New Mexico Deputy Shot, Killed At Traffic Stop
Update: Fugitive Is Main Suspect
Updated: March 22nd, 2006 04:43 PM EDT
TIJERAS, New Mexico-- An Albuquerque man suspected in a 2005 killing is wanted in this morning's shooting death of a Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department deputy, Sheriff Darren White said.
The deputy, whose name has not been released, was shot and killed around 12:45 a.m. after pulling over a pickup near the intersection of N.M. 337 and N.M. 333.
"Words cannot describe the heartbreak," White said. "We will not rest until we catch this murderer."
Shortly after the driver pulled onto the shoulder of southbound N.M. 337, residents reported hearing two gunshots and seeing a light-colored pickup heading south into the Manzano Mountains.
White later said deputies believe the truck may have contained two men.
Several hundred officers from at least five law enforcement agencies scoured the area for clues today in a light snowfall.
Around 8:15 a.m., sheriff's detectives got information that led them to suspect Michael Paul Astorga, White said.
"We believe Mr. Astorga is desperate and on the run and very unpredictable," White told reporters.
White described Astorga, 29, as a Hispanic man who stands about 5-foot-11 and weighs 160 pounds, with numerous visible tattoos.
"He is armed and we believe extremely dangerous," White said.
Deputies are at the same time outraged and despondent about the shooting, the sheriff said.
The deputy had been with the department for less than five years. He leaves behind a wife and an extended family, White added.
The deputy had alerted Bernalillo County dispatchers at 12:45 a.m. that he was pulling over a vehicle, and called in a description and its license number.
The driver pulled onto the shoulder of N.M. 337, also known as south N.M. 14, directly across from Canyon Crossroads Animal Hospital and a quarter-mile south of old Route 66.
Why the deputy pulled over the vehicle isn't clear, White said.
But within five minutes after the initial call, residents near the intersection called 911 and reported hearing two gunshots.
They also reported seeing a pickup speeding south into Cedro Canyon.
Backup deputies arrived minutes later, and found the officer on the ground, White said. They attempted to revive the fallen deputy in front of his vehicle, without success, he said.
Based on the slain deputy's original call, a search quickly began for the vehicle, a light-gold 1991 Dodge pickup bearing New Mexico plates with the No. 459 CDS.
Detectives worked through the pre-dawn hours trying to track the vehicle, White said. Through a series of interviews and searches of several homes, they learned the truck had changed hands at least once, he said, and Astorga was the last person known to have it.
It doesn't appear the truck was stolen, but the registered owner and Astorga didn't appear to have any personal connection, White said.
By 9 a.m., White had identified Astorga as the prime suspect and said a search was well under way.
"Make no mistake about it, this is a manhunt," he said.
Astorga, of the 9000 block of San Nicholas Avenue Northwest, is also wanted in the Nov. 5 shooting death of Candy Ray Martinez in the 2300 block of Commercial Street Northeast. A warrant was issued in November for his arrest.
Police say Astorga shot Martinez in a feud over a vehicle. Astorga's family told The Tribune the conflict dated to 1996, when a 1959 El Camino lowrider belonging to Astorga was stolen while he was in prison.
Astorga is on probation after serving six years of an 11-year prison sentence on charges of having and selling drugs, stealing cars and property crimes, according to court records.
In 1996, Astorga and his younger brother, Matthew, were tried in the shooting death of Jose M. Sigala, 27, near Albuquerque High School.
Michael Astorga was acquitted; his brother was found guilty, according to court records. Matthew Astorga spent about five years in prison and was released on probation after pleading guilty during a retrial of the case.
The search for Michael Astorga and possibly one other man ballooned into a regional manhunt during the morning. White said 200 to 250 officers were involved in searches in the East Mountains and Albuquerque.
Members of the Sheriff's Department, Albuquerque Police Department and State Police cruised the Tijeras area and scoured the site for evidence, deputies.
State Police were posted along I-40 near the Tijeras exit this morning and other patrol cars could be scene driving up and down N.M. 337, which was blocked.
By midmorning, the law enforcement officers were joined by the FBI and U.S. Marshal's Service, as well as gang patrol officers and even parole officers, White said.
At least one vehicle was pulled over and its occupants held at gunpoint while officers checked their identities. That occurred around 11:30 a.m. near Edith Boulevard and El Pueblo Road Northeast.
Meanwhile, life in Tijeras came to a virtual standstill for several hours. Schools in the East Mountains were closed for the day. Albuquerque Public Schools spokesman Joe Escobedo said one of the area's school bus contractors was on the wrong side of the roadblock, and the other contractor couldn't reach some students.
White said calling the deputy's family was one of the most difficult things he had ever done.
"It doesn't get any harder than this," he said at the scene. "I'm vacillating between intense anger and sadness."
It was the first time he's had to make such a call since being elected sheriff.
"I hope and pray," White said, "I never have to do this again.
White said the Sheriff's Department has about seven other deputies who regularly work in the department's East Mountains substation. All are distraught, he said.
"It's been the toughest time for all of them," he said.
The killing of a law enforcement officer is among the seven aggravating circumstances necessary to seek the death penalty in New Mexico.
Republished with permission of The Albuquerque Tribune
Damn.......I'm glad I'm not a rural deputy along the border....I think I'd have mypatrol rifle
out on every stop, and, level IV plates in my vest.
If you hurt or kill a cop, you better have a damned good reason for it, or I will be happy to help throw your guts over a tree limb and hang you with them.
Stop the War on Stealing Cars! Stop the War on Property Crime! Remember Prohibition!
Sad that a drug dealing car stealing burglar only served 6 years. But everyone talks tough on crime until it's their friend or family member that gets arrested, then probation is a great thing.
Everybody who needs to know is already well aware that you couldn't reason your way out of a hula-hoop. It is not necessary to invade totally unrelated threads to announce your condition.
Well I hope this POS get shot and not caught...unless he's an illegal alien. In that case he should just be left alone.
If there were no car theft or property crime in this report you and your ilk would be the first ones to scream stop the War on Drugs. Point made by illustrating absurdity.
New Mexico Department Mourns Fallen Deputy
Updated: March 23rd, 2006 02:11 PM EDT
Courtesy of The Albuquerque Tribune
The empty chair was a sign of respect.
Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department deputies refused to sit in the chair normally occupied by their slain comrade, Deputy James McGrane Jr., as they were briefed on McGrane's death this morning in the East Mountains Substation.
It was a salute to a man who enjoyed working in the East Mountains, said Sheriff Darren White.
"They loved him," White said of McGrane's fellow deputies at a news conference this afternoon.
McGrane, 38, was killed around 12:45 a.m. this morning. He was shot to death but White won't say how many times or where. White did confirm that McGrane was wearing a bullet-proof vest when he made the early morning traffic stop at the intersection of N.M. 333 and N.M. 337.
"Keep this family in your prayers," White said. "Keep these deputies - law enforcement officers - in your prayers. Some of the hardest parts of what happened last night are yet to come."
There's no word yet on when or where the funeral will be, said Erin Kinnard, a department spokeswoman.
McGrane joined the department in December 2002, White said. Before that, he worked for 10 years with the U.S. Postal Service and served a six-month stint with the New Mexico State Police in 1992.
The Sheriff's Department's heart goes out to McGrane's wife, mother and father, White said.
"Deputy McGrane spent his last breath protecting the people of Bernalillo County and doing a job he loves," White said.
Crimestoppers is accepting donations for the family at 843-STOP.
Also at today's news conference, White repeated his caution that the suspect in McGrane's death, still on the run, is considered armed and dangerous.
Authorities identified Michael Paul Astorga, 29, as a suspect within hours of the shooting, White said.
Astorga was "the last person in possession of that truck and driving that truck," White said.
What prompted McGrane to pull over the 1991 Dodge pickup remains unclear, other than that it was a routine traffic stop, White said.
Astorga, 29, is a fugitive wanted in connection with a November 2005 killing of an Albuquerque man. The Tribune reported last November that Astorga and shooting victim Candy Ray Martinez had a long-standing feud over a 1959 El Camino lowrider.
Astorga has associations with prison gangs and local gangs. He probably shot McGrane because he was afraid of being arrested for the November murder, White said.
"For most of us it made no sense," White said. "It made no sense whatsoever as to why somebody would shoot a deputy just doing a traffic stop."
Astorga is described as a Hispanic male, 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, with many visible tattoos.
Investigators this afternoon found the 1991 Dodge pickup believed to be involved in the shooting in the Mockingbird Hills neighborhood in the East Mountains south of Tijeras.
Law enforcement officers took two of Astorga's associates from a home on Edith Boulevard Northeast for questioning around 12:30 p.m. today, sheriff's deputies said.
Meanwhile, the widow of slain Albuquerque Police Department Officer Richard Smith visited the East Mountain Substation this afternoon. Smith was shot to death, along with Officer Michael King, while conducting a mental health welfare check on Aug. 18.
Susan Smith said she wanted to speak with deputies or APD officers who were helping in the investigation.
White was unavailable at the time, but Smith was able to spend a few moments hugging and offering support to the officers who were there.
"It's been bothering me all morning. I had to come in," Smith said."It brought back a lot of emotions."
When they find him, I hope they save the state alot of money.
New Mexico Sheriff's Deputy Alleged Killer Arrested
Updated: April 5th, 2006 09:41 AM EDT
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Arleene Barrios-KFOX Morning News Traffic Reporter Story by
Courtesy of The Albuquerque Tribune
A man wanted for killing a New Mexico sheriff's deputy was arrested in Juarez.
Albuquerque police announced the capture of accused cop killer Michael Paul Astorga early Monday morning.
Just about 24 hours later, Mexican authorities handed Astorga over to the FBI and Bernalillo County authorities on the El Paso border.
Astorga is accused of killing Bernalillo County sheriff's deputy James McGrane on March 22 during a traffic stop in the east mountains.
The 29-year-old was apprehended Monday morning without incident.
"In my 22 years of law enforcement experience, I've never seen a case in which so many different agencies at the state and local levels came together unselfishly and provided all the resources necessary to bring this fugitive to justice," said Tom McClanahan, with FBI.
Astorga was on the FBI's top 10 most wanted list.
A $130,000 reward was offered for information leading to his arrest.
When I glanced at the article and saw that he was taken to jail instead of the morgue, I was going to ask when the police forgot just how violently cop-killers always resist. Then I saw that it was Mexican cops, who probably took him out for beers before turning him over.
As I said before, except in extremely rare cases, I am entirely untroubled by extrajudicial disposition of matters involving the injury or killing of police officers. Yes, they enforce some chickenshit laws, and there are some bad eggs out there, but people forget that the relationship of the police to the public (they still wave at people and call everybody "sir" or "ma'am" around here) makes them living symbols of our liberty. Disrespecting, hurting, or killing a cop who is lawfully performing his duties is, in my view, like disrespecting, hurting, or killing a non-cop while simultaneously wiping your ass with the Constitution and burning the Flag.
One of the fellas I shoot with on occasion, works for Bernalillo SO as a civvie. He said when the guy came across the with the mezcan federales, he was busted up pretty good.
Hopefully just enough money to stick him with a needle and be done with it.