Depending on who you ask, the late-night shooting that killed Robert Dotson was either a “justified” use of force by New Mexico police or a “murderous” act by officers who responded to the wrong house.
Attorneys for both sides have given dueling narratives of what happened around 11:30 p.m. April 5, when three Farmington police officers responded to the incorrect address for a domestic violence call.
Police bodycam footage shows officers standing outside the front door of Dotson’s home, asking a dispatcher to confirm the house number.
After no one answers the door, police start walking away. Dotson, 52, answers the door with a gun in his hand, and all three officers open fire, police said.
Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said he believes Dotson aimed his weapon at police.
“I am just heartbroken. … Mr. Dotson was not the subject of this call,” Hebbe said in a video posted on Facebook. “This ending is just unbelievably tragic. I’m extremely sorry that we’re in this position.”
What the family’s attorney says
Attorneys representing Dotson’s family are disputing claims made by the Farmington Police Department, such as whether Dotson had pointed a gun at officers.
“FPD released a ridiculously false narrative intended and designed to shift focus away from the murderous actions of the officers and to blame Robbie,” attorneys Mark Reichel and Shon Northam said in a written statement. “The FPD’s false narrative easily is debunked and disproved simply by reviewing the body camera footage and Ring camera footage.”
The neighborhood was dark when police arrived, and dispatch gave officers both the correct house number – 5308 – as well as a photo of the correct house, the attorneys said.
But the officers went to the wrong house – 5305 – and knocked on the door. “Their announcement was not loud,” the Dotson family attorneys said.
After no one answered the door, an officer asked dispatch to call the house to talk with the residents – but “no phone is heard ringing; no sound is heard at all,” the attorneys said.
The police bodycam footage shows an officer walking away from the front porch when Dotson, armed with a gun, opens the door.
“There is no announcement of ‘POLICE’ despite more than ample time. And that is obviously crucial,” his family’s attorneys said in the statement. “Wrong address. Late at night. The Dotson’s never called the police.”
The officers’ encounter with Dotson happened quickly, and it can be difficult to decipher everything that happened in those few seconds.
According to Dotson’s family attorneys, a “freeze frame of the tape shows Robbie holding the gun, and not pointing it at the officers. Rather, the gun is clearly pointed down at the ground.”
“The facts of this crime committed by the officers will not go away and neither will the community and the family’s joint pursuit of Justice for Robbie,” Reichel and Northam wrote.
What the officers’ attorney says
An attorney representing the three police officers claims the officers were “justified” in their actions.
After Dotson was shot, his wife came to the front of the house, also with a gun. The video shows shots being fired, but she was not injured.
“Mr. Dotson’s death was a tragedy, and our hearts go out to his family and loved ones,” said attorney Luis Robles, who is representing the officers. “However, it is important to remember that no one forced Mr. and Mrs. Dotson to point guns at the officers.”
After no one answered their knocks on the door, police officers asked a dispatcher for clarity on the address and to call the person who reported the incident and ask them to come to the front door, authorities said.
After several knocks, Dotson opened the door of his home while armed with a handgun. Three officers opened fire, killing Dotson at the scene, according to New Mexico State Police, citing body camera footage.
The three officers involved have been placed on administrative leave.
“The officers were clearly visible, calmly announced themselves multiple times, and did nothing to suggest that they were trying to force their way into the Dotsons’ home,” Robles said.
“There could be no doubt that they were police,” he said. “And yet Mr. and Mrs. Dotson made an incomprehensible decision that put themselves and these officers in grave danger. The officers’ actions were justified, and I stand by their decision to use deadly force.”
CNN’s Sara Smart, Rebekah Riess, Aya Elamroussi and Josh Campbell contributed to this report.