Updated Nov. 16 at 2 p.m.
Taos County Sheriff’s deputies discovered a deceased Taos Pueblo man in a drainage ditch near the intersection of State Roads 518 and 68 in Ranchos de Taos on Saturday (Nov. 11) – days after the man's death and weeks after his family had alerted Taos Pueblo Tribal Police that he had not been seen.
According to a press release from the sheriff’s office, which Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe later clarified in interviews, the deceased, Shane Martinez, 54, had been laying “face down” in the shallow ditch for “several days” in a “wooded area that gave concealment to the body.”
Martinez was found about three weeks after his family had alerted Taos Tribal Police to keep an eye out for him.
Taos Tribal Police Chief Gary Lefthand said Martinez was a “wanderer” known to travel as far south as Albuquerque and was known to sometimes disappear for weeks at a time and reappear at various locations.
Once deputies determined that the man was deceased on Saturday, medics were called away from the scene, according to Taos Emergency Services Director Joaquin González. “We never made patient contact,” he said.
Members of Taos Volunteer Fire Department assisted deputies in recovering the body. Deputies then conducted an “at scene” investigation, which allowed them to determine the man’s name and date of birth.
Hogrefe said that Sergeant Gilbert Atencio then queried Martinez through NCIC and discovered that the man had been reported missing on Oct. 20. “At that moment he learned Martinez was listed as a missing person from Tribal [Police Department],” Hogrefe said, and later added, “I do not know if a radio broadcast or other notice went out. That is a question for Chief Lefthand.”
Lefthand said this week that his agency had only requested that Taos Central Dispatch alert law enforcement to keep an eye out for Martinez, and conduct a welfare check if he were spotted. Due to an unspecified miscommunication, Lefthand said that dispatch instead entered Martinez into the National Crime Information Center database, where “missing persons” notifications are generally housed.
Information regarding that entry, however, did not reach all Taos County law enforcement prior to Nov. 11, according to Taos Police Chief David Trujillo. “They did not share any information with us about him missing,” Trujillo said. “After asking officers and looking in our database, there were no reports of Mr. Martinez missing.” Trujillo reiterated a second time on Wednesday that upon checking the NCIC database, as well as his department’s Computer Aided Dispatch system, he could not find either an alert to keep and eye out for Martinez or that he was missing. “This is a sad, sad situation,” he said.
Lt. Elizabeth Armijo, Public Information Officer with New Mexico State Police, said that a report might not always be shared with other law enforcement agencies under the circumstances. Armijo did not respond with the results of her own query into the existence of the report or any other alert that might have been available to state police as of press time Wednesday (Nov. 15).
The Office of the Medical Investigator was called in to retrieve the body and determine cause of death on Saturday.
The results of the investigation are stilling pending.
Lefthand said that when he last saw Martinez, who was known among tribal members, he reminded him of the Taos Pueblo way of living, “to be strong.”