- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 23, 2016

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) - The Las Cruces police chief is defending officers who fatally shot a robbery suspect, saying the suspect forced them to use deadly force.

“When he lunged at the officers, they were forced to use deadly force,” said Police Chief Jaime Montoya. “We do feel that once you see the knife, and you see what our officers were faced within feet, then they had the right to use that deadly force.”

Montoya said Monday that 36-year-old Juan Gabriel Torres of Las Cruces was armed with a knife when he was shot Sunday afternoon on a bridge over Interstate 25.

The shooting occurred near the Pan American Center where thousands gathered Sunday for the funeral of Hatch officer Jose Chavez, who authorities say was fatally shot by an Ohio fugitive.

Montoya said Torres failed to obey commands to drop the weapon and lunged at officers. He says when Torres lunged officers had no choice but to use deadly force. He says Torres was a “known felon” who was believed to have robbed an 86-year-old man earlier that day.

Montoya said the officers involved were carrying Tasers and that video from a body-worn camera will be released at a later date.

For now, a witness has captured the shooting on a cellphone camera and uploaded it to his Facebook page. In Elias ElCoyote Estrada’s video Torres is seen walking away from officers before shots are fired.

“He got out of truck and started running,” Estrada said. “He had a pretty big blade in his right hand, and he had a beer in his left hand.”

Montoya said he believes the body camera video will tell a different story. He said he does not believe the suspect was walking away.

“I think if you put the video that we have of the body-worn camera along with the video on Facebook, you can see how clear the officers reacted to that threat,” he said.

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