Española Police Department Officer Gabriel Wadt has faced minimal disciplinary action over an October incident in which he slammed a physically compliant and handcuffed man—detained in relation to a noise complaint—to the concrete ground and then berated him in a profanity-laced tirade.
Chris Payne filed a claim for damages with the city later that month, saying he will likely sue over the battery that left him with anxiety and, due to his inability to catch his fall, bruises and a large cut on his face.
Department Deputy Chief Jack Jones said the officer, formerly a Rio Arriba Sheriff’s deputy, received a verbal admonishment and was sent to a use of force class, which all officers ultimately attended.
Jones said Wadt and his accompanying officers reported the incident to him that night, and that he reviewed the footage—available on the Rio Grande SUN website and YouTube channel—the next day.
“(Wadt) sees where he was at fault—not at fault—where he made his mistakes,” Jones said. “Sometimes something just sets someone off, and it’s unfortunate that it happens for police officers but sometimes it does.”
Lapel video from Officer Zack Wright shows Payne, handcuffed behind his back, argue with officers about an earlier interaction and then tell Wadt “you have no right” when Wadt leaned into Payne’s car with a flashlight, sans search warrant.
Wadt shines the flashlight in Payne’s face and tells him several times to “shut the f*** up right now,” then abruptly throws Payne to the ground by the back of his neck when Payne repeats his protests.
After about five minutes of intermittent arguing and attempts to contact a relative to collect Payne’s children, the man, still on the ground where he fell directly by stairs, asks someone to take a picture of his fresh injuries after “this motherf----- threw me on the ground.”
“I’ll throw you outside the f------ handcuffs too, dude, I don’t give a f---,” Wadt says as he approaches Payne. “You’re a piece of s---, dude. Just shut the f--- up. Wonderful f------ father, sitting on the ground in f------ handcuffs. Garbage. You live in a f------ trailer, dude. Shut the f--- up. God you’re worthless. You’re f------ worthless.”
Neither Wright nor Officer Anthony Martinez, also on scene, address Wadt’s violence or outburst other than refusing to photograph Payne’s injuries until he gets to jail. The assault shown in the video does not appear in Wright’s incident report, though Jones said the officer did report it verbally.
Wright’s report states a neighbor called police late at night about loud music coming from Payne’s trailer, and that Payne twice turned the music back up as soon as officers left. On their third response to his home in half an hour, the officers arrested Payne for disorderly conduct, refusing to obey an officer, and violation of a city noise ordinance. Online court records show no such charges against Payne.
Jones emphasized a characterization of Payne as a disorderly bully with a criminal history.
“The unfortunate thing in this is that for this guy’s neighbors we should have taken this guy the first time to jail,” he said of the initial noise complaint. “(Wadt) is one of our better officers as we look at the things that go on. This officer has the courage to stand up to bullies like (Payne).”
Payne’s civil attorney Sheri Raphaelson said the Oct. 19 incident was different from other excessive uses of force, because there was no justification for any force to begin with.
“It’s up to the Police Department to do whatever disciplinary actions they feel is appropriate,” she said. “Nothing they do now will change the fact that Mr. Payne was wrongly injured.”
She said she wants to see if the city will agree to a settlement before she files a formal tort claim—injured parties have two years from the date of the incident to take this step—but that no one from the city government has responded to her Oct. 30 letter.
Jones said a payout is likely.
“This is gonna get (Payne) a little bit of money, absolutely it is,” he said. “I don’t know how the city is not gonna pay him some money.”
Interim police chief Roger Jimenez said while the incident went against Department policy, it was not indicative of Wadt’s performance as a police officer.
“The fact that the officer came forward before any media or tort claims is huge to us,” he said. “It’s a sign of integrity.”
Jimenez has historically touted a desire to instill values of community policing and de-escalation tactics in his Department. He said he is working to arrange for a psychologist to visit monthly or quarterly to provide mental health checkups to all the city’s first responders.