Earlier this month, a Los Lunas man who family members say suffers from bipolar disorder was shot twice in his living room by a Valencia County Sheriff’s Deputy. 26-year-old Nathan Felts was shot in the face and shoulder after he allegedly lunged toward the deputy in a threatening manner. Law enforcement officers who were on the scene claim Felts told police he had a shotgun and was bringing the weapon into the room immediately before he was shot. His family claims the man was instead holding a baseball bat.
According to Felts’ sister, Amber Ocana, Felts was suicidal at the time of the incident. Earlier in the day, he reportedly tried to hang himself from a tree. Valencia County Sheriff’s Deputies claim the man attempted to blow his home up by turning on a natural gas pipe inside the house. When officers arrived at Felts’ house, they smelled natural gas and had the gas meter turned off before entering the premises.
Ocana believes police acted improperly and used excessive force on Felts. She stated that although Felts needs medical assistance for his mental stability, the shooting was not warranted. Ocana also expressed concern that police did not attempt to use other, nonlethal means such as police-issued stun guns to control her brother. She believes Felts needs the assistance of doctors instead of being arrested and placed in a jail cell.
Following the shooting, Felts was treated at the University of New Mexico Hospital where he underwent surgery for his wounds. The Sheriff’s Deputy who shot Felts, David Hill, was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation by state police to determine whether the shooting was justified. Investigators would not say whether Felts was in fact armed with a baseball bat as his family claims.
Law enforcement officers are expected to use force in certain circumstances. Because of this, police are granted qualified immunity when they are acting in good faith and engaged in their official duties. If a plaintiff can demonstrate an officer’s conduct was out of bounds, however, the presumption of qualified immunity may be overcome.
Here, Felts may have a claim against local law enforcement for violating of his constitutional rights. A federal civil rights law, 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 allows United States citizens to sue officers of the law for violating the Fourth Amendment’s protection against the use of excessive force. Felts may also have a civil claim against the officer who shot him. If you believe a police officer used excessive force on you or a loved one, you should contact a qualified personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after the incident.