Man shocked with Taser files federal lawsuit against Colorado police
Kenneth Espinoza's attorney alleged he was shocked 35 times.
A Colorado man involved in an altercation with two Las Animas County sheriff's deputies filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday morning stating that he was “violently and without justification assaulted” at a traffic stop last November.
According to the man’s attorney and the civil complaint, Kenneth Espinoza was shocked 35 times with a Taser with stuns to the body and even some to the face, but the sheriff's office disagrees, saying that he was only shocked once.
“The statement that there was one Taser deployed is just preposterous,” Espinoza’s attorney Kevin Mehr said during Tuesday’s press conference.
According to the sheriff's office, data obtained from Lt. Henry Trujillo’s and Deputy Mikhail Noel’s Tasers show that Espinoza was only shocked once. But Mehr claimed that there is a mode on Tasers called drive-stun mode that he believes was used during the incident based on the body camera footage.
According to the complaint, Deputy Noel drive stunned Espinoza 15 times while he was seated in his truck and approximately seven additional times while trying to force Espinoza into the police vehicle. The complaint also alleges that during the struggle to get Espinoza in the patrol vehicle, Officer Trujillo struck Espinoza in the face with one barb of his Taser.
Axon Enterprise is a company that develops technology and weapons products for military law enforcement, and has over five million uses of their Taser in the field, according to its website.
The company's website details that “drive-stun capability is available with or without a Taser cartridge installed.”
“When using the drive-stun, push (drive) the front of the CEW firmly against the body of the subject. Simply “touching” the CEW against the subject is not sufficient,” the Axon website reads. “It is necessary to aggressively drive the front of the CEW into the subject for maximum effect.”
While Mehr believes Axon Taser’s are used by the Las Animas County Sheriff's Office, the department did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment to confirm.
“That’s what Mikhail Noel is doing repeatedly when he has that Taser in his hand,” Mehr said during the press conference. “He’s jabbing it over and over and over again. And you can hear it. You can hear the pops because when it arcs, it makes kind’ve a popping noise and there’s a light at the end.”
Espinoza, 48, and his son, Nathaniel Espinoza, 23, were on their way to get Kenneth’s car repaired on Nov. 29, 2022, and were traveling through Trinidad, Colorado, according to the son at Tuesday's press conference. After allegedly driving too close to police cars, Nathaniel was pulled over by Deputy Mikhail Noel. Kenneth, who was driving in front of his son, “circled the block and then pulled off the side of the road and parked approximately 75 feet” behind Noel’s patrol vehicle to wait for his son, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says Kenneth Espinoza was legally parked on the shoulder of the road.
After being told to leave by police repeatedly, the officer and Kenneth Espinoza exchange words and curse at each other. Kenneth Espinoza is seen trying to drive away quickly, as Deputy Noel is seen pointing the gun in Kenneth Espinoza's face, telling him to get out of the car after previously telling him to leave, according to the body camera video.
According to body camera footage, Lt. Trujillo can be seen coming back toward the car, demanding Kenneth Espinoza to get out the vehicle with a raised Taser pointing at Kenneth Espinoza.
The body camera appears to show Trujillo pulling Kenneth Espinoza's arm from inside the vehicle as Noel can be seen climbing inside the vehicle on the passenger side, appearing to jab Kenneth Espinoza on his side with his stun gun multiple times until he gets out of the car.
After Kenneth Espinoza exits the vehicle, he is handcuffed, and the body camera appears to show him being jabbed more times. When being placed in the patrol car, Kenneth Espinoza turns to look at the officers and at that point, he appears to be shocked by Lt. Trujillo with one barb striking Kenneth Espinoza in the lip and the other in the chest.
“To watch my father almost lose his life to these men– time stopped,” Nathaniel Espinoza said during the press conference. “I can still see them pointing the gun at my father and just watching time stop. Just feeling everything just leave my body. That’s when, I’d say, the value of life was shown to me.”
Kenneth Espinoza says he has burns on his body with a wound in his mouth where he was shocked with the one documented Taser deployment on record from the sheriff's office.
Both officers are currently on administrative leave from the Las Animas County Sheriff's Office.
Lt. Trujillo and Deputy Noel have not immediately responded to ABC News’ request for comment.
"This matter has been referred to an outside agency for review. At present time there are no updates on the internal investigation pertaining to this matter. No further comment will be provided due to pending litigation," the Las Animas Sheriff's Office said in a statement to ABC News.
The sheriff's office did not specify which agency is conducting the review and did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for further comment.
The department also claims that Kenneth Espinoza was never struck by either of the officers and Lt. Trujillo never unholstered his sidearm and that he only “raised” his Taser.
The November incident was initially brought to the 3rd Judicial District Attorney's Office for filing of criminal charges, but on April 24, the sheriff's office was notified that no charges were ever filed, and the case had been dropped months prior.
"The district attorney acknowledges that there was a delay in informing our office of his decision not to file charges in the matter," the sheriff's office release stated.
The decision to not file charges against Espinoza took place on Dec. 6, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also states that Espinoza spent one day in jail and paid bond to be released.
Both Trujillo and Noel were defendants in another federal complaint filed just over a month before the November incident that involved a deaf woman who allegedly attempted suicide in June 2020.
Lt. Trujillo and Deputy Noel were tasked with transporting Rosemary Goodman from a hospital in Trinidad to a mental health facility in Pueblo, when the officers handcuffed her and would not allow Goodman's boyfriend, Nathan George, who spoke ASL to help Goodman decipher the situation, the lawsuit states.
“[Deputy Noel] applied [handcuffs] with such force that Ms. Goodman yelped in pain and lost feeling to her pinky finger for many weeks thereafter,” the lawsuit states.
A settlement conference regarding this case took place last November and all parties agreed to a settlement, according to court documents.
Mehr reiterated this incident during the press conference, adding more incidents regarding Lt. Trujillo, who is third in command at the Las Animas County Sheriff's Office.
According to court documents, Lt. Trujillo was subject to a domestic abuse case involving plaintiff Shaunna Cusimano. In June 2006, Cusimano filed a case against Trujillo that resulted in a temporary restraining order.
Trujillo also was subject to at least three misdemeanor cases, according to court documents, that range from harassment-obscene language/gesture and disorderly conduct-offensive gesture charges to disorderly conduct-fighting in public and menacing charges. All of these charges were dismissed.
According to court documents, Trujillo was also subject to a criminal case filed in 1997 where he was charged with the Class 5 felony of menacing use of a deadly weapon. Although that charge was dropped, the same 1997 case charged Trujillo with disorderly conduct displaying a weapon, where the defendant entered a guilty plea.
In 1998, Trujillo was also subject to another misdemeanor case for harassment in public, according to court documents, where he was found guilty after a court trial after pleading not guilty. He was sentenced to unsupervised probation.
The lawsuit filed by Espinoza names Undersheriff Ray Santistevan, Sheriff Derek Navaraette and the Las Animas County Board of County Commissioners, in addition to the two officers involved in the incident and the sheriff’s office.
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