A patron of Tiny’s Restaurant and Lounge told investigators that a man who died last month in the bar near downtown Santa Fe twice said he couldn’t breathe while he was being restrained after a fight.
State police released reports Friday detailing multiple witness accounts of the Jan. 18 death of James Rochford, 42, who had recently moved from Corrales to Santa Fe after taking a job with the state Tax and Revenue Department.
Santa Fe police said they had responded to the scene of a bar fight shortly after 5 p.m. that day and found Rochford unresponsive. State police were called in to handle the investigation because of the possibility that Rochford might have died while in Santa Fe police custody.
State police have been withholding details about their investigation while they wait for the state Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque to issue a finding on the cause of death. They will only say that they are treating the incident as a “death investigation.” No autopsy report has been released.
The reports released Friday provide for the first time multiple witness accounts of the moments leading up to Rochford’s death. However, several witness interviews with those who restrained Rochford that night were excluded from the released reports.
A regular patron of Tiny’s, Kari Rives, told investigators that she went to the restaurant and bar on Early Street at about 4:55 p.m. that day to meet her husband. She told officers it was the first time she had seen Rochford at Tiny’s.
Rives said she saw a woman identified as Mary Josephine Potter sitting at one end of the bar with Rochford while Rives sat at the other end with her husband and several others, according to the report.
Potter told police that about the time Rives sat down at the other end of the bar, Rochford called her boyfriend, William Donahue, an offensive name. Rives told police that “the two stood with their chests puffed, in postures that indicated they were going to fight,” the report states.
Rives said she didn’t know which man instigated the physical contact but that the two began exchanging punches, the report states. She told police that while two other men and a woman tried to separate Rochford and Donahue, Rochford knocked unconscious a man who was identified only as “John.”
The fight moved to the dance floor area of the bar as Rochford fought off people “like a tornado,” Rives told police. Meanwhile, a bartender was calling police, the report says.
Santa Fe police said initially that 911 calls indicated Rochford was highly intoxicated. However, none of the reports released Friday include any statements by witnesses concerning whether Rochford was drunk. Rochford’s father, James Rochford Sr., has said that state police told him employees of the bar refused to serve his son more alcohol after he spilled a drink.
After several minutes of fighting, Rives told police, a man named Mark Apodaca and Donahue, along with a woman only identified as “Carey” and a man only identified as “Steve,” had restrained Rochford. According to the report, Apodaca held Rochford’s left arm while Donahue held his left and Carey held his legs. “Steve stood over the men, helping Mark and [Donahue],” Rives told police.
Rochford was being held facedown by the group of four when Rives, according to the report, said she heard Rochford complain twice: “Get off me, I can’t breathe.”
That’s when a female Santa Fe police officer arrived, according to Rives’ statement. The group released Rochford so the officer could place handcuffs on him, the report states, but Rives told police that she didn’t notice whether Rochford ever “moved or spoke upon the officer’s arrival.”
“James looked bluish,” Rives told police. Another patron then asked the officer if Rochford was OK, the report states.
The officer checked Rochford’s pulse but found no vital signs, the report states, so she removed the handcuffs. Officers and medical personnel then performed CPR for 40 minutes before giving up on trying to revive Rochford.
Rochford’s former wife of 15 years, Debbie Rochford, said in January that her ex-husband had struggled with alcohol in the past and had attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She said he hadn’t been drinking much since. She said she had never seen him become violent, but she also said she “can’t imagine he’d ever back down from something.”
“I can’t imagine what would’ve provoked him to that level,” Debbie Rochford said of her ex-husband, who is the father of her three children, 19-year-old and 13-year-old sons and an 11-year-old daughter.
Debbie Rochford didn’t return phone calls Friday after the police reports were released. James Rochford Sr. said that he didn’t want to comment on the reports until more information is known. What Rochford Sr. still wants to know is what happened in the hour and a half leading up to the fight at the restaurant.
One of the reports released Friday said Potter told police she saw Rochford kissing a woman outside Tiny’s at about 3 p.m. but then didn’t see him again until about 4:30 p.m., when he came back into the bar saying he had lost his cellphone.
Contact Nico Roesler at 986-3089 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nicoroesler.