The wife of an armed New Mexico homeowner whom police officers fatally shot when they went to the wrong house on a domestic violence call said she was treated like a suspect, detained for hours and given few details about why officers gunned down her husband.
Months later, the Farmington Police Department still hasn’t reached out to Kim Dotson or her family since police killed Robert Dotson, 52, on April 5, she said.
She said in an interview Wednesday that she learned the officers had knocked on the wrong door that night only because her son is a police officer in the area and was able to read the dispatch log.
“I feel helpless the way all of this has happened,” said Dotson, 49, a former trauma nurse, who said she quit the profession after she tended to her husband when he was shot multiple times in the doorway of their home.
“I don’t understand how these guys get to go home to their families and they broke apart our family,” she said.
“We didn’t do anything wrong.”
Unaware that it was police officers who had opened fire, Dotson said, she returned fire — and the officers shot 19 more times into her home, according to a civil rights suit her family filed in federal district court Friday.
She was uninjured and hasn’t faced charges.
The suit, which names the city of Farmington and the three officers who fired as defendants, alleges that the killing was unjustified. Dotson’s lawyers provided the complaint to NBC News.
A lawyer for the officers, Luis Robles, said in an interview that the officers had no choice but to fire after Robert Dotson raised his gun.
“My heart goes out to her,” Robles said. “Her husband made this mistake from which he could not recover by pointing a gun at these police officers … even though they made a mistake by showing up at the wrong house.”
Robles blamed the error on the officers’ computer-aided dispatch system.
A police spokeswoman referred questions to the city attorney’s office, which didn’t respond.
Police Chief Steve Hebbe has called the shooting an “extremely traumatic event” and said he was “just heartbroken by the circumstances surrounding this.”
In an interview on NewsNation in April, Hebbe said that it wasn’t unusual for residents in that part of New Mexico, which is in the Four Corners region, to answer their doors armed and that “when he raises the gun up and points it at the officers, that’s when the officers respond.”
Asked whether Robert Dotson had done anything wrong, Hebbe said: “No.”
Robles said two officers identified in the suit have returned to regular duties, though the case is under review by the state attorney general’s office. A third remains on leave but plans to return to regular duty, he said.
A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said a use-of-force expert is reviewing the case.
The officer who remains on leave, Waylon Wasson, opened fire in another incident last year, Robles said.
Police body camera video from the previous shooting shows Wasson, who was not identified in a statement released with the video, firing at the driver of a moving car after the vehicle nearly pinned him against his own cruiser. The driver pleaded guilty this year to aggravated battery on a peace officer and other charges, court records show.
Most officers never fire their service weapons, according to the nonprofit National Police Foundation, but a small subset shoot multiple times and remain sworn officers.
“Officer Wasson did not choose to become involved in two shootings,” Robles said. “Instead, the two situations thrust themselves on him.”
‘Why would he not raise his gun?’
Dotson said that before gunfire erupted April 5, she and her husband — a longtime auto mechanic whom she called a doting family man who could fix anything — were in bed talking about the week ahead when they heard a faint knock at the front door.
It was 11:30 p.m., and the door to their second-floor bedroom was closed, she said. She said neither she nor her husband heard officers announce themselves, which unedited body camera video released by the police department shows them doing three times.
After the third knock, Robert Dotson put on his robe and began descending their stairs, Kim Dotson said, adding that she planned to grab her robe and follow him.
Before he opened the door, she said, he grabbed a .45-caliber pistol from the kitchen.
Unedited body camera video shows the officers outside discussing whether they’re at the correct address. After Wasson knocks a third time, a dispatcher tells them they were supposed to go to an address that doesn’t match the house number seen on camera, the video shows.
Wasson can be heard laughing and using an expletive and is then seen quickly backing up.
Later in the video, Wasson can be heard saying he had heard a gun being cocked inside.
With a flashlight shining on it, the door opens and Wasson says, “Hey, hands up,” and begins to shoot, the video shows.
In an edited version of the video, the police department slowed down the exchange and placed a circle around the gun in Robert Dotson’s hand. In a security video from inside the home provided by Robles, Dotson can be seen raising his gun — the officers don’t identify themselves, and “Mr. Dotson is being blinded by a flashlight,” said a family lawyer, Tom Clark.
“Why would he not raise his gun?” Clark said.
A death and a gunfight
Dotson said she was walking downstairs when she heard a barrage of shots.
“I freaked out,” she said. “I ran back upstairs and grabbed another handgun.”
Dotson told her two high school-age children to dial 911, she said, then she ran downstairs and found her husband lying in a pool of blood by the front door. She said her instinct as a trauma nurse was to secure the scene.
With no idea who was in her front yard, she said, she opened the screen door and fired with a .9 mm pistol, trying to scare off whoever had shot her husband. Officers returned fire; she was still unaware of who was shooting, she said.
“There is no reason with the amount of bullets that were shot at me that I should be here talking with you today,” she said.
In the body camera video, Wasson yells “hands up” before he fires at Kim Dotson. Twenty seconds later, an officer identifies the group as police.
Dotson said she never heard the identification. She put her gun down and began checking for her husband’s pulse. She found none, started CPR and continued yelling for her children to call the police, she said.
Eventually, she said, officers ordered her to surrender.
“I said, ‘Somebody, please come help me,’” she recalled. “Somebody shot and killed my husband.”
Several minutes later, while Wasson is still at the scene, he can be heard providing his account of what happened in the body camera video: He had been knocking when he heard the gun cock. Then he and the two other officers backed up, he says.
“The dude comes to his door, points the firearm at us, and we get in a gunfight,” he says. “And then the female comes out of the house, and she points it at us, as well.”
It isn’t clear whom Wasson is talking to, and he doesn’t say the officers are at the wrong home. In their initial statements early the next morning, which were obtained by Dotson’s lawyers, none of the three officers related that detail to state police investigators, either, Clark said.
Robles disputed that, saying the officers didn’t speak with investigators the morning after the shooting.
When they did, he added in an email, “the officers acknowledge that they went to the ‘wrong’ address.”
Few answers from police
Dotson said she was handcuffed and put in the back of a police cruiser. After roughly an hour, with blood smeared across her body, she was taken to the police department and placed in a small room with nothing on but a bloody robe, she said.
She said she remained there until about 8 a.m. She later learned that her children had been taken to the station as well.
At some point, Dotson said, a state police official told her that local authorities killed her husband. She was asked for a statement, she said, but she was given no other details about her husband’s death.
Officials in Farmington, a city of about 46,000 people, didn’t respond to a request for comment. State police officials couldn’t be reached for comment.
“She was treated as if she was a criminal,” said another family lawyer, Mark Curnutt. “It’s a genuine question to say: What level of compassion do these people have and are they capable of showing?”
With the lawsuit, a third family lawyer said, Dotson hopes to raise public awareness about what happened to her and her family to change how the police department hires, trains and supervises officers.
The suit also seeks unspecified damages for conduct it describes as “shameful.”