A former Rio Arriba County sheriff’s deputy is suing the city of Española and Taos County, alleging law enforcement officers employed by the two governments used excessive force when executing a search warrant on Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan and placed the deputy in snipers’ crosshairs.

Williams Fresquez says in his lawsuit, filed Tuesday in state District Court, the incident caused him to fear for his life.

The suit is the latest wrinkle in an ongoing saga involving pending criminal charges against Lujan. He is accused of helping former Española City Councilor Phillip Chacon evade police after leading them on a high-speed chase in 2017 and drunkenly trying to take over a crime scene at Chacon’s house in 2020.

The events that gave rise to Fresquez’s complaint occurred May 21, 2020, when Española police officers and Taos County sheriff’s deputies executed a search warrant authorizing them to seize Lujan’s cellphone at the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office headquarters in Española, the lawsuit says.

Española Police Chief Roger Jimenez held long-standing animosity toward Lujan, according to the lawsuit, and wanted to execute the warrant “with a display of massive force that would embarrass and intimidate Lujan” and those who worked for him.

The two agencies sent officers wearing balaclavas and carrying long guns, along with a K-9 unit, to the sheriff’s headquarters during business hours on a weekday, the lawsuit says.

Fresquez was not at the office at the time, according to the civil complaint.

But he returned with lights and sirens blazing after Undersheriff Martin Trujillo called him back to the headquarters just as the officers from the other agencies were executing the search warrant.

Fresquez’s complaint says he was thrust into a scene that resembled a war zone.

As he got out of his patrol car, the lawsuit says, three snipers from Taos County’s Special Response SWAT team trained their weapons on him.

In shock, the lawsuit says, Fresquez retreated to his car and stayed there. He called his wife to tell her if anything happened to him, she should know he loved her.

Trujillo faces criminal charges accusing him of ordering deputies to draw their guns on the Española and Taos officers.

After seizing what the lawsuit says was the wrong phone from Lujan, the officers proceeded to enter Lujan’s locked office.

“The scene, captured on videotape, looked like an entry into the home of a suspected terrorist by United State’s Marines in Fallujah, Iraq during 2004,” Fresquez’s attorney, Richard Rosenstock, wrote in the complaint.

The officers, masked and in military fatigues, were yelling and pointing their weapons at a receptionist while the police dog was barking wildly in the background, the lawsuit says.

“Inexplicably, the Defendant SWAT officers repeatedly fired their rifles in a bizarre attempt by trigger-happy deputies to open the door to Lujan’s office,” Rosenstock says in the complaint. “Gun smoke permeated the air. There was debris all over the floor by the door. The shooting continued for about 60 seconds. When the gunshots failed to break the door open, officers used a sledgehammer and a battering ram to break the door down. Officers entered Lujan’s office, took a brief look into the room and then walked away. No search was conducted of the office other than the officers taking a look inside after breaking down the door.”

As a result of the incident, Fresquez’s lawsuit says, he suffered “serious aggravation of a pre-existing emotional injury that necessitated treatment. The trauma he suffered was so severe he was unable to continue to do the routine patrol work required of police officers.”

Española Police Deputy Chief Jack Jones said in a phone interview Tuesday the decision to use a SWAT team to execute the warrant was a result of Lujan and Trujillo’s previously unpredictable and noncompliant behavior.

Jones said Trujillo is the one to blame for putting Fresquez in the middle of the melee. “Everything was done as relatively safely as could be done. It was the undersheriff who called all the deputies back that created this situation,” Jones said. “Had he not called them back, this situation would not have been created outside us serving the warrant.”

Taos County contract attorney Randy Autio said the county “will analyze the allegations in the complaint, turn it over to our insurer and defend the case according to the facts shown.”

Fresquez seeks an unspecified amount of damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering.

(1) comment

John Martinez

C'mon Fresquez, this meal ticket is a far reach. You don't like the smell of gun powder and can't take the sight of armed police officers, you should find a different line of work...haha. Maybe that's why you're a Deputy, you didn't want to be around all of this type of "chaos".

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