LOS LUNAS, N.M. (KRQE) – He did what he was told and got shot with rubber bullets anyway.
When an officer shoots an unarmed man, it’s usually something people hear about. Yet, it was only after KRQE News 13 started asking questions that the incident, which happened inside the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas, has come into public light.
KRQE News 13 has now obtained video and audio interviews about law enforcement’s “use-of-force” investigation that’s been kept under wraps for a year.
New Mexico State Police were called in to investigate the incident. Surveillance video from June 2016 captures what appears to be a corrections officer shooting an unarmed inmate who was inside his cell.
In the surveillance video, corrections officers are checking cell doors after they say they had problems with inmates pulling pins out of hinges, making doors easier to open.
As part of the use-of-force investigation, former Corrections Officer Bobby Mosteller’s interview with a New Mexico State Police investigator was recorded on audio. “I asked them to please remind the pod that if they open the doors tonight, they will be shot,” said Mosteller, recalling what he told his fellow officers that night.
Mosteller was assigned as the control center officer the night of the incident. “In the control center we have a less lethal shotgun where we carry bean bag rounds and rubber high velocity pellets,” said Mosteller in his interview with State Police.
Minutes into the surveillance video, a corrections officer can be seen opening one of the cell doors. Inmate Jesus Larrea, who’s serving time for armed robbery, puts on a shirt. Then, standing in the doorway of his own cell, Larrea is shot with a cluster of high velocity rubber bullets.
“I felt a little blood coming out of my neck,” Larrea recalled in an audio interview with investigators.
Mosteller fired that shot, but you can’t see the shooter on camera since he was farthest from the inmates in the control center and outside the camera’s view.
Mosteller told State Police investigators, “The inmate started cussing, he put his shirt on in an aggressive manner. I had officers mere feet away and I took the shot because I felt that their lives could be in danger.”
However, that’s where his story doesn’t add up.
“Did you yell out any commands prior to discharging your firearm?” the State Police investigator asked Mosteller.
“‘Close the door, or you’ll be shot,'” Mosteller responded.
“Was it the officer that opened the door though?” the State Police investigator asked.
It was a corrections officer who opened the door, which is visible on video.
“What I saw, he was a threat,” said Mosteller.
“And that’s why you discharged?” the investigator asked.
“That’s why I discharged the weapon,” Mosteller responded.
However, witnesses said it was Mosteller making the threats that evening, shouting that he’d shoot any inmate who left their cell. Witnesses said Larrea yelled back from inside his own cell. “I said, ‘I’m in 105 and you won’t do it,’ just messing around,” recalled Larrea.
When his door opened, Larrea said the officer had the shotgun pointed at him.
“He said, ‘Come out here so I can shoot you.’ I said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not coming out there,” Larrea told State Police. “I said ‘Go ahead and bust but I’m not coming out there. That’s dumb.’ And [Mosteller] said, ‘You guys got me on this right?’ Bam. And then he shot.”
The two officers closest to the exchange said Larrea did verbally taunt the officer.
“The inmate tells him, ‘Bust, bust then.’ The second time he says ‘bust’ that’s when the inmate gets shot,” explained Corrections Officer Nicholas Hernandez, who was standing near the inmate when the shot was fired.
However, Mosteller’s fellow officers on the floor went on to contradict his statement that, “[Larrea] put his shirt on in an aggressive manner.”
“We were right there,” said Corrections Officer Derrick Barela, who was near the inmate when the shot was fired. “We had no problem. When I advised him to put a shirt on, he said ‘Yes sir,’ put a shirt on. He was coming to the door,” said Barela.
“He was compliant?” asked the State Police investigator.
“Yeah, he was very compliant,” Barela responded.
The officer who opened the cell door agreed.
“You didn’t see a reason why he got shot?” State Police asked Hernandez, the corrections officer who was standing near the inmate.
“None,” officer Hernandez replied. “I mean it happened to a point to where we didn’t even know he already had the shotgun pointed at the inmate.”
Mosteller argued he had verbal permission from higher-ups to shoot in order to gain control of inmates. Mosteller also went on to say the prison is overcrowded and officers are overworked. According to a State Police report, however, an expert with the Department of Corrections stated, “The use of force in this incident was unjustified.”
New Mexico State Police forwarded the case file to the Valencia County District Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution in August 2016.
In January 2017, the DA’s office asked State Police for a second copy of the case file, saying they couldn’t locate the first one.
To this day no charges have been filed against the former Corrections Officer Bobby Mosteller.
KRQE News 13 tried to reach Mosteller without success.
No one from the Department of Corrections would go on camera, but the department sent the following statement via email:
We take the safety of our officers and inmates very seriously and overcrowding is not an issue in our prisons. The Central New Mexico Correctional Facility has 25 percent of inmate beds vacant with the statewide prison vacancy rate being at 11 percent. The New Mexico Corrections Department Adult Prison staff can utilize force if it is reasonable and is necessary to keep staff and other inmates safe. We use the minimum amount of force necessary to control the incident. Some examples of legitimate correctional objectives include prevention of escapes, prevention of injury to self or others, and to protect one’s self.
The department told KRQE News 13 that Mosteller no longer works as a corrections officer, but won’t say if he was fired.
Larrea is still serving time, but officers told State Police he’s not a troublemaker in prison.
“He shot me for no reason,” Larrea told investigators.
KRQE News 13 also followed up with the Valencia County District Attorney’s Office about this case. The DA’s office said it forwarded the case to the Gallup District Attorney’s Office on Monday due to a conflict of interest policy because the Valencia County DA won’t prosecute corrections officers in its own county.