Former Texas officer indicted for fatally shooting man during traffic stop

By Erica Molina Johnson
El Paso Times

EL PASO, Texas — Wednesday's indictment of ex-deputy constable Mario Ramos on aggravated assault charges from an Aug. 18 shooting was the culmination of an investigative effort of law enforcement agencies and the district attorney's office.

Ramos allegedly assaulted Juan Antonio Ortegon during a traffic stop that turned into a car and foot chase.

Ramos told officials at the time that the shooting occurred when Ortegon appeared to reach for a weapon, but Ortegon's family has maintained that he was instead trying to surrender.

Although law enforcement officers such as Ramos are trained to use their weapons, instances of them firing at a suspect are not very common.

According to El Paso Times archives and law enforcement agency records, there were four officer-involved shootings in 2008 in which a person was wounded or killed.

In addition to investigation by law enforcement, the district attorney's office also investigates each incident and presents them to a grand jury to decide whether to indict, office spokeswoman Renee Railey said.

District Attorney Jaime Esparza said he takes every instance of an officer-involved shooting before a grand jury, regardless of the officer's agency.

"The use of deadly force by law enforcement should always be reviewed," he said, adding that it is not a sign that he lacks faith in law enforcement. "The use of deadly force is such an extreme step by law enforcement that a grand jury should review the conduct and ensure the use of deadly force was proper under the circumstances."

Sheriff's Office spokesman Deputy Jesse Tovar said all deputies receive marksmanship training and training in real world-type scenarios.

"We will draw our weapons when absolutely necessary," he said.

Shootings during such incidents rarely occur, but officers sometimes have to pull the trigger, Tovar said.

"Our deputies are trained to not point your gun at something you do not intend to destroy," he said. "It's going to be a matter of survival."

Officer Dustin Liston, an instructor at the police training academy, said officers receive extensive training in the use of lethal and non-lethal force.

"Officers can use deadly force in the immediate defense of life, whether it be their own or someone else's," he said.

Liston said officers receive 80 hours of firearms training and at least a week's worth of training in non-lethal force in the academy.

He said lethal force sometimes is unavoidable.

"You don't bring a beanbag to a gunfight," he said.

In addition to the Ramos incident, there have been three other officer-involved shootings in 2008.

El Paso police Officer Matthew Jones was cleared by a grand jury in October of any wrongdoing in connection with the June 13 fatal shooting of a man who was armed with what turned out to be a altered toy gun.

Gregory T. Smith was shot 11 times after he took the toy gun in his hand when Jones tried to arrest him on a theft warrant at the Coronado Motel on the West Side.

Officers Edwin Mayorga and Rodolfo Moreno were involved in the fatal shooting of John Dalton Martinez on March 29 after Martinez allegedly shot and wounded another man in the Lucky Star Food Market in Central El Paso.

A grand jury also declined to indict Mayorga and Moreno and they face no criminal charges from the incident.

A review of a Dec. 11 shooting involving Officer Daisy Collins is pending. The incident occurred on the 5200 block of Beautonne Avenue when Efrain Velasquez allegedly attacked a second police officer with a knife, slashing his face. The officers were responding to a subject with a knife call.

Velasquez was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

The review of the shooting involving Collins likely will not be completed until sometime in 2009.

Copyright 2008 El Paso Times

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