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Farmington police officers’ attorney addresses Second Amendment issues

Right to defend self, family versus property will be a factor in officers’ defense
Luis Robles, attorney for the Dotson family, cited U.S. Supreme Court decisions that differentiate between the right to defend self or family and defending property or items when discussing the defense of officers involved in the April 5 shooting death of Robert Dotson. (Still image from the Dotsons’ Ring camera footage)

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state; the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The amendment as written allows people to keep guns and to use guns to protect themselves and their loved ones; however, it does not allow individuals to shoot trespassers.

This was one of the arguments coming from Albuquerque-based attorney Luis Robles, who is representing the three Farmington Police Department officers involved in the April 5 shooting death of Robert Dotson.

The officers went to the wrong address on a domestic violence call for service. The address from dispatch was 5308 Valley View Ave. They responded to 5305 Valley View, which was Dotsons’ home. Dotson came to the door with a gun, and the officers fired their weapons, killing him.

Shon Northam, attorney for Dotson’s family, previously said the police officers “had no business” being at the Dotson home. He further said the officers “were trespassing and breaking the law when they entered onto the Dotson property.”

Robles referred to it as the “fundamental misunderstanding” of the Second Amendment.

“You can protect yourself and the people in your home, but you can’t protect your property,” he said.

“Folks think they have unfettered rights,” Robles said. “Rights have limits. License is the ability to do whatever you want. When people think they have a right, they think they have a license that they can do no wrong.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has handled cases dealing with individuals entering a person’s property or even stealing a person’s property, and Robles said the court made it clear:

“You can protect the people in your life from immediate serious bodily harm, but you can’t protect your stuff from being stolen by shooting people dead,” he said.

Robles’ argument hinges on the belief that police officers Waylon Wasson, Daniel Estrada and Dylan Goodluck went to the Dotson home by mistake but were leaving when Dotson opened his door and raised a handgun. The Dotsons’ Ring video camera showed this happening about midnight April 5. It also showed that the officers realized they were at the wrong house then shows them backing away.

The question has been raised by Northam as to how the three police officers ended up at the wrong house, and why they approached the wrong house, when Officer Goodluck could be heard in the police vehicle saying the address for the domestic violence call was on the left across the street from the Dotsons at 5308 Valley View.

“The trainee, Officer Goodluck, was not in the vehicle with Officer Wasson. Officer Goodluck was in a vehicle with Officer Estrada. Officer Wasson used his mobile data terminal’s mapping system,” Robles said. “The image that he had on his terminal put the pin on the side of the street and the location of the Dotsons’ house. The pin was not where the call was.”

Luis Robles argues that the difference between defending self and family and defending property will play a part in determining culpability in the shooting death of Robert Dotson. (Courtesy)

It was an “overreliance on technology” that led the officers to the wrong home that night. Goodluck, who once worked as a Domino’s Pizza deliveryman, was on his phone, using Google maps to find 5308 Valley View, but he followed Wasson to 5305 Valley View, the wrong house. “Officer Goodluck relied on Officer Wasson because he was a trainee,” Robles said.

“It was not as if Wasson showed up at the wrong house – technology took him there,” Robles said. “They realized they were at the wrong house, and they were going to leave.”

When asked about the mapping system discrepancy experienced by the officers and the issue may be avoided in the future, FPD spokeswoman Shanice Gonzales said the department was still investigating.

“While the state investigation is ongoing, we are conducting our internal investigation,” she said. “We are aware of the mapping system discrepancy, and once the investigation is complete, we will analyze the facts of this case. We are too early in our investigation to comment on what measures may be taken.”

Robles, who has handled hundreds of police-involved shooting cases, said officers go to the wrong address more often than people realize.

This has become more prevalent with the growing reliance on cellular phones. According to Robles, AT&T and Verizon have said not to rely on their pinging signals.

“They are not a reliable way of knowing in real time where a cellphone is,” Robles said.

Robles questioned why Dotson did not look at his Ring camera footage or out his front window before opening the door with a gun.

“Those blinds are open – someone can look out and see what is going on out there – the most old-school way of looking out his window to see who is at the front door,” Robles said. “If the Domino’s delivery person got a call and showed up at the Dotsons’ address – does this society want Mr. Dotson pointing a gun at the pizza delivery person, because he went to the wrong house? You don’t get to point a gun at these people because they made the mistake at knocking at the wrong door.”

Robert Dotson’s home at 5305 Valley View Ave. Farmington police mistakenly went to Dotson’s home instead of the dispatched address across the street, and in an encounter about midnight April 5, fatally shot him. (Debra Mayeux/The Journal)

The New Mexico State Police department is investigating the officer-involved shooting.

“This investigation remains active and is being led by the New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau,” said New Mexico State Police Lt. Mark Soriano, public information officer. “At the completion of the investigation, all of the reports and evidence will be submitted to the New Mexico attorney general for their review.”