Officer Accused of Texting Death Photos
SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) - After New Mexico police shot a man to death, an officer took cellphone photos of his body and texted them to friends, the man's family claims in court.
The late Samuel Pauly's father and brother sued the New Mexico Department of Public Safety and its Officer Mario Vasquez in Federal Court on Sept. 3. They claim that even State Police Chief Robert Shilling called Vasquez's acts "unprofessional and appalling."
According to New Mexico news reports, the police shooting began with a report of road rage. Two young women reported that someone had tried to run them off the interstate. It is unclear from the news reports whether that person was actually Pauly.
According to the lawsuit, state police officers when to the Paulys' home in Glorieta on Oct. 4, 2011, and "snuck up" on it.
Samuel Pauly and his brother Daniel were inside the house "and were fearful that the people outside were intruders," according to the complaint. Daniel went to the back of the house and "informed the intruders that they had guns and fired warning shots into the air."
"An officer was 60 feet away from the house, protected behind a rock wall and took aim at Samuel Pauly. Without announcing that he was a state police officer and without announcing that he would use deadly force, the state police officer shot and killed Samuel Pauly," the complaint states.
Officer Vasquez was assigned to manage the crime scene. While he did so, "he took multiple pictures of Samuel Pauly's dead body on his personal cell phone," the complaint states.
It adds: "In an act of conscious disregard for the Pauly family's right to privacy, Officer Vasquez sent pictures of Samuel Pauly's dead body to friends via text message."
Samuel's father and brother say they had no idea that Vasquez had taken photos of Samuel's Pauly's body until they were contacted nearly a year later by news outlets that had received copies of the photographs.
Some of the photos were broadcast by KOAT, an Albuquerque ABC affiliate, which is not a party to the lawsuit.
The complaint states that Vasquez was questioned under oath about what happened. It does not state in what context the questioning occurred, but it quotes it as follows:
"Q. And you understood that sending a picture of the dead body of someone's son out to the public could be harmful to their family, right?
"A. Yes, sir.
"Q. It could cause that family pain, right?
"A. Yes, sir.
"Q. And you did it anyway?
"A. Yes, sir.
". . .
"Q. And when you took the photo of Sam Pauly after he was dead, you understood that that violated his and his family's right to privacy, right?
A wrongful death civil lawsuit against the New Mexico Department of Public Safety and individual defendants, not including Vasquez, was dismissed for lack of prosecution in May this year.
Neither party responded to requests for comment Tuesday.
The Paulys seek punitive damages for privacy invasion, emotional distress and violations of civil and constitutional rights.
They are represented by Lee Hunt of Santa Fe.