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Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney's Office
District of New Mexico
Alexander M.M. Uballez, United States Attorney
For Immediate Release
Monday, April 10, 2023

Prison Escapee Sentenced to 10 Years for Being a Felon in Possession of a Firearm, a Charge Resulting From Shooting of Farmington Police Officer

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Alexander M.M. Uballez, United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico, and Brendan Iber, Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), announced today that Elias Buck was sentenced to the statutory maximum of 10 years in prison. Buck, 24, of Aztec, New Mexico, pleaded guilty on Dec. 8, 2022, to being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.

According to the plea agreement and other court records, on Jan. 7, 2022, police officers in Farmington responded to a report that the male driver of a black Cadillac was possibly driving under the influence. An officer located the vehicle in the drive-thru line of a Starbucks and waited for it to exit. Once it did, the officer initiated their lights and sirens and attempted to stop the Cadillac, but the driver fled at a high rate of speed. Another officer located the Cadillac a short time later in the Carl’s Junior parking lot and learned from witnesses that two individuals fled from the vehicle on foot. A third officer who was nearby decided to check a large dirt lot in the area the witness had indicated that individuals fled. He parked his vehicle and walked towards an opening in the corner of the lot, where he observed two individuals walking towards him. The officer contacted the individuals and recognized Buck from the escape flyer circulated after Buck escaped from a Durango jail the week prior despite his attempt to disguise himself by wearing a wig. The officer asked Buck and the other individual to sit down, at which time Buck pulled a pistol from his pocket, pointed it towards the officer’s face, and pulled the trigger.

The firearm’s muzzle was approximately one foot from the officer’s face when Buck pulled the trigger. The officer raised his arm to shield his face and the bullet passed through his arm. Buck shot him a second time in the elbow. The officer retreated to put some space between him and Buck and heard Buck fire two more rounds at him before fleeing. Since the shooting, the officer has returned work, however he has not regained full range of motion in his arm.

Buck was arrested on Jan. 14, 2022, in Phoenix, Arizona after he was recognized by a security guard at a local convenience store.

During sentencing proceedings, Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe addressed the Court, saying “…the long-term impact of this event was significant, and not just [to the] Farmington PD, but to the City of Farmington and to the entire San Juan County. It's a remote county, pretty close-knit. We had not had an officer shot in the line of duty in over 30 years, and that means every officer on my agency had never lived through an officer-involved shooting, had never experienced it. It was -- It was a shocking event for our agency.”

Chief Hebbe continued by addressing Judge Kea W. Riggs directly, saying “. . . today is singular for you in that you have a chance to say, as a federal judge, the pinnacle of the criminal justice system, to say in no uncertain terms that assaults on our criminal justice system, assaults on our police officers is absolutely not tolerable; that whatever the vitriol, whatever the second-guessing, whatever the climate has been over the last few years, that does not excuse, it does not belittle, it does not minimize the impact of a crime like this.”

At the time of sentencing, United States District Court Judge Kea W. Riggs addressed Buck, saying “You do not have the right to change anyone else's life or alter -- you altered this man's life for the rest of his life. You altered his family's life. It is a ripple effect. It's a ripple effect through his family, on the Department, and through that community . . . I'm thankful that our officer is alive and able to continue to work, but you're lucky that you're alive and here, and you need to think about that.”

“We owe a special debt of gratitude to those who put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe,” said U.S. Attorney Alexander M.M. Uballez. “Just as federal, state, and local law enforcement officers walk our streets daily to protect us from harm, we will relentlessly seek justice when harm comes to them.”

“There is no place in our society for those who use firearms for violent, criminal purposes,” said Brendan Iber, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Phoenix Field Division. “ATF will continue to work with our law enforcement partners at the federal, state, and local levels to bring those individuals to justice.”

At the time of the offense, Buck had a prior conviction for attempted possession of dangerous drugs for sale. As a convicted felon, Buck could not legally possess a firearm or ammunition.

Upon his release from prison, Buck will be subject to three years of supervised release.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigated this case with assistance from the Farmington Police Department and San Juan County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Letitia Carroll Simms is prosecuting the case.

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