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New Mexico cop on leave after firing at minivan filled with kids

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More than a month after a New Mexico state police officer opened fire at a minivan filled with children, he was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, a state police spokesman said Thursday. 

Officer Elias Montoya will be paid during the investigation, which will determine whether he violated department policy and should be disciplined, police spokesman Emmanuel Gutierrez told the Los Angeles Times. 

The investigation centers on a traffic stop that escalated into a violent clash between several police officers and a woman driving a minivan filled with her five children. The Oct. 28 incident -- which the state police chief called an "intense, 43-minute-long dangerous situation" -- was captured by a dashboard video camera. It was posted online and went viral. 

The video shows an unidentified police officer -- not Montoya -- pulling over a blue minivan for speeding in the northern New Mexico town of Taos. The motorist, Oriana Farrell, 39, of Memphis, Tenn., refuses to get out of the vehicle and drives away. After about half a mile, she stops again and the officer approaches her car, but she still doesn't get out.

The officer then tries to drag her out. She eventually complies but quickly tries to get back inside. The officer follows her to the driver's door.

Meanwhile, one of her children gets out of the minivan and he and the officer begin fighting. The teenager runs back inside the vehicle, and the officer -- now joined by a second officer, also unidentified -- begins smashing the side rear window with his baton, as high-pitched screams of children are heard coming from the car. 

The minivan speeds off again with all the kids inside. A third officer -- Montoya -- fires three shots at the fleeing vehicle. After a high-speed chase, Farrell and her son are arrested. 

After the video drew widespread Web attention, state Police Chief Pete Kassetas said in a statement that if an investigation determines the officer discharged his firearm wrongly, the department will "take swift action because improperly using a firearm isn't tolerated."  

Farrell has said that she was unfairly targeted and that she was trying to protect her children. 

"I should not have to endure harassment at the hands of someone who has been hired to protect the citizens of this land over an alleged 'speeding offense.' No one should," Farrell wrote in a letter to the Taos News last month.

"A uniformed officer can shoot three bullets at my van and be considered to be 'doing his job,' but my doing what I can to get my own children away from such a terrifying individual has been termed 'child abuse' and 'endangerment,'” she wrote.

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Twitter: @skarlamangla

soumya.karlamangla@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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