Watch N.M. Deputies Stop Accused Cop Killer Trying to Flee on Trampoline

April 17, 2024
Bernalillo County sheriff's deputies shot and wounded the man accused of killing New Mexico State Police Officer Justin Hare after the suspect tried to use a trampoline to escape capture.

By Matthew Reisen

Source Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

Alleged cop killer Jaremy Smith jumped wall after wall to escape deputies on the West Side last month. Then, he finally came to one too high for hops.

So the 35-year-old South Carolina man used a conveniently placed backyard trampoline to try and vault it.

And, while Smith bounced again and again, Lt. Nicholas Marrujo fired at him. But Smith made it over the wall and kept running — until Marrujo and deputy Robert Lowe let off a second volley of gunfire that stopped him.


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The incident was one of three shootings involving deputies, two on March 17 and one on Feb. 27, that the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office detailed in a briefing Tuesday.

Another involved deputy Dominic Szabo who, in the midst of training a new recruit, accidentally fired his gun toward two men in a Mustang.

The third saw deputies Joshua Mora and Ian Dunbar firing at an armed man as he ran through the hallway of a hotel, just before he was caught trying to steal a deputy's vehicle.

Smith was treated in a hospital and has since been federally charged in the death of New Mexico State Police officer Justin Hare. Nobody was injured in the other shootings, which led to Lupe Vargas, 40, and Devan Cooke, 27, being arrested on felony charges.

It's unclear if Smith or Vargas ever pointed a gun at deputies.

"It's our responsibility to make sure everybody's aware in the public, and educate them: We don't need to wait for him to point a firearm at us," BCSO Sheriff John Allen said when asked. "We can go to numerous case laws in reference to a violent fleeing felon at that time."

BCSO Chief Deputy Nicholas Huffmyer gave a play-by-play of each incident, sharing video and evidence photos.

'You Jaremy?'

Smith had been the target of a manhunt for around 48 hours when a call came into dispatch.

"When I looked at his ID ... his first name was Jaremy, his ID came from South Carolina," a nervous gas station attendant told dispatch on the morning of March 17. "It looked just like the guy that shot that officer, the State Police officer."

The dispatcher asked, "And how long ago was this?" She replied, "Less than five minutes ago."

Huffmyer said deputies flooded the area around Coors and Blake and, 40 minutes later, found Smith in a neighborhood to the southwest.

"I can't say enough good things about the way our deputies handled the situation. Their tactics, their professionalism," Huffmyer said. "He's only alive because we rendered aid to him at the scene."

Lt. Marrujo's lapel video shows he first spotted Smith in the mesa near the 8400 block of Zydecko and yelled, "Hey bro, come here." A foot chase ensues and the wall-hopping begins, with Marrujo peeking over walls first in case Smith was lying in wait.

Marrujo meets deputy Lowe and they track Smith through backyards together. Marrujo approaches a wall and yells "Stop!" but a wall blocks the camera.

Huffmyer said this is when Marrujo spotted Smith "attempting to use the trampoline to jump and vault over" a 10-foot retaining wall. Lapel video shows Marrujo firing four shots over the wall in a slow, rhythmic, manner while Smith is bouncing on the trampoline.

Marrujo is seen hopping two more walls and the trampoline is visible with Smith nowhere in sight. He regroups with Lowe and they follow Smith's direction when a neighbor warns them that he's lying against the wall.

Lapel video shows Smith getting to his feet as deputies yell for him to stop. Both deputies fire at Smith and he falls to the ground.

Smith screams as deputies tell him not to look at them or move.

"You Jaremy? Or whatever the (expletive) your name is," Marrujo says before pulling Smith's license out of his wallet and reading his full name aloud.

Another deputy's lapel video showed Smith throwing a gun over the wall before he was shot. The Taurus 9mm handgun, according to authorities, was used to kill a woman in South Carolina and officer Hare.

Huffmyer said Marrujo has been with BCSO for 13 years and, according to Journal reporting, he fatally shot a man in a 2015 incident. He said deputy Lowe has been with BCSO for more than seven years.

Suspicious car, accidental gunfire

Several hours after Smith's capture, around 2:30 p.m., deputies responded to a suspicious vehicle blocking a gate in a neighborhood near Osuna and Second, according to court records.

Deputies found the driver, Devan Cooke, 27, and Gregory Babineaux, 63, slumped over in a Mustang.

Dashcam video shows deputies blocking the car and giving commands when Cooke wiggles the Mustang away from deputy vehicles, hops a curb and flees.

Deputies pursue the car as Cooke runs red lights and drives on the wrong side of the road, eventually pulling into a parking lot near Main Event Albuquerque, along Interstate 25 south of Montgomery.

Deputy Szabo can be heard advising the new recruit, including on how and when to do a pursuit intervention maneuver, which forces a vehicle to turn sideways. Szabo can be heard telling the recruit, "Try it, now, now, now," as the recruit bumps the back of the Mustang, causing it to spin out.

"In the midst of what has started to be a chaotic situation, they're still responsible for providing training to those trainees," Huffmyer said of Szabo's instructions to the recruit.

Szabo's lapel video shows him getting out of the vehicle with his gun pointed at the Mustang, yelling, "Get out of the vehicle." As Szabo backs away — his gun pointed in the direction of the car and, behind it, I-25 traffic — he fires a shot and yells "Oh, s---!" in surprise.

"You heard the excited utterance on the part of the deputy. ... It appears clear that it was an unintentional discharge of the firearm. Thankfully, nobody was struck," Huffmyer said.

He said an internal review will look at the incident "in great detail" to answer why the pursuit and shooting happened.

"There are things that we could have done better; we're willing to own that. And rest assured, we'll take steps to make sure that those things get done," Huffmyer said.

The driver, Cooke, was charged with aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer. Cooke told deputies, according to court records, that he fled because he "possibly had a warrant" and there was fentanyl in the car.

Prosecutors filed a motion to detain Cooke until trial but a judge denied the motion, citing Cooke's minimal criminal history, full-time job and stable housing as "factors that contribute to his potential success." A warrant has since been issued for Cooke's arrest as he failed to show up for an April 11 hearing in the case.

Huffmyer said Szabo has been with BCSO for more than four years. In 2022, he was one of six deputies who fatally shot a man who had a flashlight in his hand.

Huffmyer said the bullet Szabo accidentally fired was never found, and it's unclear where it ended up.

Allen said the investigation into the incident is ongoing, but Szabo has been pulled from the streets to be given additional training.

"And that's continuing as we speak," he said. "... We have to make sure that we put a deputy in the field that we're confident with and make sure that we're all safe."

'Quite the criminal mind'

Court records show that around 11:15 p.m. on Feb. 27, deputies tried to stop a suspicious SUV as it pulled into the parking lot of the Ramada Plaza on Menaul NE, by Washington. The driver rammed a deputy's vehicle and crashed into a pillar of the building.

Huffmyer said Lupe Vargas tried to escape by shooting through a glass door of the hotel and running inside. The gunshot is heard but not seen in deputy Mora's lapel video.

"If an individual is willing to just fire indiscriminately into an occupied dwelling like this, that's somebody that we need to catch, and we recognize that," Huffmyer said.

Lapel video shows Mora and deputy Dunbar run into the motel with their guns drawn, asking employees what he is wearing — a white tank top. The deputies open fire when they spot Vargas at an opposite entrance to a courtyard.

Mora keeps shooting even after Vargas is out of sight.

Dunbar told investigators he was "under the impression" Vargas had shot at deputies, according to court records. Both he and Mora told investigators they thought Vargas was "target glancing" and trying to "gain a sight picture" to shoot them.

Lapel videos show that minutes later, Vargas, having changed his shirt and smoking a cigarette, casually walks out the front entrance past a police dog and deputies swarming the hotel looking for him. One deputy notices Vargas when he begins to jog and he soon jumps into the driver's seat of a deputy's vehicle.

As cigarette embers fly, a few deputies and the police dog wrestle Vargas out of the vehicle and into handcuffs. A gun and fentanyl pills were found on him.

Vargas told deputies he had come to the motel with his wife, drank a bottle of tequila and "did not recall anything," according to court records. Deputies listened in on jail calls Vargas made after his arrest, when he appeared to recall more.

Court records show Vargas told his wife in the call that he changed clothes in a motel laundry room, and tried to "dip out" by stealing the deputy's vehicle.

"He actually goes into the hotel, change his clothes, walks casually right back out the front door and then attempts to steal one of our marked vehicles," Huffmyer said. "So, quite the criminal mind. ... Unfortunately for him, we were able to catch him as he's in the driver's seat."

Huffmyer said Dunbar has been with BCSO for 11 years and had been in a previous shooting. He said Mora, the former undersheriff's son, has been with BCSO more than seven years and it was his third shooting.

In November, Mora fatally shot a man threatening suicide and, in 2017, killed two men after opening fire on a vehicle. The 2017 shooting cost the county more than $3 million after relatives filed multiple lawsuits.

Huffmyer said he could "probably go on for an hour" on Vargas criminal history, which began at the age of 13.

At the time Vargas was on probation in separate cases — one where he pointed a gun at two people who wouldn't give him a ride and injuring a corrections officer in a scuffle.

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(c)2024 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

Visit the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) at www.abqjournal.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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