Farmington police announced a manhunt for La Plata County Jail escapee Elias Buck, who is suspected of shooting officer Joseph Barreto in Friday night.
Buck, 22, of Durango, escaped the La Plata County Jail on Dec. 27. He had been jailed on suspicion of auto theft.
Barreto, 25, was responding to a report about a possible drunken driver when he found Buck walking with a woman identified as 28-year-old Victoria “Rossi” Hernandez. The pair matched the report’s description of the vehicle’s occupants, according to a news release posted to Durango Police Department’s Facebook page.
When Barreto contacted Buck and Hernandez, Buck pulled a gun and shot Barreto before they fled, the Facebook announcement said.
The officer was taken to San Juan Regional Medical Center, where he was in stable condition and in good spirits, said Chief Steve Hebbe of the Farmington Police Department in a second Facebook video posted just after midnight Saturday.
At 5:24 p.m., La Plata County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Christ Burke issued a news release that says around 2 p.m. Saturday, the Sheriff’s Office received two tips that indicated Buck might have returned to La Plata County.
The Sheriff’s Office immediately opened an incident command and is working with Durango Police Department, Colorado State Patrol and the United States Marshal Service, in addition to other local law enforcement groups, to follow tips and catch Buck.
“As we did on January 6th, we would like to ask the public to please stay vigilant and report any sightings of Mr. Buck or Miss Rossi to 911 immediately,” the news release said.
Buck reportedly made statements that he “will not go back to jail.”
A Crime Stoppers reward is available for any information leading to the arrest of Buck, Burke said in the news release.
A multiple-agency manhunt for Buck started late Friday night and continued into Saturday afternoon. SWAT teams from Farmington Police Department, San Juan County Sheriff’s Office and New Mexico State Police were involved in the search, which spanned East 20th Street to East Main Street. A San Juan County Sheriff’s Office helicopter provided a bird’s-eye view from above and was accompanied by state police drones, the Facebook announcement said.
Authorities are still searching for Buck, and Farmington Police Department is seeking the public’s assistance in locating him.
The police department described Buck as 6-feet 1-inch tall and about 185 pounds with green eyes and blond hair.
“He is dangerous and known to be armed,” the post said. “We ask anyone with information about Buck’s whereabouts to immediately contact their local police department or dial 911.”
Hernandez is wanted as a “person of interest,” said Farmington police spokeswoman Nicole Brown.
“We are working closely with all of the Colorado agencies that were looking for him as well as the statewide agencies and the Colorado statewide agencies,” she said.
She said the police department wanted to alert the public to Buck’s wanted status and the danger he poses to law enforcement.
Brown said police are looking into several leads concerning Buck’s whereabouts.
In a video news release also posted on Facebook, Farmington City Manager Rob Mayes said Hebbe called him about the shooting around 11 p.m. Friday.
“It’s never a good thing when we get a call at night,” Mayes said.
Mayes said he immediately became worried that “the worst” had occurred and wished Barreto the best and a speedy recovery.
Buck scaled a fence behind the La Plata County Jail’s kitchen and escaped on foot on Dec. 27. He was discovered missing during a head count shortly after the escape.
He was in jail on suspicion of motor vehicular theft, a felony.
Hebbe said Buck faces at least a charge of aggravated assault of a police officer. Farmington police are investigating Buck’s recent criminal history and said depending on what he’s been convicted of, it could be possible that he faces a felony charge of possession of a firearm.
The police chief said New Mexico should have priority custody of Buck when he is apprehended because of the seriousness of the charges he likely would face.
“The fact that he nearly shot and killed our officer would give New Mexico charges priority,” Hebbe said. “But I can’t say that fully. I don’t know the circumstances of the robbery charge that he has up there.”
Colorado and New Mexico district attorneys likely will work out who has custody of Buck.
“We really will go after and find everybody that tried to help this guy or did help this guy escape,” Hebbe said. “We will make sure that this guy will face justice.
“I also want to point out that this guy (officer Barreto) is just a 25-year-old kid that is out here defending our community,” Hebbe said. “Investigating a DWI stop where the suspect has fled. He approaches the subject politely, introduces himself, lets him know what’s going on. And this guy pulls out a gun and shoots him. This cannot happen in our society.”
Brown said she could not speak to the nature of the wounded officer’s injuries but Barreto underwent surgery at San Juan Regional Medical Center on Saturday.
Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin told The Journal that law enforcement officers were alerted to the shooting and were looking for Buck in the area.
911 is the best way to notify authorities if someone comes into contact with Buck or knows of his whereabouts. The public should not risk approaching him. Buck is considered armed and dangerous.
“He was dangerous enough that he pulled a gun and shot a police officer,” Hebbe said. “Now he knows he shot a police officer.”