Las Cruces officer Jonah Hernandez

‘Our department is wounded right now’

More details emerge in news conference over slain police officer


Since becoming the chief of the Las Cruces Police Department last year, Jeremy Story has delivered a dozen news conferences. He's been more visible than previous chiefs and more willing to be the face of the department amid its triumphs and tribulations.

Yet, in the history of LCPD, no chief has ever done what Story did on Tuesday.

The police chief – still firmly in his first year and surrounded by his command staff, the mayor, and four of the five city councilors, addressed questions around the killing of an officer – the first in the department's 96-year history.    

"There is no more heartbreaking reason than this to have a news conference," Story said.

Story provided some details about the killing of officer Jonah Hernandez, 35, who was stabbed while responding to a trespassing call on Feb. 11 around 5 p.m. near the 300 block of Valley Drive. Some details about the death and subsequent investigation were held back, and despite Story's desire to keep focus on Hernadez, most questions focused on his killer. But the conference also revealed anger and anguish among LCPD's ranks.

"There's a cost to having peace, order and justice in Las Cruces," Story said. "Officer Hernandez's family will eternally pay that price."

Details about the incident

Story revealed during the news conference that man who killed Hernandez was Armando Silva. Silva, 29, stabbed Hernandez with a kitchen knife immediately after the two men made contact, according to Story, who said Silva's attack was unprovoked.

The encounter was seen by a man standing nearby. The man – who police have not identified and for whom they are not recommending criminal charges – ran to his vehicle and grabbed his gun. The man then shot Silva as the assailant tried to slash him as well.

As first responders arrived, Hernandez and Silva both succumbed to their injuries. A video taken by a bystander and posted online shows officers rushing to the area to try and aid the two men before they're placed in separate ambulances and taken away. 

At the behest of a question from a reporter, Story also confirmed that Silva was unhoused at the time of the killing, a fact that community members had speculated about but not confirmed until this news conference.

"Silva had a long history of violent crime and mental illness," Story said. "This is just one more agonizing reminder of the brokenness of the New Mexico criminal justice system."

Story declined to provide a detailed history of Silva's criminal background. A search of court records reveals that Silva served a 3-year sentence following a guilty plea to allegations that he attacked and kidnapped a woman he dated.

The sentence was handed down in 2017. Otherwise, Silva's experience in the criminal justice system involved charges of drug possession, traffic violations and a battery charge. Most of these had been dropped following a lack of prosecution.

The search does not include charges Silva may have had in Las Cruces Municipal court, which would have encompassed small charges like trespassing.

A broken system and a wounded department

Story also declined to elaborate why he believed this situation was emblematic of more significant systemic issues in the New Mexico criminal justice system.

"There will be a time when I address those issues," Story said in response to a Las Cruces Bulletin question asking for clarification. "I can make a promise that I will not let his death be in vain. But now is not that time. Now's the time to honor Officer Hernandez and to support his family."

Story also spoke about the impact Hernandez's death had on the department.

"We will mourn the loss of our brother forever. And we will never forget his sacrifice for the people of Las Cruces," Story said.

When asked by the Bulletin, Story said that officers had options when confronting the inevitable mental health challenges following the violent death of a colleague. He listed LCPD's psychologist, chaplain, and the City's Employee Assistance Program coordinator as some resources already in place. Additionally, Story said more resources from national organizations were being offered to LCPD.

 "This is not something we practice for or plan for at the Las Cruces Police Department. It's been around for 96 years, and this is the first time we have lost an officer in the line of duty," Story said.

Funeral services for Hernandez had not been finalized but would likely be in El Paso in the coming weeks. Story said Hernandez grew up in Las Cruces' sister city. He lived there before his death and was raising his family there. Hernandez is survived by his wife, two sons, parents, a brother and a sister. 

"There's nothing I can say or do to ease their grief and loss. Our department is wounded right now. And yet, we remain committed to the city and to each other," Story said. 

Slain police officer, Officer Jonah Hernandez, incident