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Ex-policeman contests shooting conviction

LOS ANGELES

A 2002 case involving a Navajo Nation police officer who was sent to prison over a shooting that occurred during his off-duty hours is back in the news.

According to tribal officials, Teddy Chiquito is trying to get his conviction overturned by claiming, among other things, that he had inadequate counsel and that his arrest violated the Navajo Bill of Rights. While he has served his sentence, he claims that he has had problems getting employment because of the conviction and has been unfairly terminated from some jobs so he is seeking to get that conviction voided.

According to news stories at the time, Chiquito was off-duty on May 22, 2002, when he got into an altercation with two men over a 14-year-old girl. The girl was his daughter who was attending a party at his ex-wife’s home. He said he became concerned about midnight for her wellbeing and drove over to the house where he found his daughter intoxicated.

He was not in uniform nor was he driving a police vehicle but he was armed with his duty weapon. As he was “dragging” his daughter from the party, a 17-year-old juvenile approached him and an altercation ensued during which the juvenile was shot in the stomach. At that time, another man approached him and Chiquito said he told him to stop.

Instead, said Chiquito, the man continued to charge and he shot the man in the leg. In both cases, he said he was acting in self-defense.

Almost a year later, he was arrested by the FBI and charged with numerous felonies including assault with deadly weapon (two counts) and discharge of a weapon in connection with an act of violence (two counts).

At his trial, Chiquito had his attorneys file a motion asking that the jury be transported to Torreón and Ojo Encino to give them a chance to see what conditions are like where the crime occurred and where he lived. The judge rejected the motion. On June 14, 2004, a federal jury found him not guilty in the shooting of Pedro Herrera, a minor, because of his claim he was acting in self-defense.

The jury, however, rejected the self-defense claim in the shooting of Jonah Toledo, the adult. In June of 2005, he was sentenced to 24 months on assault charges and 10 years minimum on the firearms violation.

After his release, he was placed on probation for three years. He filed an appeal and lost. Almost a decade later, he is now trying to get that judgment overturned, claiming it was a miscarriage of justice.

In his petition to the federal court, filed on Oct. 17, Chiquito claims that his federal defense attorneys failed to give him adequate representation, which led to his conviction. One of the main issues at his trial was the question of whether he used excessive force in the charge regarding Toledo. By its verdict, the jury decided he did but Chiquito is claiming in his petition that there had been U.S. Supreme Court cases that required juries to take into consideration that he was a police officer.

The fourth amendment to the Constitution “has long recognized that the right (of a police officer) to make an arrest necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat thereof to effect it.” In his petition, he cited other court decisions that basically say juries must also take into account that police officers “are often forced to make split-second judgments in circumstances that are often tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving.”

The fact that his counsel at his trial should have been aware of these decisions but failed to bring them up during the trial played a major role in him being convicted, according to Chiquito. He pointed out that one of the requirements he had as a Navajo police officer was to wear his duty weapon at all times and be prepared to use it if he saw a crime being committed or someone needed his assistance. He said that on that night in 2002, he saw a crime being committed and the need to intervene was present and when he intervened he was attacked and acted in self-defense.

As for the civil rights violation, Chiquito is claiming that the federal government and the tribal police department overstepped their authority by “second-guessing a law enforcement incident in Indian country (and) prosecuting the law enforcement officer.” He also argued that the federal government should have prosecuted Toledo for assaulting a police officer but decided not to do so to booster their case against him. He also asserts that the tribal police department should have handled the situation in tribal court instead of referring it to the federal courts.

In his prayer for relief, Chiquito contends that even though he has served his time, “the harmful effects of conviction have persisted since then.”


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About The Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.