had reached out to Sgt. Madrid and, soon after, they heard Jarrott make a traffic stop over the radio. Minutes later, reports came through that an officer was down.
Sgt. Madrid told investigators he got the BOLO on Feb. 2 of a man coming from Tucson with a load of fentanyl and a gun in the truck, and it was "put out to the guys" to be on the lookout. Madrid said there was no briefing or criminal history on Cueva.
"It is the common stuff we do every day," he said of the traffic stop.
He said he told Jarrott to keep an eye out for a red Honda Civic or white pickup truck with a "headache rack," reminding Jarrott of the BOLO and saying, "remember this guy is supposed to be carrying a gun."
Madrid said Rodriguez messaged him pictures of vehicles leaving Cueva's home and asked him if he had anyone available. Madrid told investigators he replied that he did and he relayed any further messages from Rodriguez to Jarrott, but never gave Rodriguez Jarrott's number.
Madrid said he guessed Officer Jarrott had spotted the truck and the "next thing he knew" he was running out to the scene after Jarrott was shot.
Preliminary autopsy findings reveal that Jarrott had been shot at least six times, suffering wounds to the head, neck, shoulder, side of the chest and back.
"What did this guy do that was so bad that he had to do this (expletive)," Madrid told the investigator. "Did the guy even have anything or is he just ... Who is this dude? I do not know. I do not know anything about it."
Then, Madrid began reliving the moments after he pulled up to the crash.
"Just him there on the ground. They are pumping on his chest. You see his vest. It's laying there. You do not know what the freak to do. You are helpless. You're supposed to be the guy that helps everybody, and you cannot even help your own guy. You cannot do (expletive). You are watching, you're waiting for them, hurry up, load him, get him out of here, get him the help."
The undercover HSI agent told investigators that Cueva called him after the traffic stop and told him he had been pulled over by the police, but "did not give them a chance."
He said Cueva still wanted to meet to sell the 5 pounds of meth, but would need to ditch his truck and get a ride from the undercover agent.
The undercover agent told investigators that he told Cueva to meet him at the desert area near the Love's truck stop to dump the truck and he would pick him up.
He said Cueva was not able to do it because authorities were blocking all the I-10 exits and Cueva must have dropped the phone because he only heard "dead air."
The undercover agent said he later learned Cueva had been shot and killed in a gunbattle with authorities.
(c)2021 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)