Updated: Dec. 5, 10:20 p.m.
Peñasco, NM – New Mexico State Police are investigating an officer-involved shooting that left an alleged gunman dead at a residence on Santa Barbara Road Saturday morning (Nov. 25).
A state police officer and a Taos County Sheriff’s deputy fired shots during a standoff with the suspect, killing 39-year-old Nelson F. Rodarte, who was allegedly armed with a .30-30 rifle and a revolver on the roof of a double-wide trailer, according to a state police press release.
Both the state police officer, named on Tuesday (Dec. 5) as Officer Anthony Perez, and the deputy, whom Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe identified earlier as Deputy Shana McTague, were placed on paid administrative leave following the fatal shooting. Hogrefe said that McTague and Deputy Elias Montoya, who was also on the scene when the shots were fired, would be reinstated to “regular duty” as of Wednesday (Nov. 29).
Investigators quickly unfurled yellow tape around the perimeter of the crime scene Saturday morning, where family members of the alleged gunman and neighbors would gather later in the day to search for answers.
The standoff began before 9 a.m. in this small neighborhood on the east side of Peñasco, where an alleged domestic disturbance between Rodarte and his girlfriend started on Friday night and continued into the early hours of the morning on Saturday.
Based on a later interview, police learned that Rodarte had allegedly been intoxicated Friday evening and began to harass his girlfriend at a residence in the area – an incident that escalated to Rodarte allegedly battering the woman and pointing a rifle at her, the press release states. The alleged victim, who has not been identified, left the residence and sought safety at a relative’s house nearby.
The incident resumed around 6 a.m. Saturday morning, when Rodarte allegedly went to the residence, started harassing the woman’s relatives and refused to leave the property.
Taos County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a report of the disturbance. The press release states that the deputies “were aware Mr. Rodarte had multiple outstanding warrants for his arrest,” but did not list Rodarte’s charges. They called for backup, and a state police sergeant, who lives in Dixon, was the first to answer.
Law enforcement arrived at the residence on Santa Barbara Road around 8 a.m. and attempted to confront Rodarte, who responded by barricading himself inside a double-wide trailer. Law enforcement says that Rodarte did not respond to verbal commands to come out of the dwelling, and so the deputies entered the residence as the state police sergeant waited outside and a second officer arrived at the scene.
The deputies encountered Rodarte ensconced in a bedroom inside the trailer, allegedly armed with a rifle. They backed away and set up a perimeter around the property, according to New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas.
Rodarte, then allegedly armed with both the rifle as well as a revolver, made his way onto the roof of the trailer and laid down on his belly. Due to the man’s elevated position, Kassetas said the officers and deputies were at a disadvantage, putting law enforcement on edge. “It was a very dangerous situation,” he said.
“Commands were shouted for Mr. Rodarte to drop the rifle but he refused to comply,” the press release states.
At some point during the standoff, the man allegedly went to one knee, shouldered the rifle and aimed, Kassetas said. The state police officer and one of the deputies fired the fatal shots almost simultaneously, with McTague firing one shot from her .223-caliber rifle, Hogrefe said, and the officer firing an unknown number of shots.
Medics arrived on the scene and made their way with law enforcement to the roof of the trailer, where they found Rodarte deceased, still holding the rifle in his hands and with the loaded revolver in his pocket.
State police investigators arrived later in the morning as deputies blocked traffic along the roadway. Not more than a block away, the man’s body could still be seen, then covered by a sheet on the roof of the trailer.
Neither Kassetas nor Hogrefe knew if Rodarte ever fired a round during the standoff, but both maintain that their law enforcement personnel found themselves in a situation that may have justified the use of lethal force.
According to Lt. Elizabeth Maestas, state police public information officer, none of the officers or deputies were injured during the event.
State police said in a press release that a press conference would be held Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at the Carson National Forest Camino Real Ranger District Office in Peñasco.
Those plans abruptly changed, however, when officials chose to reschedule and relocate the conference to Santa Barbara Road, not far from the residence where the shooting took place and where deputies had blocked the roadway.
While waiting at the ranger station for a conference that would happen elsewhere, a cousin of Rodarte, Andrea Griego, said that the Rodarte may have been struggling with depression. “I think that ... I think that life took over,” she said. “I think all the sadness that he felt took over him.”
Griego said that Rodarte was an electrician, who loved his family. “I want people to know that he was a good person,” Griego said. “Whatever happened today wasn’t him. Something took over him. He’s not the type of person that would hurt anyone. He loved people ... “
Rodarte is survived by a young daughter.
State police eventually sent officials to provide information to the family, but are still leaving out many details as the investigation into the officer-involved shooting is ongoing.
Several neighbors were in the area at the time of the shooting. Some heard gunshots that morning. Others said that Rodarte seemed to be a good person. All had gathered on Santa Barbara Road on Saturday to find out what had happened in this otherwise quiet high valley village 30 minutes southeast of Taos.
State police have yet to release any additional information regarding the officer-involved shooting. The Taos News has submitted a request for video and audio captured during the event.
This is a developing story. For more information, check back here at taosnews.com and pick up a copy of the Nov. 30 edition of The Taos News.