The mother of a special-education student tased in the chest last month at Española Valley High School by a Rio Arriba County sheriff’s deputy is suing the Board of County Commissioners on her son’s behalf.
The woman’s lawsuit, filed Monday evening in the state’s First Judicial District, alleges assault, battery and false imprisonment of the 15-year-old boy. It also accuses the county of negligent hiring practices and failing to properly train Deputy Jeremy Barnes how to work in a school setting with students who have disabilities.
The complaint also says Barnes did not have current certification to operate a Taser X2 — a device the document says is unfit for use on a teen — and accuses Barnes of unnecessarily holding the boy in handcuffs in a sheriff’s office cell following the May 10 tasing.
Barnes had refused to release the boy to his mother at a local hospital emergency room, the suit says.
“No objectively reasonable officer confronting a situation where the need for force is at its lowest, in the office of a Dean of Students, would have deployed a Taser X2 in a so reckless manner as to cause physical and psychological injury to a disabled adolescent boy,” the complaint says.
It also cites past allegations of misconduct against Barnes at other law enforcement agencies in the state.
Attorneys for the boy and his mother could not be reached for comment on the case.
In a text message to The New Mexican, County Commissioner James Martinez referred all questions about the lawsuit to Rio Arriba County Manager Tomas Campos.
Campos responded in an email, saying, “I refrain from commenting on legal issues.”
The student — who has suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder since the tasing, according to the suit — and his mother are only identified in the court filing by their initials.
While the boy’s family members had filed a notice of their intent to sue the sheriff’s office, Española Public Schools and the high school along with the county, only the commission is named as a defendant.
The Española school board and Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez issued a statement last week condemning the incident and held a public meeting to discuss possible changes to policies regarding officers on campus, such as requiring more stringent training for security guards and armed deputies.
Sheriff James Lujan has defended Barnes’ actions since video of the incident was made public late last month.
A transcript of a phone conversation between Lujan and Barnes, filed in court along with the lawsuit, indicates the sheriff bantered with the deputy about the ordeal.
“You know, a Marine would have been able handle that without a Taser,” the sheriff said, according to the transcript.
Barnes — who attended Army basic combat training in 2017, the complaint says — agreed with the sheriff and said, “I went through the wrong basic training then.”
The lawsuit details Barnes’ troubled career history, which includes his termination from the Grants Police Department in 2014, largely because he was accused of a pattern of aggressive and confrontational behavior toward his girlfriend and others, according to records.
The complaint says a man filed a lawsuit in 2016 accusing Barnes of excessive use of force with a Taser in Cibola County.
Records show Barnes went to work with the Clayton Police Department after he was fired from the Grants agency but resigned in 2015. He then held various jobs until May 2018, when the Army National Guard hired him to work at the border, according to the suit.
Late last year, he started his job at the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office.
Along with seeking compensation for the boy’s injuries, the complaint asks the court to order the county to require officer training in crisis management and signs of mental illness and disability and in the use of the Taser X2.
It also seeks a requirement for officers stationed on school campuses to verify whether a child has disabilities and to refrain from handcuffing any child with disabilities unless “a child is presenting a clear and present danger to himself and others and there are no other alternatives to provide for the safety of the child or others.”