Family of man who died after fight at Tiny’s sues city officer — (The New Mexican)

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The Santa Fe New Mexican

Posted: Tuesday, January 13, 2015 10:00 pm

James Rochford, 42, suffocated Jan. 18, 2013, after he had gotten into a fight with another bar patron and was forced to the floor by four men who, according to police reports, held him facedown and pinned his arms and legs until police arrived.

The men told police they hadn’t hit Rochford, but that someone had sat on him in an effort to keep him down. Other witnesses told police they’d heard Rochford at least twice say, “Get off me, I can’t breathe.”

When Santa Fe police Officer Suzanne Brunk arrived, the complaint says, she restrained Rochford with two sets of handcuffs and left him lying facedown while she interviewed witnesses.

The complaint filed in state District Court says Brunk should have known that the way she had restrained Rochford created an unreasonably high risk that he would be injured or die.

When Brunk realized Rochford wasn’t moving, she tried to revive him but failed, according to reports.

Because there was a possibility that Rochford may have died in city police custody, New Mexico State Police took over the investigation. That agency did not provide information Tuesday regarding the status of its probe.

City spokesman Matt Ross confirmed that the city police department completed an internal investigation in March, but he declined to comment further on the case due to the pending litigation. District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco did not return a call seeking comment.

According to news reports at the time, Rochford — who had recently moved to Santa Fe from Corrales for a job at the state Taxation and Revenue Department — began drinking whiskey and beer at Tiny’s at around 2 p.m. Jan. 18. At 5 p.m., he called another man at the bar an offensive name, and the two faced off and began exchanging blows.

Three other men and a woman tried to stop the fight, but witnesses said Rochford seemed to have “superhuman strength” and fought people off “like a tornado,” knocking one man unconscious.

Toxicology tests revealed that Rochford, a father of three, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.18 and had other drugs in his bloodstream when he died: an amphetamine, an antidepressant, caffeine, nicotine and marijuana. He also suffered from hypertensive heart disease, the autopsy report said.

The cause of death was determined to be traumatic asphyxiation.

Rochford’s father, James Rochford Sr., said at the time that it seemed police had made up their minds upon arriving at the scene that his son had started the altercation, and they didn’t fully investigate other possible scenarios.

The wrongful death complaint — filed on behalf of Rochford’s 21-year-old son, Evan Rochford — seeks unspecified damages plus legal fees from Brunk, the city and the Santa Fe Police Department.

Contact Phaedra Haywood at 986-3068 or phaywood@sfnewmexican.com.