The truth is out: New Mexico officers exonerated in wrong address shooting death

FARMINGTON, NM -  Farmington, New Mexico Police Officers Daniel Estrada, Dylan Goodluck, and Waylon Wasson will not be charged in the 2023 shooting death of Robert Dotson, 52, following an investigation by The New Mexico Department of Justice. The investigation reportedly found that the officers, despite arriving at the wrong house for a domestic violence call leading to a confrontation with and subsequent death of Dotson, acted appropriately.

The story, reported by USA Today is complex, as indicated by a 34-page letter to San Juan County District Attorney Rick Tedrow detailing the investigation's findings. The New Mexico Dept. of Justice sought the expert opinion of Professor Seth Stoughton, a former police officer, tenured Professor at the University of South Carolina Joseph F. Rice School of Law, and a nationally recognized expert in police officer use of force. 

In the text of the letter, Deputy Attorney General Greer Staley writes that Stoughton found "Officers Daniel Estrada, Dylan Goodluck, and Waylon Wasson did not use excessive force when they discharged their weapons and shot Mr. Dotson."

The DA continued, "His analysis also found that Officers Estrada and Wasson did not use excessive force under the circumstances when they discharged their weapons towards Mrs. Dotson. Professor Stoughton recognized that the officers’ initial approach to the Dotson home, although they erroneously approached the wrong house, was reasonable, appropriate, and consistent with generally accepted police practices."


The narrative outlined a tragedy of errors. The officers proceeded to the wrong address on a domestic violence call and attempted to confirm the address, but the incorrect address was confirmed to them by dispatch. The officers knocked and announced themselves as shown in the bodyworn camera video. As officers attempted to sort out the error, one of them heard a firearm being racked on the opposite side of the door. The three officers illuminated the door and backed away.

"Dotson...opened the front door...and raised a firearm to a firing position at the officers while stepping out of the door," the letter said. It was over in seconds, according to the report, which continues, "As Mr. Dotson moved, officers said, 'Hey, hey. Hands up!' before they began firing at him. All three officers fired. Mr. Dotson was struck and fell. Immediately after, Ofc. Wasson communicated, via radio, 'Shots fired, shots fired.' The officers then communicated and tactically repositioned, communicating via radio that there was 'one down in the doorway.'

"Shortly thereafter, a woman, later identified as Kimberly Dotson, could be heard screaming in the house. Ofc. Wasson yelled out, 'Hands up.' Ofc. Estrada said quietly, 'Please don’t.'”

"A few seconds later, additional shots were fired; although not clear from the video, later statements from both Ms. Dotson and the officers indicate that Ms. Dotson fired at least twice; although Ms. Dotson later indicated that she believed she fired 'toward the ground.' Ofc. Wasson later stated that he 'felt the velocity and the "zip" of the round as it passed to the left of him.' Ofcs. Estrada and Wasson returned fire. Their shots did not strike Ms. Dotson."

Stoughton explained that though the officers did approach the wrong home, they did not "foreseeably create an unnecessary dangerous situation" by their mere presence. However, when Dotson raised his firearm into a firing position, aimed at the officers he presented "an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm to the officers, and all three reasonably fired their weapons, acting within the bounds of accepted police practices."

Attorneys representing the Dotson family filed a lawsuit in September seeking nonspecific damages and describing the shooting death of Robert Dotson as "unjustified but unintentional," according to USA Today. However, the lawsuit maintains the claim that the actions of the officers were "extreme and unreasonable."

Chief Steve Hebbe of the Farmington Police Department thanked the State Police following what he described as a thorough review and concurred publicly with the findings in support of his officers. But he did express sympathy for the family noting that the release of the report clearing the officers "makes it another tough day for them.”

Hebbe said he spoke to one of the three officers, without specifying which, and observed they were relieved by the State Justice Department's findings. He said he expected to reach the other two soon. He added, the officer and his family "have seen what’s happened in other communities around the country, so this comes as a welcome conclusion to the criminal portion of the investigation."

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