In Rio Rancho, New Mexico, a senseless and tragic incident occurred involving an 82-year-old woman, Juneanne Fannell, who was killed by her caretaker. The story raises serious questions about the enforcement of laws that are ostensibly intended to prevent such tragedies.
On April 5, the Rio Rancho Police and Fire Departments responded to a call at Fannell’s residence. Henry Cardana, who had been Fannell’s caretaker for years, had called 911, claiming that the woman was uncontrollable and needed to be removed for her safety. During the call, Fannell also spoke to the 911 operator. She expressed fear, said she believed she was in danger, and mentioned that there were firearms in the home.
After arriving on the scene, officers struck up a conversation with Cardana about guns.
Rio Rancho officers talk with Cardana about the firearms inside the home.
“You’re a firearms guy?” an officer asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Cardana said.
“Nice,” the officer said.
“They’re loaded. They’re ready to go,” Cardana said.
“We don’t need to see them,” the officer said. “There’s one probably right there in that case. And I see another one over there.”
The officer continued saying, “I like folks that have guns,” since he is a gun owner himself. As the officers begin to say their goodbyes to Cardana and Fannell, she begs them to stay at the home.
The conversation took a darker turn as the officers prepared to leave. “What did you say?” Fannell asked Cardana, who responded: “I said you’re fine until I kill you.”
Fannell said to the officers: “Alright? He’s threatened to do that.”
The officers left. Four hours later, the neighbor called 911 telling the operator that Cardana “was screaming for help and told us to call the police” because “he says he’s killed her.”
The incident has brought attention to New Mexico’s Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act, which was implemented in 2020. It enables law enforcement and prosecutors to petition a court to seize guns from people who pose a credible threat to themselves or others. But, in this case, the officers did not use the law even though there appeared to be valid reasons for doing so.
However, the majority of elected sheriffs in New Mexico oppose it and have said they will not enforce the law. However, the passed law allows law enforcement and prosecutors to petition a court.
Those petitions will have a gun owners [sic] guns seized if there is a credible threat they will do harm to others or themselves. [Legal expert John] Day explains how it works.
“There’s a process for the for law enforcement to go to a court and get a temporary order saying go get those guns, put them away somewhere safe,” Day said. “We’ll deal with this and let some time pass, let people cool off.”
In a statement, Chief Steward Steele explained the officers’ handling of the situation.
When Officers left the scene, it did not appear Juneanne was in fear for her safety and there was no probable cause to believe any criminal activity had occurred. Officers did not witness any signs of distress and comments made relating to the use of a firearm appeared to be insincere and made in jest. Officers had no reasonable belief to suspect that either individual was sincerely contemplating an imminent act of violence because the behavior of the individuals observed on scene indicated they cared for one another and were working to solve their long term health care and living situation needs.
The statement continued:
Based on the entirety of circumstances during the first call, there was no probable cause to conduct a criminal investigation or substantiate a significant danger of imminent personal injury as a result of either person having access to a firearm. Consequently, the Officers lacked authority to arrest, place into protective custody either party against their will, or file a petition pursuant to the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act.