N.M. police fire on minivan filled with kids, their mom: How it happened

12:21 PM, Nov 18, 2013   |    comments
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(CBS News) Two New Mexico police officers are under investigation after one opened fire on a minivan. A mother and her five children were inside.

The shooting happened last month after a traffic stop turned into a high-speed chase outside of Santa Fe. And now, there's newly-released video of the confrontation in which 39-year-old mother of five, Orianna Ferrel, can be seen being pulled over for speeding by a New Mexico state police officer just north of Santa Fe. The officer's dash camera captures them arguing.

But Ferrell drives off instead. The officer pursues and pulls her over again. Emotions escalate. The police officer can be heard saying: "Get out of the vehicle! Get out of the vehicle right now!"

Ferrell doesn't budge, but her 14-year-old son jumps out. He retreats when the officer pulls out his Taser.

The officer says: "You're facing evading charges. You ran away from me, OK."

Finally, she gets out of the vehicle, and then appears to ignore the officer, and struggles to get back inside. Out comes her son again. This time he scuffles with the officer. He runs backs to the car. The family is locked inside. The officer smashes the window with his baton. As Ferrell drives off again, another officer arrives and fires at least three shots at the van with the five children inside. After a 10-minute, high-speed chase, Ferrell finally stops. She and her son are arrested.

In court, the district attorney charged Ferrell with five counts including child endangerment, resisting arrest and reckless driving. Her son was charged with battery.

Ferrell's attorney said she was scared. The judge called the video disturbing and puzzling. The two officers involved are under investigation.

In a statement, New Mexico's State Police chief said: "If the investigation determines that the officer improperly discharged his firearm in this case, we will take swift action because improperly using a firearm isn't tolerated by the State Police."

CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, a former FBI assistant director, said there are a few, "built-in" problems in this case.

"In many departments, it's against policy to fire at a moving vehicle," Miller said. "Now, the officer later said he was trying to shoot the tires out. The problem is, when you're trying to shoot at a moving car, it's inherently ineffective. You almost never stop the car, and it's also dangerous. If you're firing on a car with five children, you're firing in the direction of two other officers who are in front of the car so, I think, for police, the biggest problem is going to be justifying the use of firearms in what is a traffic stop that's spinning out of control."

Miller continued: "There's a few problems with the woman's actions here. She's a mom in a minivan with five kids. This is like the picture of a soccer mom. She's getting a speeding ticket and not for going 100 miles an hour, it's 71 in a 55. I don't know anybody who is not doing 70 in a 55 today, but instead...she gets the summons. The cop wants her to pay it right there or go back to court and settle this now, and she drives off, so her first mistake is not dealing with it, and dealing with the officer right there, but driving away."

The mom deserves a fair amount of blame for a situation that she could have avoided, but for her actions, Miller said. However, the blame is not hers alone.

"Then you get to the police officers, Miller said. "These are trained professionals. When he is smashing out that window with the baton, remembering this is a speeding ticket here. Rather than lose control of this incident, a trained officer is supposed to be slowing this down, not speeding it up, looking to say, 'I've got five kids in the car, what's at stake here? A speeding ticket. How do I de-escalate this?' And one way to do that is call for backup and get better control of the situation, yet when they get there, it seems to have the opposite effect. ... Even when she flees, in this chase, she's not fleeing to get away from the police, she goes straight to a hotel. She's apparently looking for a populated area with people around because at this point she and her children are fearful of the officers.

The case against the woman is likely to go nowhere in court, Miller said. She's been released on $10,000 unsecured bond, and her son's been released. However the case against the state police on the civil side probably has some legs here.

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