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Durango man suspected of jail escape, shooting police officer appears in court

Elias Buck waives right to hearing, will be held without bail
Elias Buck

A Durango man who is suspected of escaping from the La Plata County Jail and shooting a Farmington Police Department officer in the arm earlier this year has been charged with aggravated battery on a peace officer with a deadly weapon.

Elias Buck, 23, waived his right to a pretrial detention hearing Thursday in San Juan County, New Mexico, meaning he will be held without bail while his case is adjudicated. He is being held in the San Juan County Adult Detention Center in Farmington.

In addition to aggravated battery on a peace officer, Buck is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and tampering with evidence. He also faces charges in New Mexico in connection with a previous incident, including being in possession of a stolen motor vehicle, fleeing law enforcement and resisting arrest.

Based on New Mexico statutes, he faces up to 10½ years in prison if found guilty on all three of his most recent charges: six years for assault on a peace officer, three years for being in possession of a firearm and 18 months for tampering with evidence, said Dustin O’Brien, chief deputy district attorney with New Mexico’s 11th Judicial District.

Had Buck not waived his rights to a pretrial detention hearing, prosecutors would have needed to present “clear and convincing evidence” that no condition of release could have protected the community, O’Brien said.

Conditions of release could have included wearing an ankle monitor, being under house arrest and being prohibited from consuming drugs or alcohol, he said.

O’Brien said aggravated assault on a peace officer is punishable by three years in prison, but because Buck used a deadly weapon, it can be enhanced by three years, for a total of six years.

Prosecutors chose to charge Buck with aggravated assault on a peace officer instead of attempted murder, because attempted second-degree murder carries only three years in prison in New Mexico, O’Brien said. What’s more, prosecutors would have needed to prove Buck intended to kill the officer, he said.

At some point, Buck likely will face charges in La Plata County on suspicion of escaping from jail.

Buck is accused of scaling a fence and fleeing the jail on foot Dec. 27. He had been held since Dec. 7 on suspicion of motor vehicle theft.

Eleven days later, he allegedly shot Farmington Police Department officer Joseph Barreto in the right arm when the officer approached him on foot about a possible drunken driving incident.

The officer returned fire but didn’t hit Buck.

Buck was arrested Jan. 14 at a Quiktrip Convenience Store in Phoenix.

Authorities received a tip that he was at the gas station. They have not released details of where the tip originated or whether someone was entitled to one of two cash rewards that were being offered.

Buck’s next court appearance is set for 8 a.m. March 2 in Farmington.

shane@durangoherald.com

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