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‘He was always smiling:' Chief remembers NM State Police officer killed in shootout

A community is mourning Officer Darian Jarrott, who was shot Thursday during a confrontation on a state highway

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Officer Darian Jarrott

New Mexico State Police

By Algernon D’Ammassa
Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M.

DEMING, N.M. — New Mexico State Police Chief Robert Thornton said NMSP officer Darian Jarrott had a reputation among his captains for always having a smile on his face.

“Even when there was a situation that was tough, the guy was always smiling,” Thornton said, adding: “The guy never had a bad day.”

On Thursday night, Thornton confirmed to reporters outside the state police station that Jarrott was the officer killed that day in a violent pursuit that began in Deming and ended in a shootout with suspect Omar Felix Cueva in Las Cruces.

A son of Lordsburg, the 28-year-old officer was assisting Homeland Security Investigations Thursday afternoon when he conducted a traffic stop east of Deming. According to state police, the driver, Cueva, fired at least one shot at Jarrott, killing him.

Word traveled quickly through Jarrott’s hometown of Lordsburg, as residents began sharing tributes on their personal Facebook pages.

On Twitter, state Rep. Candie Sweetser, a Democrat representing Hidalgo, Luna and part of Grant County, wrote: “There are no words for how heartbreaking it is to lose an officer in the line of duty — especially an officer from such a close community as Lordsburg.”

Jarrott was a father of three, expecting a fourth child this year, and friends consistently remembered him as a loving and protective family man. On Thursday evening this community in New Mexico’s southwest corner was stunned by the loss.

“My heart hurts for him and his family,” Ty Hendrix, a longtime friend of both Jarrott and his girlfriend, said.

Hendrix, a former detention center officer, said law enforcement is rooted deeply in the Lordsburg community and was part of his bond with Jarrott.

“Most of us that are from that area, growing up in the small town of Lordsburg, you have your uncles and your dad or somebody in your family that was law enforcement,” he said.

It had only been a day since a shooting involving city police and HSI took place in Deming, in which an armed suspect was fatally shot by police near Interstate 10. Because Jarrott was stationed in Deming, friends and family were prompted to check on him.

Maureen Thornock, owner of Kranberry’s Restaurant in Lordsburg, said, “It’s hitting the community hard.”

Thornton said Jarrott was certified as a law enforcement officer at the end of 2014, initially working with the former Motor Transportation Division of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety. He had served as a state police officer since July 2015.

And while Thornton said he was known for his smile, one of his fellow Lordsburg High School alumni also remembered a man who liked to win yet understood: “To win, it took everyone.”

Feliciano Daniel Talavera recalled seeing that side of him on the football field, when Talavera was a sophomore, two years younger than Jarrott.

“After the play was called, he got in my face and said something along the line of, ‘stay behind me and we’ll score,’” Talavera said. “I got the ball, got behind him, he blocked and I went for a 75-yard touchdown.”

On Thursday night, Thornton gave a brief statement and took questions from reporters for 20 minutes with tears standing on his face.

“It’s a huge loss for us,” the chief said, concluding: “I just want people to understand the amount of sacrifice that officers do on a daily basis when they put this uniform on. … When you leave that academy, you know what you’re getting into to a point, but I don’t think you ever understand what potentially you’re going to sacrifice.”

Multiple agencies responded to the incident, in which Cueva was pursued eastward all the way to Las Cruces, where the suspect was killed after engaging officers from several agencies — LCPD, NMSP, Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office, und U.S. Border Patrol — in a shootout on the interstate around 12:30 p.m.

A Las Cruces police officer was wounded in the exchange and taken to a trauma hospital, and has since been released with injuries not considered to be life-threatening.

Thornton confirmed that Jarrott’s body was escorted from El Paso first to Deming, and then to Albuquerque.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered flags across the state to half-staff from Friday through sunset Tuesday.

“I am horrified as we grieve another life cut down, another family crushed by senseless violence in our state,” the governor said in a statement. “Violent crime is a scourge on New Mexico, and the men and women who step up and put on the badge to protect our communities fight it with everything they’ve got every day. We are and must remain grateful for their heroic service every single day — and moments like this remind us why.”

(c)2021 the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.)