Arizona man pleads to involuntary manslaughter without deal in DWI killing

Maroquez Clah pleaded guilty without a plea deal
• He faces a maximum sentence of eight years for killing Darrel Chavez, 22

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Maroquez Clah pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, Sept. 21,  for killing his friend in a drunk driving crash near Mitten Rock.

Clah, 28, of Red Valley, Ariz., pleaded guilty without a plea agreement and he faces a maximum sentence of eight years for the Aug. 30, 2019 crash that killed Darrell Chavez, 22.

Panoramic photo of Red Valley, Arizona, with no buildings in sight.
Red Valley, about a mile west of the New Mexico state line, 36.5845 -109.0732, Apache County, Arizona, 5/17/2014. Photo by Patrick Alexander/Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA

According to the plea minute sheet, Magistrate Judge John Robbenhaar accepted the plea. Robbenhaar allowed Clah to remain on his current conditions of release. He is living with his parents in Red Valley.

According to a proffer of evidence at trial filed by federal prosecutor Novaline Wilson, Clah acted with “wanton and reckless disregard for human life” when he drove drunk.

No sentencing date has been set.

A grand jury indicted Clah on a charge of involuntary manslaughter on Nov. 25, 2019 for crashing his truck while drunk near Mitten Rock, killing Chavez. He was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020.  Federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones released him to a halfway house over the objection of prosecutor Wilson. Briones refused to release him to his home in Red Valley to help his ailing parents amid the coronavirus pandemic. Federal District Court Judge Kea Riggs overruled Briones and ordered him released on April 20, 2020.

Details of the crash

FBI Agent Lancy Roundy wrote in a search warrant filed for Clah’s truck on Sept. 4, 2019, that Clah told federal investigators, while in the hospital, he had been drinking alcohol throughout the day prior to driving from Farmington to his home in Red Valley, Arizona. Chavez is referred to as “John Doe” in court records.

“Clah recalled John Doe being a passenger of his vehicle at some point during the drive,” Roundy wrote. “Clah admitted to drinking vodka approximately six hours prior to driving his vehicle home and remembered losing control of the vehicle while driving approximately 70 miles per hour before the vehicle rolled several times.”

Roundy wrote that, according to Clah’s hospital records from his treatment after the crash, his blood-alcohol content was 0.258, over three times the legal limit of 0.08.

According to Chavez’s autopsy report, he was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the truck during the crash.

Continue reading “Arizona man pleads to involuntary manslaughter without deal in DWI killing”

Judge finds Jansen Peshlakai a danger to the community and won’t release

• Judge denies Jansen Peshlakai‘s bid for release
• Peshlakai showed no elevated risk from the coronavirus

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jansen Peshlakai will continue to be housed in the private Cibola County Correction Center after a federal judge found him to be a danger to the community and that the coronavirus did not pose enough of a specific threat to him.

Shiprock. Photo by Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr

According to minutes from the June 4, 2020 hearing, conducted via Zoom, Peshlakai’s attorney, Edward Bustamante, asked he be released to the third-party custody of his sister in Oklahoma.

Federal prosecutor Allison Jaros provided an update on the status of coronavirus cases in the Cibola County Detention Center and asked Peshlakai remain in jail, according to the minutes.

According to the minutes, U.S. Marshal Deputy G. McCoy “provides information re: COVID-19 cases, status of employee’s health at Cibola and outlines medical treatment defendants receive upon entry/release from center.”

Jaros brought one exhibit, entered onto the record, but it was uploaded to PACER and the minutes do not state what it was.

At the end of the 45-minute hearing, District Judge Judith Herrera ordered Peshlakai continue to be held as a danger to the community, according to the minutes.

“Court finds defendant has not shown there is an elevated risk to him in contracting COVID-19, outlines reasons and denies request for release,” the minutes state. “Ms. Jaros to submit order”

Peshlakai allegedly ran down 20-year-old Dakota Whitehat on July 13, 2018. Whitehat was in a vehicle that stopped because Peshlakai was fighting with his wife on the side of the road and, according to one report, screaming for help, according to court documents. Read more about the case in the write-up.

A grand jury indicted Peshlakai on a charge of second-degree murder three months later, on Oct. 2. 2018.

Peshlakai’s competency to stand trial was an issue from the start of the case and he was found not competent on June 14, 2019, before being rehabilitated and found competent on March 20, 2020, his attorney, Edward Bustamante, wrote in a motion for his release.

Jaros opposed Bustamante’s request.

The Cibola County Correction Center, and the company that runs it, CoreCivic, have come under scrutiny because of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a March 30 response to the United States Marshals Service, Cibola County Detention Center Warden Luis Rosa Jr. wrote a vague letter that the facility is following proper guidelines and instituting social distancing within the facility.

That comes in stark contrast to reporting by Jeff Proctor at New Mexico In Depth. Proctor wrote that inmates had to sign a waiver before receiving face masks.

According to a May 12 filing by Jaros, two federal inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus. They were transferred from Otero County in early May, 2020.

No further hearings are scheduled.

The Cibola County Correction Center allegedly forced inmates to sign waivers before giving them face masks, according to Jeff Proctor reporting in New Mexico In Depth.

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See all the documents this case on Google Drive or Document Cloud. View the docket on CourtListener.com.

Continue reading “Judge finds Jansen Peshlakai a danger to the community and won’t release”

Jansen Peshlakai requests release because of the coronavirus after competency determination

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jansen Peshlakai is asking a federal judge to release him to a halfway-house pending trial because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Peshlakai allegedly ran down 20-year-old Dakota Whitehat on July 13, 2018. Whitehat was in a vehicle that stopped because Peshlakai was fighting with his wife on the side of the road and, according to one report, screaming for help, according to court documents.

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

A grand jury indicted Peshlakai on a charge of second-degree murder three months later, on Oct. 2. 2018.

Peshlakai’s competency to stand trial was an issue from the start of the case and he was found not competent on June 14, 2019, before being rehabilitated and found competent on March 20, 2020, his attorney, Edward Bustamante, wrote in a motion for his release.

He was then returned to New Mexico on April 17, 2020, and taken to the Cibola County Correctional Center outside Milan, a private jail run by CoreCivic, Bustamante wrote.

Peshlakai previously appealed the initial order that he be held without bail. It was denied. Because of the coronavirus pandemic and Peshlakai being transferred, Bustamante filed the new motion for release on April 20, 2020.

“Jansen Peshlakai is an at risk detainee due to his permanent closed head injury and his course of medications that make him vulnerable to any health threat while detained,” Bustamante wrote.

He asked that his client be released to his daughter, Jennifer Peshlakai, in Oklahoma, or his mother, in Churchrock.

Prosecutor Allison Jaros wrote in a response, dated April 23, 2020, that Bustamante did not argue that his client is no longer a flight risk or a danger to the community and that the pandemic would not make it less likely he would violate court orders and drink or harm others if released from custody.

“Defendant’s mental condition has improved since his incarceration, likely due to his forced sobriety,” Jaros wrote.

According to Peshlakai’s own doctor, he requires “24/7” supervision for safety, food preparation, medication administration and assistance with other basic daily activities, she wrote.

Cibola County Detention Center badge
Cibola County Detention Center badge

“The COVID-19 pandemic simply has no bearing on whether conditions of release can reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court and the safety of the community,” Jaros wrote.

She wrote that Peshlakai is also not particularly at risk from the coronavirus, citing a New York case where a man with dementia and a history of strokes and heart attacks was denied pre-trial release during the pandemic.

“It would be pure speculation for the Court to presume that Defendant’s underlying conditions pose a greater risk to his safety than if he was released back into the public, where he could resume drinking,” Jaros wrote.

She wrote that when he was arrested, he also had three outstanding warrants. One was a New Mexico probation violation case, although she did not specify if it was federally issued or a state case, and two for failing to appear in court in Oklahoma.

Continue reading “Jansen Peshlakai requests release because of the coronavirus after competency determination”

Judge releases Arizona man to family amid the coronavirus pandemic

  • A federal district judge ordered Maroquez Clah released from an Albuquerque halfway house to his parents’ home in Red Valley, Ariz.
  • The district judge granted Clah’s appeal, overruling federal magistrate Judge Paul Briones, who refused to release him
  • Prosecutor Novaline Wilson opposed Clah’s release request in what could be an improperly sealed opposition 

See the case write-up or read more stories about this case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Red Valley, Ariz. man will get to return home to take care of his ailing father, help is elderly mother and raise his daughter after a federal District Court judge ordered him released from an Albuquerque halfway house, overruling a federal magistrate judge, and federal prosecutor, who wanted to keep him in a communal setting despite the risk of the coronavirus, in a ruling April 20, 2020.

Panoramic photo of Red Valley, Arizona, with no buildings in sight.
Red Valley, about a mile west of the New Mexico state line, 36.5850 -109.0712, Apache County, Arizona, 5/17/2014. Photo by Patrick Alexander/Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA

Federal District Court Judge Kea Riggs granted Maroquez Clah’s appeal on April 20, 2020, and ordered him released.

Clah is charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly crashing his truck while drunk, which killed Darrell Chavez, 22, on Aug. 30, 2019, near Mitten Rock, New Mexico. A grand jury indicted him on Nov. 25, 2019 but he was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020 and released to a halfway house on Feb. 20, 2020, after he was arraigned by Federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones, and over the objection of prosecutor Novaline Wilson. (Read more on the details of the crash in the case write-up or read previous stories about the case.)

Briones denied Clah’s request to be allowed to move to Red Valley, Ariz., to take care of his parents and daughter, on April 1, 2020 and wrote in his denial that the dangers of the halfway house were justified because of Clah’s “pattern of prior conduct” and that his defense attorney didn’t show that there are “sufficient safeguards” to protect the community from the risk of Clah drinking and driving, if he isn’t living at the halfway house.

Continue reading “Judge releases Arizona man to family amid the coronavirus pandemic”

Judge: Arizona man not allowed to take care of ailing parents during coronavirus pandemic

  • Maroquez Clah wants to be released from an Albuquerque halfway house to his parents’ home in Red Valley, Ariz., because of the coronavirus and his parents’ health
  • Federal magistrate Judge Paul Briones wrote Clah poses too much of a risk to the community because of one prior drunk driving conviction
  • Prosecutor Novaline Wilson opposed Clah’s request in what could be an improperly sealed opposition 

See the case write-up or read more stories about this case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Despite approval from pretrial services officers, the looming threat of the coronavirus pandemic and a father slipping into dementia, a federal magistrate judge on April 1 refused to let a Red Valley, Ariz. man return home to help his elderly parents, relying on what appears to be an improperly sealed filing by a U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutor, and he is appealing the decision.

Mitten Rock, off of Navajo Route 13 (Indian Services Route 13), New Mexico. Photo by James St. John/Flickr

Maroquez Clah is charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly crashing his truck while drunk, which killed a passenger identified as D.C. (YOB: 1997), on Aug. 30, 2019, near Mitten Rock, New Mexico. A grand jury indicted him on Nov. 25, 2019 but he was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020. According to the federal docket sheet, Clah was released to a halfway house in Albuquerque on Feb. 20, 2020, after he was arraigned by federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones.

On April 1, Briones denied Clah’s request to move from a halfway house in Albuquerque to his parents’ home in Red Valley, filed March 23. Briones did not have a hearing and instead relied on the emergency motion filed by Clah’s attorney, Emily Carey, and the opposition filed under seal by prosecutor Novaline Wilson. However, Wilson’s filing under seal appears to be against court rules on sealing documents, which require a judge’s consent and are only supposed to be done for very good reasons.

According to the local rules and federal court rules, documents are only supposed to be filed under seal for good reason and a record of the motion to file a document under seal is supposed to appear on the court docket, as outlined by Jeff Proctor in New Mexico In Depth.

Carey filed an appeal of Briones’ order on April 6, but no further documents or hearings have been docketed in the case.

She wrote in the initial motion that Briones, during the arraignment, said if Clah “performed well” at the halfway house, he would consider “possible modification” the conditions of his release. The current conditions restrict his travel to Bernalillo county. The minutes contain no details of what was said.

Wilson opposed Clah’s release pending trial during the arraignment, while pretrial officers suggested release, according to the minutes.

Carey wrote that Clah’s father is on dialysis and his health has recently declined and his mother, Bessie Begay, contacted her to say that his father has “developed something akin to dementia.”

Before being arrested, Clah “took on all of the household tasks and helped his mother with his father’s health care.” He also took care of his 4-year-old daughter, who is now in Begay’s custody, she wrote.

Continue reading “Judge: Arizona man not allowed to take care of ailing parents during coronavirus pandemic”

Maroquez Clah indicted for involuntary manslaughter in August 30, 2019 DWI crash

  • A federal grand jury indicted Maroquez Clah on Nov. 25, 2019 the case was not docketed until Dec. 3, 2019, and he was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020
  • Clah allegedly killed a man as a result of a drunk driving crash in August 2019

See the case write-up or read more stories about this case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal grand jury indicted Maroquez Clah, of Red Valley, Ariz., on a charge of involuntary manslaughter on Nov. 25, 2019, for a crash that killed a man in August 2019.

Mitten Rock, off of Navajo Route 13 (Indian Services Route 13), New Mexico. Photo by James St. John/Flickr

According to the indictment, Clah allegedly killed an unidentified man on Aug. 30, 2019, following a drunk driving crash in San Juan county.

The indictment contains no further details of the crash, its location, the victim or even where Clah was living at the time of the crash. (See updates and more details about the case)

Although the indictment was signed on Nov. 25, 2019, it was not entered into the federal court system until Dec. 3. Clah was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020. His arrest warrant return was not entered into the online court system.

According to the federal docket sheet, Clah was not released to a halfway house in Albuquerque until Feb. 20, 2020, following a hearing in front of federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones.

According to the minutes sheet from that hearing, Clah pleaded not guilty to the involuntary manslaughter charge.

Prosecutor Novaline Wilson opposed Clah’s release and asked he be held indefinitely even though pretrial services recommended he be released, according to the minutes.

Although Briones made findings in the case, the minutes sheet does not state what they were, or why Wilson argued that he should not be released.

According to Briones’ order setting the conditions of Clah’s release, he was restricted to travel in Bernalillo county, to avoid all contact with co-defendants, not operate a vehicle and reside at a halfway house in Albuquerque.

It is not clear from court records if there are co-defendants in his case.

Continue reading “Maroquez Clah indicted for involuntary manslaughter in August 30, 2019 DWI crash”

Maroquez Clah: Darrell Chavez — 8-30-2019

Suspect: Maroquez Clah

Victim: Darrell Chavez, 22

Charges: Involuntary manslaughter

Date of incident: Aug. 30, 2019

Type of incident: DWI crash

Status: Plea without a deal; pending sentencing, maximum 8 years

Investigating Agency: FBI

Location: Mile Marker 2, Navajo Route 13 (Indian Services Route 13) Mitten Rock, NM

Federal district case number: 19-cr-4447

Search warrant case number: 19-mr-01054

Prosecutor: Novaline Wilson

Prosecuting agency: U.S. Attorney’s Office

Plea judge: Magistrate Judge John Robbenhaar

Sentencing judge: None set

 

See stories on the case

Summary

On Aug. 30, 2019, Maroquez Clah, of Red Valley, Arizona, allegedly killed Darrell Chavez, 22, an enrolled Navajo Nation man when he lost control of his truck and rolled it on Navajo Route 13/Indian Services Route 13 near Mitten Rock, New Mexico, within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation reservation, in San Juan county. Chavez is only identified in court records by the initials D.C. and the year of birth of 1997. Clah is also an enrolled Navajo Nation member.

A federal grand jury indicted him on Nov. 25, 2019 and he was arrested on February 14, 2020, before being released a week later to a halfway house. He has since been released to his family in Red Vallely, Ariz.

On Sept. 21, 2020, he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter without a plea deal.

The case is pending.

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The incident

A search warrant filed for Clah’s truck on Sept. 4, 2019, by Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Lancy Roundy, gives a few details on the crash.

Mitten Rock, off of Navajo Route 13 (Indian Services Route 13), New Mexico. Photo by James St. John/Flickr

Clah told federal investigators, while in the hospital, he had been drinking alcohol throughout the day prior to driving from Farmington to his home in Red Valley, Arizona, in a 2007 Ford F-150 truck.

“Clah recalled John Doe being a passenger of his vehicle at some point during the drive,” Roundy wrote. “Clah admitted to drinking vodka approximately six hours prior to driving his vehicle home and remembered losing control of the vehicle while driving approximately 70 miles per hour before the vehicle rolled several times.”

According to Clah’s hospital records from his treatment after the crash, his blood-alcohol content was 0.258, over three times the legal limit of 0.08.

It is not clear how the agents obtained the medical records. The only unsealed search warrant for the case, between the time of the crash and Sept. 4, 2019, is Roundy’s.

Clah suffered a broken leg and “other injuries,” Roundy wrote.

Roundy wrote he wanted to search the truck for physical evidence of alcohol consumption, including bottles, receipts and cans, as well as take pictures of the truck.

Pretrial release

Magistrate judge denies move request during coronavirus pandemic

On April 1, federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones denied Clah’s request to move from a halfway house in Albuquerque to his parents’ home in Red Valley, filed March 23. Briones did not have a hearing and instead relied on the emergency motion filed by Clah’s attorney, Emily Carey, and the opposition filed under seal by prosecutor Novaline Wilson. However, Wilson’s filing under seal appears to be against court rules on sealing documents, which require a judge’s consent and are only supposed to be done for very good reasons.

Panoramic photo of Red Valley, Arizona, with no buildings in sight.
Red Valley, about a mile west of the New Mexico state line, 36.5850 -109.0712, Apache County, Arizona, 5/17/2014. Photo by Patrick Alexander/Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA

According to the local rules and federal court rules, documents are only supposed to be filed under seal for good reason and a record of the motion to file a document under seal is supposed to appear on the court docket, as outlined by Jeff Proctor in New Mexico In Depth.

Carey filed an appeal of Briones’ order on April 6, but no further documents or hearings have been docketed in the case.

She wrote in the initial motion that Briones, during the arraignment, said if Clah “performed well” at the halfway house, he would consider “possible modification” the conditions of his release. The current conditions restrict his travel to Bernalillo county. The minutes contain no details of what was said.

Wilson opposed Clah’s release pending trial during the arraignment, while pretrial officers suggested release, according to the minutes.

Carey wrote that Clah’s father is on dialysis and his health has recently declined and his mother, Bessie Begay, contacted her to say that his father has “developed something akin to dementia.”

Before being arrested, Clah “took on all of the household tasks and helped his mother with his father’s health care.” He also took care of his 4-year-old daughter, who is now in Begay’s custody, she wrote.

Clah’s doctors are also in Shiprock and Farmington, closer to Red Valley than to Albuquerque. If he were allowed to return to Red Valley, he could also continue his work at Yazzie Oil Field Service. Allowing him to move back in with his parents would remove him from a communal living situation and possible infection by the coronavirus, Carey wrote.

Federal pretrial services in Arizona conducted a home assessment and said it would take responsibility for Clah’s supervision, she wrote.

According to Carey’s reply to Wilson’s sealed opposition, Clah has one prior tribal conviction for drunk driving in 2018. He was sentenced to 90 days supervised probation, which he completed.

That prior DWI conviction appears to be the basis of Wilson’s opposition to Clah taking care of his elderly father, helping his mother and parenting his child. Wilson also argues, according to Carey, that the global pandemic is not a “changed circumstance.” However, because Wilson appears to have improperly sealed her opposition, it is not clear if she had any more arguments.

Carey wrote:

“At this point, concerns pertaining to COVID-19 and the risk of communal living are not merely speculative. Moreover, even if he was required to present evidence of changed circumstances, Mr. Clah submits that he has met his burden given his exemplary conduct while on pretrial release, the deterioration in his father’s physical and mental health, the inability to access medical providers including his surgeon for urgent follow up care, and concerns for his own health and the health of his family because of COVID-19.”

Briones denied Carey’s motion because his “pattern of prior conduct” and that Carey didn’t show that there are “sufficient safeguards” to protect the community from the risk of Clah drinking and driving, if he isn’t living at the halfway house.

In Carey’s April 6 appeal, she wrote that Clah’s father has repeatedly fallen, following his descent in what appears to be dementia, and has been admitted to the hospital on suspicion of internal bleeding. Begay cannot stay with her husband at the hospital because of the risk of the coronavirus.

Clah would not have access to a car while living with his parents. His mother has a vehicle, but it’s provided by her work, she wrote.

Carey wrote:

“Mr. Clah’s physical movements are restricted by his own physical injuries for which he requires ongoing treatment. Moreover, at present, the entire Navajo Nation has imposed a curfew from 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., which is enforced by law enforcement personnel issuing citations and roadblocks. However, should the Court be concerned with Mr. Clah’s movement, he would be willing to submit to electronic monitoring under home detention or any other condition the court deems appropriate.”

Clah’s pretrial officer is still supports his request to move back to Red Valley, she wrote.

Whenever Clah speaks to his daughter on the phone, “she often cries and begs for him,” Carey wrote. “He is extremely concerned about the effect this separation is having on her, and worried about the burden his absence is putting on his mother.”

Begay also wrote a letter to the court.

District judge releases Clah to Arizona

Federal District Court Judge Kea Riggs granted Maroquez Clah’s appeal on April 20, 2020, and ordered him released.

In her order releasing Clah, Riggs wrote his medical and physical condition weighed toward his release, especially because he needed surgery on his leg, which is infected and that the halfway house stated they could not take care of his medical needs after he is released from the hospital.

She also found that, contrary to Briones’ opinion, the Clah has no access to a vehicle, the only way he poses a danger to the community.

“Given that Defendant has a history of compliance with conditions of release or probation, and lacks access to a vehicle, the Court agrees with Pretrial Services’ recommendation and concludes that these conditions will reasonably assure the safety of the community,” Riggs wrote.

Plea

On Sept. 21, 2020, Clah pleaded guilty without a plea agreement to involuntary manslaughter. He faces a maximum sentence of eight years.

No sentencing date has been set.

 

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Jansen Peshlakai: Dakota Whitehat — 7-13-2018

Suspect: Jansen Peshlakai

Victim: Dakota Whitehat, 20

Charges: Second-degree murder

Status: Pending

Date of incident: July 13, 2018

Agency: FBI

Location: 1/2 mile west of Highway 491 on BIA/Navajo/Indian Services Route 13, near Shiprock and Mitten Rock

Federal magistrate case number: None

Federal district case number: 18-cr-03323

Prosecutor: Allison Jaros

Prosecuting agency: US Attorney’s Office

 

Summary

On July 13, 2018, Jansen Peshlakai allegedly ran over Dakota Whitehat, 20, after some kind of domestic dispute with his wife, on BIA/Navajo/Indian Services Route 13 near Shiprock and Mitten Rock.

He was not charged until three months later when a grand jury indicted him for second-degree murder on Oct. 2, 2018.

In February 2019, his case was placed on hold for a competency evaluation. He was initially found to not be competent, sent to a facility for rehabilitation, and found to be competent on March 20, 2020.

No hearings have been scheduled.

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The incident

On July 13, 2018, Dakota Whitehat, 20, was walking down U.S. Highway 491, near Shiprock, when a car picked him up. After turning onto Indian Services Route/BIA Route/Navajo Route 13, the driver stopped because Jansen Peshlakai and his wife appeared to be in a physical fight, according to a deputy field investigation by Barbara Nabors.

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

“Per law enforcement, both the man and the woman of the parked vehicle became aggressive towards the occupants of vehicle one,” Nabors wrote. “For unknown reasons the decedent began walking eastbound on the opposite side of the road.”

Peshlakai allegedly turned his car around and ran down Whitehat, who was 15 to 20 feet off the highway, she wrote.

Federal prosecutor Allison Jaros wrote in an opposition to Peshlakai’s appeal of his detention that the woman, Peshlakai’s wife, was yelling “Help me! Help me!” when Whitehat, and the people who picked him up, came onto the scene.

Jaros’ account differs from that of Nabors, based on what police initially told her.

The man who picked up Whitehat in his truck earlier on the road offered the wife a ride, Jaros wrote.

Whitehat is referred to as “John Doe” in court documents.

According to Jaros:

“She got into the truck to leave,  which angered the defendant. The defendant got into his vehicle, a brown SUV, and drove across the road to where the white truck was parked. The defendant rammed the white truck. Next, the defendant ran over John Doe who was outside the vehicle on foot.”

Several witnesses, including other motorists who stopped, told investigators that Peshlakai allegedly did not try to swerve or slow down to avoid running over Whitehat, Jaros wrote.

“At the time of the collision, it was light outside,” she wrote. “John Doe died from his injuries later that day.”

Peshlakai had been drinking prior to allegedly running over Whitehat, she wrote.

“The defendant’s dangerousness is exacerbated by his alcohol abuse,” she wrote. “The defendant has been charged with alcohol related offenses on at least ten different occasions. He has convictions for public drunkenness and driving under the influence.”

In 2016, he was convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, she wrote.

Specifically, he was drinking and driving without a driver’s license when he allegedly killed Whitehat, she wrote.

Below is the approximate location of the alleged attack.

Court proceedings

Indictment

In a motion for release, Peshlakai’s attorney, Edward Bustamante, of Albuquerque, wrote that Peshlakai was initially charged in state court and those charges were dropped after he was indicted federally.

According to a search of public state court records, no arrest appears to have been recorded.

Mitten Rock, off of Navajo Route 13 (Indian Services Route 13), New Mexico. Photo by James St. John/Flickr

On Oct. 2, 2018, a federal grand jury indicted Peshlakai on a charge of second-degree murder, although it would not be entered into the court record until Oct. 11, 2018.

Peshlakai immediately retained Farmington attorney Adam Bell once he learned he could be charged with a crime for allegedly running down Whitehat, Bustamante wrote.

Bell then arranged for Peshlakai to surrender to police in Farmington, he wrote.

According to the docket, he surrendered on Dec. 6, 2018 and Bustamante was appointed as his attorney.

On Dec. 13, 2018, federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing ordered Peshlakai held without bail. The minutes only contain the notations that the prosecution, defense spoke and that “Officer Galaz” told Fashing of the resources available at a halfway house.

On Jan. 10, 2019, Bustamante appealed the Fashing’s order.

Peshlakai suffered a “serious closed head injury” in 2013, which require him to “ingest a battery of medications to prevent ongoing seizures,” Bustamante wrote.

Before being arrested by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Peshlakai was scheduled to meet with multiple doctors about his brain injury.

“Subsequent to surrendering federal authorities Mr. Peshlakai has suffered a disruption in his prescribed medications,” Bustamante wrote. “The disruption in prescribed medication is causing at a minimum elevated anxiety in Mr. Peshlakai which in turn exacerbates Mr. Peshlakai’s closed head injury.”

Fashing “expressed concerns” about Peshlakai getting his medication when she ordered him held without bail. Release to a halfway house in Albuquerque would mean he could resume his medical treatment, he wrote.

On Jan. 28, 2019, District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl denied his motion for release, following a hearing the same day.

Competency

On Feb. 7, 2019, Jaros filed a motion to have Peshlakai evaluated for his competency, an issue because of his 2013 head injury.

When Bell was representing Peshlakai, he told prosecutors that he thought his client was not competent to stand trial, she wrote.

She attached a letter given to her by Bell, from one of his doctors, Garett Riggs, of the Northern Navajo Medical Center.

“Mr. Peshlaki’s (sic) injury affected both frontal lobes of the brain leading to impairments of judgement, planning, and complex decision making,” Riggs wrote.”He requires 24/7 supervision for safety, medication administration, food preparation, and assistant with basic daily activities.”

Bustamante wrote in a motion to have Peshlakai released, because of the coronavirus pandemic, that Peshlakai was evaluated at a facility in Colorado and found incompetent to proceed on June 14, 2019. He was committed to a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility to be returned to competency.

On March 20, 2020, a facility in North Carolina concluded that Peshlakai was competent to proceed to trial and he was returned to New Mexico on April 17, 2020, to the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan.

Jaros wrote in a response to Bustamante’s motion that his condition has improved since he was initially arrested “likely due to his forced sobriety.”

“The most recent evidence regarding Defendant’s mental state indicates that Defendant has recovered well from his head injury and that his epilepsy is currently under control,” she wrote.

A Bureau of Prisons psychologist wrote that his brain has recovered “well” from the injury and his “current cognitive profile does not reflect evidence of brain injury,” Jaros wrote.

Release request amid coronavirus

On April 20, 2020, Bustamante filed a motion for an expedited hearing to have Peshlakai released because of the threat of the coronavirus.

Peshlakai is an at-risk detainee because of his permanent closed head injury and all his medications, he wrote.

He asked that his client be released to his daughter, Jennifer Peshlakai, in Oklahoma, or his mother, in Churchrock.

Jaros wrote in a response that Bustamante did not argue that his client is no longer a flight risk or a danger to the community and that the pandemic would not make it less likely he would violate court orders and drink or harm others if released from custody.

“The COVID-19 pandemic simply has no bearing on whether conditions of release can reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court and the safety of the community,” Jaros wrote.

She wrote that Peshlakai is also not particularly at risk from the coronavirus, citing a New York case where a man with dementia and a history of strokes and heart attacks was denied pre-trial release during the pandemic.

“It would be pure speculation for the Court to presume that Defendant’s underlying conditions pose a greater risk to his safety than if he was released back into the public, where he could resume drinking,” Jaros wrote.

She wrote that when he was arrested, he also had three outstanding warrants. One was a New Mexico probation violation case, although she did not specify if it was federally issued or a state case, and two for failing to appear in court in Oklahoma.

Release request denied

District Judge Judith Herrera held a hearing on June 4, 2020, and denied Peshlakai’s request for release.

According to minutes from the June 4, 2020 hearing, conducted via Zoom, Bustamante asked for his client to be released to the third-party custody of his sister in Oklahoma.

Jaros provided an update on the status of coronavirus cases in the Cibola County Detention Center and asked Peshlakai remain in jail, according to the minutes.

According to the minutes, U.S. Marshal Deputy G. McCoy “provides information re: COVID-19 cases, status of employee’s health at Cibola and outlines medical treatment defendants receive upon entry/release from center.”

Jaros brought one exhibit, entered onto the record, but it was uploaded to PACER and the minutes do not state what it was.

At the end of the 45-minute hearing, District Judge Judith Herrera ordered Peshlakai continue to be held as a danger to the community, according to the minutes.

“Court finds defendant has not shown there is an elevated risk to him in contracting COVID-19, outlines reasons and denies request for release,” the minutes state. “Ms. Jaros to submit order”

 

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