New Mexico State Police has opened an investigation into an officer-involved shooting that took place Monday afternoon (Aug. 28) at Fred Baca Park in Taos.
Interim Taos Police Chief David Maggio confirmed that an officer from his department fired the bullet that critically wounded 20-year-old Ranchos de Taos resident Elizabeth Maestas. “One person has been wounded and a second was taken into custody,” Maggio said as he was still clearing the scene on Monday.
Maestas was wounded in the lower abdomen and was taken by ambulance to Holy Cross Hospital, where she was stabilized and transported to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque. In an update received on Tuesday (Aug. 29), the victim’s godmother, Pam Maestas, said that her goddaughter had undergone surgery to remove her spleen, but was in “stable condition.”
Police arrested Requildo E. Cardenas, 36, at the scene following the shooting. Cardenas had been wanted on a warrant for missing a probation hearing.
Police are withholding certain details of the shooting – including the identity of the officer who fired his weapon – due to the ongoing investigation.
The shooting occurred after New Mexico Adult Probation and Parole officers on Monday afternoon had been tracking a teal-colored Saturn sedan, which they initially believed was driven by parole absconder Jude Salazar. When the officers followed the vehicle into the park, however, they looked through the vehicle’s windshield and discovered Cardenas behind the wheel and a young woman who rode in the passenger seat, later identified as Maestas.
Frank Oatman, an ex-military police officer and one of several visitors to the park on Monday, was sitting at a bench in the park when the sun-scorched teal sedan Cardenas was driving rolled into the north side parking lot. Oatman did not notice the vehicle pull in, but did see a law enforcement vehicle arrive, which was followed by another.
Uniformed officers stepped out of the vehicles. “Stop. Get out. Put your hands up. Get Out,” Oatman heard them yell to the driver.
Cardenas did not comply, Oatman said, and instead moved forward "slightly" and then reversed. Two loud pops then rang out across the park, Oatman said. He quickly took cover behind a tree as the passenger of the vehicle started screaming.
According to a state police press release, Cardenas reversed into a vehicle behind him and then drove forward into a parole officer’s vehicle, nearly striking a parole officer who had to leap out of the way. “Cardenas nearly ran over an APPO officer attempting to get out of the way,” the press release states. “The officer had to take evasive action and jump out of the way, falling to the ground. During this time, the [Taos Police Department] officer fired into the Saturn to stop the actions of Cardenas.”
“A round fired by the [Taos Police Department] officer struck Elizabeth Maestas,” the press release continues. “After Maestas was struck, Cardenas surrendered and was taken into custody.”
New Mexico State Police and Taos County sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene to provide support and took witness statements from Oatman and other visitors. Meanwhile, members of Taos Volunteer Fire Department blockaded the intersections along Camino del Medio as an ambulance arrived and took Maestas to the hospital.
Oatman and other visitors at the park on Monday witnessed one of only a handful of officer-involved shootings to take place in Taos over the last 10 years.
As per standard protocol, the Taos police officer who fired the shots was immediately placed on administrative leave. Taos Police Department will conduct an interdepartmental investigation into the shooting separate from the state police investigation.
A search of online court records revealed that Maestas had no apparent criminal history and family members said they were unaware of what connection, if any, she had to Cardenas.
In 2012, Cardenas, who is from Des Montes, was accused of shooting and killing a 22-year-old Taos Pueblo man, Matthew Lujan. According to court records, Lujan had been seen banging on Cardenas’ front door late at night on July 5, 2012. Cardenas claimed that he had demanded to know who was on the other side of the door. When he allegedly received no response and the banging continued, Cardenas allegedly armed himself with an AK-47 assault rifle and fired through the door, hitting Lujan in the head and killing him.
In a July 2013 district court trial before Judge Sarah Backus, Cardenas was found not guilty of second-degree murder, but jurors did not reach a verdict on the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. Backus declared a mistrial and the case returned to court two months later, when Cardenas was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison, followed by seven years of supervised release.
Cardenas was granted parole after serving approximately 2 1/2 years in prison.
In 2016, the guilty verdict on the 2012 case was overturned by the New Mexico Court of Appeals based on the theory that Backus had wrongly interpreted New Mexico “home defense law.”
In April of this year, Cardenas pleaded no contest to a new charge of involuntary manslaughter. Sentencing was deferred for 18 months of probation, and Cardenas absconded on Aug. 22 after missing an appointment with his probation officer.
A motion was subsequently filed to revoke Cardenas’ probation and the district court bench warrant that led to Monday’s arrest was issued.
The names of the officers involved in Monday’s events will not be revealed until interviews have been conducted, according to the state police press release. Once the investigation is completed, it will be sent to a district attorney for review.
Eighth Judicial District Attorney Donald Gallegos said that additional charges for Cardenas are currently being processed by state police and will likely be released later this week.
Correction: A prior version of this story incorrectly reported a witness statement provided by Frank Oatman, stating that he had seen the Saturn pulling into Fred Baca Park when he was "lounging in the grass." The movements the suspect made with the vehicle were also out of order. We regret this error, which has since been updated in the story.