Some advice to holiday travelers: If you find yourself driving through New Mexico, be warned that when the sign says the speed limit is 55, they’re not kidding. And if you get stopped for going 71 in a 55, it’s best to sign the ticket and continue on your way, with your foot eased back on the gas just a bit, of course. So discovered one Oriana Farrell of Memphis, Tenn., last month.
Farrell was driving with her five children near Taos on Oct. 28 when she was stopped for speeding by Officer Tony DeTavis of the New Mexico State Police. The encounter, which was captured on the police car’s dashboard camera, was unremarkable — up to the point Farrell decided to make it otherwise. In the video, we hear DeTavis tell Farrell he has cited her for speeding and explain that she has the option of appearing in court or paying a $126 fine by mail. Farrell can’t make up her mind, and she and DeTavis discuss the matter for more than four minutes. Exasperated, DeTavis tells Farrell to turn her engine off while he goes back to his car.
But Farrell does not turn the car off. Instead she drives away, with DeTavis soon following behind, lights ablaze and siren wailing. And then a bad situation gets worse (but not as bad as it would get later). Farrell pulls over and stops, and DeTavis walks up and opens the driver’s door of the minivan, telling her to get out. The kids can be heard screaming as DeTavis tries to pull her from behind the wheel. During the struggle, Farrell’s 14-year-old son gets out of the front passenger seat and walks around the front of the minivan as if to challenge the officer, but he retreats when DeTavis draws his Taser and aims it at him.
If only that were the end of it. Farrell then tells DeTavis she will sign the ticket, but by now, unbeknownst to her, that is no longer an option. After trying unsuccessfully to pull Farrell out, DeTavis abandons the tactic and tries his power of persuasion. This too is fruitless. He calls for backup and continues and continues and continues to order her out. At long last she gets out and walks to the back of the minivan, but when it dawns on her that she is about to be arrested, she makes a break for the driver’s door.
And then things really go south. DeTavis grabs Farrell and tries to keep her from re-entering the minivan, bringing a chorus of screams from the kids inside. The 14-year-old boy gets out and circles around the back of the minivan before rushing at DeTavis. DeTavis again draws his Taser, at the sight of which the boy runs away and gets back in the minivan. Amid much continued shouting, two more officers arrive, each in his own car, to find DeTavis trying without success to open the minivan’s right-side sliding door. DeTavis then uses a collapsible baton to break a side window, but before he can reach in to unlock the door, Farrell drives off. As she does so, Officer Elias Montoya fires three pistol shots at the minivan.
Driving at speeds up to 100 mph, Farrell then leads the police on a four-minute chase, during which she ran a red light and at times drove on the wrong side of the road. She finally pulls into a hotel parking lot and gives up. A grand jury charged Farrell with 12 counts, including intentional abuse of a child, aggravated fleeing of a law enforcement officer, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Her son was charged with battery on a police officer.