She thought someone passed out drunk. Then she saw a uniform

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) " A woman living in a small community on the edge of the nation's largest American Indian reservation saw flashing police lights down the road from her home one night and assumed it was her neighbor getting stopped for driving drunk.

As she got closer, she saw someone lying along the road, suspecting the person had passed out from drinking. But then she saw the stripe running down his pants " a police uniform.

It was Navajo Nation Officer Houston James Largo, lying face down and bleeding. He was shot in a deadly encounter that authorities say began with alcohol-fueled domestic violence.

The woman's account of finding the officer that March 11 night is detailed in a criminal complaint that does not identify her but charges Kirby Cleveland with the killing of the 27-year-old decorated officer.

Aside from highlighting the dangers faced nationwide by tribal police officers who often must patrol vast jurisdictions alone, the shooting has Navajo leaders and community members acknowledging the scourge of alcohol and the constant reports of domestic violence.

The call for a change resonated during Largo's funeral last week as family, friends and Navajo President Russell Begaye noted that police officers on the reservation, which covers rural parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, are putting their lives on the line each day.

Largo had been shot twice, including once in the head. The woman who found him told authorities she had to lift his head to the side so he could breathe easier. She tried calling 911 but had no cellphone service.

She went to Largo's patrol car in hopes of using the radio, but the vehicle was locked, the complaint said. She went back and got Largo's keys and then radioed for help.

A federal judge determined at a court hearing Wednesday in Albuquerque that there was probable cause for prosecutors to pursue their case against Cleveland. The 32-year-old defendant has yet to enter a plea and was ordered to stay in custody pending trial.

His public defender did not return a message seeking comment.

Before the shooting, Cleveland's wife had called authorities to report that he had been drinking and became angry as she and her children watched television.

Cleveland grabbed his rifle, walked outside and fired several shots after an afternoon and evening of drinking, according to the complaint. His wife then took him to a friend's home.

The officer arrived as the friend was driving Cleveland back in a pickup truck. Largo stopped the truck and handcuffed the driver, but Cleveland bolted from the passenger side. Largo followed into the darkness.

The handcuffed man yelled for the officer to return; he never did. The man told authorities that the noise of the engine must have drowned out the gunfire.

Cleveland walked home with his .22-caliber rifle and told his wife: "I shot that police officer, you need to go help him," the complaint said.

At the time, Cleveland was on probation for forcing his way into a home on the Navajo Nation armed with a baseball bat and assaulting a woman in 2012, court records show. That case resulted in a two-year prison sentence.

The complaint says Cleveland and his wife argued after the shooting. She drove down to the scene and waited for police as he walked off into the hills.

Once dawn broke, authorities found Cleveland hiding more than a mile away.

Largo died hours after being taken to an Albuquerque hospital.

Investigators found nine .22-caliber shell casings about 80 feet from where Largo was lying. The officer's gun was between his legs with two .40-caliber casings nearby.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 29 May 2017 00:12:31 Processing Time: 355ms