Recently in Police Brutality Category

December 12, 2013

Lawsuit Claims Bernalillo County Corrections Officer Used Excessive Force in Violation of Inmate's Constitutional Rights

file000126690561 morguefile username rollingroscoe.jpgThe American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a woman who claims a Bernalillo County corrections officer used excessive force on her during a 2011 strip search. According to the complaint filed in Tapia v. Zapater, Marlene Tapia was arrested and taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center for an alleged probation violation. Upon Tapia's arrival, she was strip searched and a baggie was purportedly discovered protruding from her genitalia. Rather than consulting a doctor, one of the corrections employees, Blanca Zapater, allegedly used pepper spray on Tapia's bare genitals twice. During the encounter, another corrections officer, Sargeant Angela Sena, reportedly told Zapater to stop more than once and finally took the mace from her hand.

Tapia claims she suffered swelling, burning, and pain in her genital area for weeks after the incident. In her complaint, she accuses Zapater of engaging in malicious, wanton disregard for her rights as well as her physical well-being. Tapia stated she fully complied with all officer requests and did nothing to merit the use of a chemical agent on her person. Detention Center policy states mace may not be used on an inmate unless he or she poses a safety threat to staff or other prisoners. Although Zapater was apparently disciplined for the pepper spray incident, she is still currently employed at the facility.

In her lawsuit, Tapia claims Zapater violated her Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment Constitutional rights as well as sections of the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. She seeks damages for her suffering and personal injuries, attorneys' fees, and punitive damages to deter similar cruel and unusual behavior in the future.

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July 22, 2013

Four Santa Fe County Sheriff's Deputies Under Investigation for Alleged Police Brutality

12754_hand_cuffs sxchu.jpgThe Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office is reportedly investigating excessive force allegations in connection with a minor traffic collision that occurred on July 12th. According to Sheriff Robert Garcia, an in-dash camera showed deputies forcing a 57-year-old woman in the midst of a diabetic episode out of her vehicle. Despite that the unresponsive woman did not resist arrest, she was allegedly handcuffed and left lying face down on hot asphalt. When the deputies returned a few minutes later, the woman was apparently placed in the back of a police vehicle.

The 57-year-old diabetic woman was reportedly feeling confused and disoriented when she purportedly rear-ended a pick-up truck on New Mexico 599 near Paseo Rael. When she failed to respond to an officer's request that she exit her vehicle, he apparently broke her window and forcibly removed her. Initially, the four deputies who responded to the traffic wreck apparently failed to sit the woman up or attempt to shield her from the hot road surface. Garcia stated although the deputies suspected that the woman was driving under the influence, their behavior was entirely "unacceptable."

Once the woman was inside of the patrol car, a deputy reportedly discovered her insulin pump and summoned emergency medical personnel. The 57-year-old woman later stated her blood sugar was so low at the time of the accident she risked entering into a diabetic coma. Despite his purported concern over their conduct, Garcia did not place any of the Sheriff's Office deputies on administrative leave.

Law enforcement officers are expected to use force in certain circumstances, but sometimes they go too far. Police in New Mexico and across the country enjoy qualified immunity so long as they are engaged in their official duties and acting in good faith. If someone who was injured by a law enforcement officer can demonstrate that the officer's conduct was out of bounds, however, the presumption of qualified immunity may be overcome. 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 allows United States citizens to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against police officers who violate the Fourth Amendment's protection against the use of excessive force. If you or someone you love was victimized by an officer of the law, you should contact a quality personal injury attorney as soon as possible after the incident.

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March 25, 2013

Albuquerque Police Chief Announces His Retirement Amid Allegations of Rampant Police Abuse

7524_slow_down sxchu.jpgIn March, Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz announced his impending retirement after eight years of overseeing the city's law enforcement agency. The announcement came about five months after the United States Department of Justice reportedly launched an investigation into a number of civil rights violations allegedly committed by members of the police force. On the same day Schultz announced that he will retire later this year, an Albuquerque jury awarded the family members of an Iraq War veteran who reportedly suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder more than $10 million in connection with his 2010 shooting death during a stand-off with local police.

Since 2010, Albuquerque police were allegedly involved in 18 deadly shootings and the force has been plagued by accusations of police brutality. Excessive force claims purportedly caused community members to engage in protests, file a number of lawsuits against the police department, and demand large-scale changes. In recent years, a number of Albuquerque police officers were also supposedly reprimanded for controversial social media posts and manhandling suspects on video.

Schultz was first appointed Police Chief by the Albuquerque Mayor in 2006 and later re-appointed in 2009. Although some city officials and the police officers' union stated crime rates have dropped and a number of new public safety programs were instituted during Schultz's tenure, others said it was time for him to move on. Albuquerque City Council President Dan Lewis stated a leadership change is necessary as the police department's image was badly tarnished in recent years. Civil rights advocates reportedly said they were hopeful regarding the future of the department.

Although law enforcement officers are expected to use force in certain circumstances, they can go too far. Police are granted qualified immunity so long as they are acting in good faith and engaged in their official duties. If a plaintiff can demonstrate an officer's conduct was out of bounds, however, the presumption of qualified immunity may be overcome. A federal civil rights law, 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, allows United States citizens to file a lawsuit against police officers who violate the Fourth Amendment's protection against the use of excessive force. If you or a loved one was brutalized by an officer of the law, you should contact a skilled personal injury attorney as soon as possible after the incident.

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March 22, 2012

Valencia County Sheriff’s Deputy Shoots Man Twice Inside His Home

1249009_glock_29_replica_5%20sxchu.jpgEarlier this month, a Los Lunas man who family members say suffers from bipolar disorder was shot twice in his living room by a Valencia County Sheriff’s Deputy. 26-year-old Nathan Felts was shot in the face and shoulder after he allegedly lunged toward the deputy in a threatening manner. Law enforcement officers who were on the scene claim Felts told police he had a shotgun and was bringing the weapon into the room immediately before he was shot. His family claims the man was instead holding a baseball bat.

According to Felts’ sister, Amber Ocana, Felts was suicidal at the time of the incident. Earlier in the day, he reportedly tried to hang himself from a tree. Valencia County Sheriff’s Deputies claim the man attempted to blow his home up by turning on a natural gas pipe inside the house. When officers arrived at Felts’ house, they smelled natural gas and had the gas meter turned off before entering the premises.

Ocana believes police acted improperly and used excessive force on Felts. She stated that although Felts needs medical assistance for his mental stability, the shooting was not warranted. Ocana also expressed concern that police did not attempt to use other, nonlethal means such as police-issued stun guns to control her brother. She believes Felts needs the assistance of doctors instead of being arrested and placed in a jail cell.

Following the shooting, Felts was treated at the University of New Mexico Hospital where he underwent surgery for his wounds. The Sheriff’s Deputy who shot Felts, David Hill, was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation by state police to determine whether the shooting was justified. Investigators would not say whether Felts was in fact armed with a baseball bat as his family claims.

Law enforcement officers are expected to use force in certain circumstances. Because of this, police are granted qualified immunity when they are acting in good faith and engaged in their official duties. If a plaintiff can demonstrate an officer’s conduct was out of bounds, however, the presumption of qualified immunity may be overcome.

Here, Felts may have a claim against local law enforcement for violating of his constitutional rights. A federal civil rights law, 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 allows United States citizens to sue officers of the law for violating the Fourth Amendment’s protection against the use of excessive force. Felts may also have a civil claim against the officer who shot him. If you believe a police officer used excessive force on you or a loved one, you should contact a qualified personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after the incident.

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