If stun guns weren’t so dangerous, the cavalier way Rio Arriba County sheriff’s employees handle them might be comical.
Deputy Leon Gallegos is on administrative leave and under an internal investigation after discharging his Taser into the body of a case manager who works at the Rio Arriba County jail.
Maj. Randy Sanches, the sheriff’s spokesman, initially told me Gallegos’ stun gun went off by accident, pure and simple.
If that’s the case, why is Gallegos on administrative leave? And what is the point of investigating him if the sheriff has already determined that Gallegos discharged his Taser accidentally?
“Well, what we’re trying to determine is if there was some horseplay involved,” Sanches said.
Aha. Horseplay with a weapon that packs the punch of Mike Tyson wouldn’t be an accident.
Some might call it downright reckless. Others would say playing with a Taser is stupid, especially because law enforcement officers are supposed to appreciate the pain they cause.
The story only gets worse. Sources told me the jail employee, Timothy J. Gallegos, was jolted below the belt, in a private part.
“I won’t confirm or deny that,” said Larry DeYapp, administrator of the jail in Tierra Amarilla.
DeYapp said Timothy Gallegos went to a clinic to be examined after being tased June 3. He returned to work the next day, DeYapp said.
Timothy Gallegos was on the job Monday, but unavailable when I phoned, a jail employee told me.
Based on separate interviews with Sanches and DeYapp, here is what happened leading up to the tasing:
Deputy Gallegos went to the jail to pick up 12 inmates who were due in court. Law enforcement officers are required to remove their firearms and Tasers before entering the jail. They are to lock them in their vehicle.
Sanches, in his first rendition of what went wrong, said Deputy Gallegos’ stun gun discharged as he removed it from his holster. The Taser hit Timothy Gallegos.
Sanches later amended his account to allow for the possibility of “horseplay” causing the Taser to strike Timothy Gallegos.
Using the state public records law, I have requested the video showing Deputy Gallegos’ handling of the Taser and its discharge.
I have not received it yet, but DeYapp has watched the video. He said he could not characterize whether what happened was accidental or not.
“It’s just up in the air,” DeYapp said.
After Timothy Gallegos was struck by the Taser, DeYapp’s focus was on making sure his employee received medical attention.
Then he called Sheriff James Lujan to report the tasing. DeYapp said he did not write a report, so his oral communication was all the sheriff had to start his investigation.
DeYapp is confident Lujan and his staff will be thorough in investigating what happened.
“My belief is the sheriff’s office has always been entirely professional,” DeYapp said.
This tasing followed another by a Rio Arriba County sheriff’s deputy who was working last month on the campus of Española Valley High School. Deputy Jeremy Barnes fired his Taser into the chest of a 15-year-old special-education student.
Lujan has defended Barnes’ use of force. Others have roundly criticized it.
Española School Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez said law enforcement officers on campus must operate differently from those patrolling the streets.
Students “do not need to be tased, physically restrained or incarcerated by law enforcement for daily disciplinary situations,” she said in a statement.
The boy who was tased is preparing to file a lawsuit against Rio Arriba County in state court, according to a family attorney.
Now Lujan has another fine mess with a deputy’s tasing of a jail employee.
Barney Fife, the fictional deputy on The Andy Griffith Show of the 1960s, long was an unwelcome symbol of the quality of deputies in rural sheriff’s departments.
More than 50 years later, Rio Arriba County can’t shake that comparison — or another with the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-986-3080.