A Tennessee woman arrested after leading police officers on a high-speed chase through Talpa in a minivan with her five children last month appeared in court Tuesday (Nov. 12) for arraignment on a grand jury indictment.
Oriana Ferrell will face charges of intentional abuse of a child, aggravated fleeing of a law enforcement officer and possession of drug paraphernalia following the Oct. 28 pursuit.
The attorney representing Ferrell, however, suggested during her arraignment that the case would “go nowhere” and argued that law enforcement officers were the ones who had endangered the defendant’s children when they fired on her vehicle in an attempt to stop the minivan.
“There was no reason at all to chase her down,” lawyer Alan Maestas told Eighth Judicial District Judge Jeff McElroy, referring to the pursuit that began when Ferrell allegedly drove away from a New Mexico State Police officer during a traffic stop.
An officer stopped her on State Road 518 near Talpa for driving in excess of the speed limit, according to a statement of probable cause filed in Taos Magistrate Court.
After being issued the citation, the officer wrote that Ferrell proceeded to drive north in her Kia Sedona minivan after declining to pay the fine or return to Taos to contest it before a judge.
The officer followed the 39-year-old Memphis resident for about one half-mile at which point she pulled to the side of the road. A struggle ensued, the officer wrote, as he attempted to remove Ferrell from the vehicle and was confronted by her 14-year-old son.
Two other officers arrived, according to court documents, and the family locked themselves inside the vehicle. The arresting officer wrote that he smashed the passenger side window with his baton before Ferrell drove away again. A colleague fired three rounds at the rear tires “in an attempt to keep the vehicle from leaving,” he wrote.
The officers pursued Ferrell down State Highway 518 before turning north on State Highway 68 and proceeding at speeds of up to 100 mph, according to court documents.
Ferrell brought the minivan to a halt in front of the main entrance to Hotel Don Fernando, the arresting officer wrote. Ferrell and her 14-year-old son were then arrested at gunpoint without incident.
The four other children in the vehicle were taken into custody by the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.
The youths ranging in age from six to 18 were placed in the care of a family known to Ferrell, according to state police.
In court Tuesday, Judge McElroy said he reviewed a portion of video footage from the pursuit when considering the release of Ferrell’s son who is now free. The judge described the footage as disturbing and puzzling.
“The court is concerned about the nature of these charges,” he said. “It’s a bit of a mystery.”
Maestas, however, suggested Ferrell was acting out of fear for the safety of her children when she drove away from law enforcement officers.
“She was flat-out scared that something was going to happen to her children,” he told the court. “We ought to talk about the stupidity and recklessness of shooting at a car that has five children in it.”
“If someone ought to be charged with child abuse, it ought to be the New Mexico State Police,” Maestas added.
Maestas also dismissed what he described as a firearm recovered from Ferrell’s vehicle as having been planted by law enforcement officers. “I take the weapon to be a plant used to justify some of the stupidity here,” he said.
State police, however, said that only a toy gun was found inside the minivan and no firearms charges have been filed against the defendant.
Deputy district attorney Emilio Chávez countered that Ferrell had little reason to flee during the traffic stop.
“The chase was not precipitated, as Mr. Maestas alleged, because she was just scared,” the prosecutor said.
Chávez argued that Ferrell’s release from Taos County Adult Detention Center should require a $10,000 bond with 10 percent to the court, a waiver of extradition and requirements that she undergo regular drug screening and maintain residency in New Mexico, citing prior arrests for driving while intoxicated as well as the discovery of what appeared to be two marijuana pipes at the time of her arrest. He added that she should be prohibited from discussing the incident with her children, noting that they may serve as witnesses at trial.
Maestas requested a $10,000 unsecured bond and said his only objection was to stipulations requiring drug screening.
He disputed the two prior arrests for driving while intoxicated in other jurisdictions and presented a dozen letters from ministers, neighbors and others attesting to her character.
Addressing the judge, Ferrell also insisted she had never been convicted of driving while intoxicated.
“I do plan to stay here,” she added. Maestas noted that Ferrell hoped to live in Pecos or Santa Fe while contesting the charges against her.
“I cannot imagine someone going on the lam with five kids,” the defense attorney said.
Maestas added that state officials were planning to send Ferrell’s children to their father in Atlanta if she remained at the detention center. “This trip was supposed to be part of an educational experience for her kids who are home schooled,” he said.
“These kids just want to stay together and sending them to dad isn’t the answer,” Maestas added, suggesting that their father was abusive.
The judge agreed to release Ferrell on a $10,000 unsecured bond and rejected the state’s suggestion that she submit to regular drug screening.
“The nature of the charges did not appear to involve alcohol or drugs,” McElroy said.
The case was scheduled for a jury trial on April 21.