Public safety expert speaks on shooting involving off-duty SJC sheriff

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FARMINGTON, N.M. — Charges have been filed after a San Juan County sheriff made a traffic stop while off duty that ended with a dog being shot and killed. The charges are against the driver of the car the sheriff pulled over. 

42-year-old Jaime Nino is charged with several traffic violations, as well as aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after a video shows him wielding a pipe.

KOB spoke with our public safety expert on what the footage reveals, not only about the driver, but how the sheriff handled the situation.

Retired APD commander Paul Szych says a lot goes through an officer mind when they see erratic behavior on the road.

“‘Is it just an irate driver, is it just someone upset, or is it someone in a medical episode?’” said Szych. 

Szych added that when an officer spots reckless driving, they are obligated to do something, whether they are on duty or off.

“Law enforcement officers are on duty even when they are off-duty,” Szych said. “Apparently it arose to the level that the officer felt a need to get involved.”

As the video shows, the Sheriff follows the car to a nearby parking lot, where things got tense quickly.

“It very much looked like the person in the car waited for the officer to show up and exited the vehicle, and what has to be viewed as a very aggressive manner in which could have easily put that officer in reasonable apprehension of an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon,” said Szych. 

Szych said during this moment all the sheriffs can do is react.

“These types of events we try to avoid them, we try to not take immediate action when your off-duty- we attempt that by calling uniform officers by calling for back up,” Szych said. 

And you have to make a decision in a matter of seconds.

“But when things occur rapidly, and they progress rapidly you always don’t have the time to wait for back up,” Szych added.

And to make matters worse, this is what followed.

“The dog exits the vehicle, and as a dog owner myself, it just absolutely broke my heart to see that officer need to shoot that dog,” Szych said. “You’re not really left with a lot of great options at that point. Sure, you can jump in your truck and back out of there and attempt to leave, but the reality is the officer has a right to defend himself.”

Szych says it is lawful and within the scope of duties for an off-duty law enforcement officer to attempt to make contact with a reckless driver.