Based on the written statement of an eyewitness, it didn’t seem like an accident that Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Deputy Leon Gallegos discharged his Taser into the genitals of a jail employee.
The statement was turned over to me Friday afternoon as part of my request for public records about the tasing.
A spokesman for the sheriff’s office, Maj. Randy Sanches, has described Gallegos’ tasing the jail employee as accidental. Sanches, though, said “horseplay” might have been a contributing factor.
Jail Officer Terrance C. Garcia, who witnessed the tasing June 3 outside the jail in Tierra Amarilla, gave a statement that leaves many questions unanswered. But nowhere in it does he describe what happened as foolhardy mishandling of a dangerous weapon.
Garcia said Gallegos and other deputies arrived on the jail grounds in three vehicles. Their assignment was to pick up prisoners who were due in court.
Garcia said he was with jail Officer Timothy J. Gallegos, who would become the victim of the tasing.
Deputy Gallegos stepped out of his vehicle and walked toward the trunk, where Timothy Gallegos and Garcia were standing.
“While Deputy Leon approached, I heard [Detention Officer] Timothy tell him to stop honking in a joking manner,” Garcia wrote in his statement.
Deputy Gallegos opened the trunk and seemed to be preparing to place items inside it, Garcia stated.
“I heard Deputy Leon say something to Timothy and turn his body toward Timothy while brandishing a black object in his hand.
“I heard a loud pop and immediately seen Timothy fall toward the ground. I heard a sound I immediately recognized to be a Taser and noticed Taser leads on the ground.
“Timothy, after a few moments on the ground groaning, stood up and stated he had been tased in the genital area.”
That ended Garcia’s statement.
Not addressed was whether Deputy Gallegos appeared to be playing with the Taser when he turned it on the jail employee, as the sheriff’s spokesman has suggested.
Timothy Gallegos also provided a brief statement. He added one detail that might be the basis for the claim that the tasing resulted from a deputy fooling around with the weapon.
As the deputies got out of their vehicles, Timothy Gallegos stated that he jokingly told Deputy Gallegos “to stop honking his horn at my jail.”
“When he said this isn’t your jail, we then both laughed and [he] pulled his issued Taser out and tased me in the groin area,” Timothy Gallegos wrote.
Timothy Gallegos provided no further context.
Perhaps the only material difference between the two statements was that Timothy Gallegos said both he and the deputy laughed before the tasing. Garcia’s account made no mention of any laughter.
Timothy Gallegos went to a clinic and was examined by a physician. He returned to duty the next day, the jail administrator said.
Sanches said Friday that Deputy Gallegos remains on administrative leave as an investigation by the sheriff’s office continues.
Sanches said the goal is to be thorough. The Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office is under scrutiny for its use of Tasers, so it won’t rush to finish, he said.
Deputy Gallegos was the second Rio Arriba deputy in three weeks to discharge a Taser. Criticism has rained down on the sheriff’s office each time.
Deputy Jeremy Barnes on May 10 fired his Taser three times into the chest of a 15-year-old special education student at Española Valley High School.
Barnes remains on duty. Sheriff James Lujan has defended Barnes’ use of force on the teen.
The boy’s mother this week filed a lawsuit against Rio Arriba County in state court.
With two of his deputies all too eager to pull their Tasers, Sheriff Lujan ought to be doubling down on better screening of prospective employees instead of his defense of Barnes.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-986-3080.