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Man accused of stealing police car changes plea

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The trial of a man accused of stealing a Roswell Police Department vehicle and leading law enforcement on a high-speed chase last year was canceled Wednesday after he withdrew his initial not guilty plea on six criminal counts.

Luis Gauna (Submitted Photo)

Luis Gauna, 34, of Roswell, changed his plea from not guilty to one of guilty Wednesday, the same day his trial was set to begin, according to Timothy Wyatt, deputy district attorney for New Mexico’s 5th Judicial District.

Gauna was charged in connection with the incident with one count each of aggravated battery upon a peace officer, deadly weapon; aggravated assault upon a peace officer, deadly weapon; aggravated battery, deadly weapon; disarming a peace officer, removing a firearm or weapon; unlawful taking of a motor vehicle; and aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled in Gauna’s case for the week of June 22, where he could face a maximum 21-year sentence, Wyatt said. He added that no agreement on sentencing was reached between the prosecution and defense, and Gauna had rejected all earlier plea offerings.

Charges against Gauna stem from a June 4, 2020 encounter he had with an RPD patrol officer who drove up to him as he was riding a bicycle in the area of East Albuquerque Street and South Virginia Avenue.

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The officer — who wanted to speak with Gauna — pulled up and climbed out of his vehicle. Gauna, according to court documents, then got off his bicycle, reached into his pants pockets and pulled out three tennis ball-sized stones and pelted the officer with them.

When the officer stepped back and was pulling out his service weapon, court records state, Gauna jumped into the patrol unit and sped off.

Officers from the RPD, New Mexico State Police, and deputies from the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office became involved in the pursuit as Gauna drove into heavy oncoming traffic at high rates of speed and avoided several tire-deflation devices that were deployed in unsuccessful attempts to immobilize the stolen patrol unit.

The pursuit reached U.S. Highway 285, heading south, and eventually reached Eddy County. Court documents state Eddy County deputies deployed tire-deflation devices in an attempt to stop the vehicle, but Gauna successfully avoided them by driving south in northbound lanes of traffic at speeds of up to 70 mph.

The chase ended at mile post 77, when Gauna crashed the unit head-on into a pickup truck. He then forced his way into the pickup and onto the lap of its female driver.

When a New Mexico State Police officer tried to pull him from the pickup, Gauna grabbed the officer’s taser. Gauna was subsequently restrained, handcuffed and transported to an El Paso Medical Center to receive treatment for his injuries.

In addition to Gauna and the officer struck by the rocks, the driver of the pickup and a Chaves County sheriff’s deputy — who crashed a marked unit during the chase — all sustained non-life threatening injuries.

The Daily Record attempted to reach Frank Patterson, Gauna’s attorney, for a comment on the change of plea. A person who answered the phone Wednesday at Patterson’s office said Patterson does not comment on his clients.

Court records indicate Gauna has a criminal history stretching back to at least 2006 which includes past convictions for aggravated assault with a firearm; attempted aggravated burglary; criminal trespass; resisting, evading or obstructing an officer; and escape from a community release program.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.