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Man pleads not guilty in shooting death of Navajo officer

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The man accused of gunning down a tribal police officer in a remote corner of the nation’s largest American Indian reservation pleaded not guilty Thursday to several charges, including murder.

Kirby Cleveland, 32, will remain in federal custody pending trial, which has yet to be scheduled. He faces murder and weapons charges in the killing of Navajo Nation Officer Houston James Largo, who was shot March 11 on a dark road in western New Mexico while responding to a domestic violence call.

A woman from the rural community saw flashing police lights that night and found Largo lying along the road, face down and bleeding. She used the radio in Largo’s patrol vehicle to call for help.

The 27-year-old decorated officer died the next day at an Albuquerque hospital, and Cleveland was found hiding in the hills more than a mile away.

Before the shooting, Cleveland’s wife had called authorities saying he had been drinking and became angry as she and her children watched television, according to a criminal complaint. She drove him to a friend’s house.

Largo arrived as a friend was driving Cleveland home. The officer stopped the vehicle and shots rang out soon after. The complaint says Cleveland walked home with his .22-caliber rifle and told his wife: “I shot that police officer, you need to go help him.”

A message seeking comment was left with Cleveland’s public defender.

The case showed the dangers faced nationwide by tribal police officers who often must patrol vast jurisdictions alone. It also led Navajo leaders and community members to discuss the scourge of alcohol and the constant reports of domestic violence on the reservation, which spans parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

Navajo President Russell Begaye last week said he hoped the case doesn’t languish in the federal court system. He said the officer’s family and the Navajo Nation are still mourning.

Federal officials have said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will decide whether to seek life or death sentence if Cleveland is convicted of the most serious charges.

At the time of the shooting, Cleveland was on probation for forcing his way into a home on the Navajo Nation in 2012 armed with a baseball bat and assaulting a woman. He served two years in prison.

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