In January, after Española Police Officer Gabriel Wadt’s alleged battery on a handcuffed man, Española Deputy Police Chief Jack Jones said, “Sometimes something just sets someone off, and it’s unfortunate that it happens for police officers but sometimes it does.”
Those words have reappeared in a federal lawsuit against the city over a later incident.
“The present matter arises because, just two months later, something else set Wadt and the other Officer Defendants off,” wrote attorney Todd Bullion.
Bullion filed a lawsuit against the city Jan. 30 on behalf of Isodorio Padilla, a 62-year-old man who was hospitalized for two days after a Dec. 23 “whopping” by officers that left him with two broken ribs, a punctured lung, a gash on his forehead and two taser wounds.
As city officials mull over potential reforms to the Police Department, Padilla says his arrest violated his constitutional rights.
Padilla sued the city government, Sgt. Cody Martinez, and Officers Derrick Valdez and Gabriel Wadt, leaving “John Doe” defendants for potential other officers.
Bullion claimed officers violated Padilla’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure and his Fourteenth Amendment right to bodily integrity and to be free from excessive force.
The suit states Española’s use of force training was inadequate and that the city was indifferent to a culture of excessive force among officers—citing Rio Grande SUN coverage of previous excessive force allegations against Martinez and Wadt.
In October 2019, Wadt threw a handcuffed man to the ground and berated him at length after the man—who was arrested for refusing to turn down his music—challenged Wadt’s right to search his car. Earlier that year, another man accused Martinez of assault during an arrest. Against Department policy, Martinez’s lapel camera was not on during the arrest. The January suit notes Martinez’s lapel camera was not turned on in that incident either.
At the City Council’s Jan. 28 meeting, councilors voted to cancel a scheduled closed session to discuss the Department and potential litigation regarding civil rights—at the time only tort claim notices had been filed regarding the December and October incidents.
The tie vote—broken by Mayor Javier Sanchez—to cancel the closed-door discussion was preceded by advice from contract city attorney Jonas Nahoum to allow Department supervisors handle personnel matters. Sanchez said the issue should instead be discussed in an open meeting as soon as possible
“I think it places a risk that any individual city councilor may be named as a defendant in any complaint that may be filed,” Nahoum said.
Councilor Peggy Sue Martinez said the Council needed an update on the October and December incidents after the SUN published videos of each in recent weeks.
“The videos that we all have seen, probably numerous times, they’re very upsetting and they’re very concerning and they do pose a threat to the community,” she said. “Anybody that sees those videos and hears that there was only a verbal reprimand—there’s numerous policy violations that were done.”
Martinez and several other councilors said they received numerous citizen complaints.
“I’ve been getting a lot of phone calls myself,” said Councilor Dennis Tim Salazar. “Actually, this could be a full-time job lately, in these last couple weeks, as far as the messages I’m getting and the messages I’m responding to.”
The Council’s Public Safety Committee is set to discuss the Department’s use of force policy and officer training at its Wednesday (2/5) meeting.
Sanchez suggested at the Jan. 28 meeting that the city government form a citizen’s advisory board for the Police Department.
He said in an interview that the proposed board could improve public input and provide suggestions from people with a different perspective on interactions with law enforcement.
“It is something that I’ve considered for quite some time,” he said. “We hear the complaints loud and clear. Councilors get those calls and we need to act on it.”
Sanchez said the advisory board would likely act independently but in collaboration with the Council’s Public Safety Committee.
Though a criminal complaint against Padilla was filed in relation to the Dec. 23 incident, charges were not pursued. Bullion said Padilla’s brother, John Padilla, still awaits trial in Española Municipal court for charges including assault on a peace officer.
Officers responded to the brothers’ home that night to discuss allegations made by their neighbor that a longstanding dispute over wood escalated to physical threats from the Padilla’s.
The three officers named in the suit argued with the brothers by the gate to their home over what John Padilla said was an unprofessional and needlessly aggressive approach by the officers.
When Martinez threatened to open the gate and take John Padilla to jail if he remained aggressive, the man responded “I’ll crack your f------ face,” and Martinez rushed the gate, shaking it.
Bullion said in an interview this initial attempt to force entry was unlawful.
“Law enforcement can’t create their own exigent circumstances to enter a property,” he said.
John Padilla held the gate closed from the inside and Isodorio Padilla ran to hold it closed from the outside.
Valdez and Wadt pulled Isodorio Padilla off, and said later that he had jumped on Martinez’s back—a claim contradicted by lapel video—and struggled with him on the ground, using knee strikes that seemingly resulted in the most serious of his injuries.
“Knees to the back, couldn’t break him bro,” Valdez said later.
Isodorio Padilla maintained in interviews and in the lawsuit that he was holding the gate closed to keep his dogs from getting out onto the nearby highway, both during the initial encounter and later when he closed it on officers.
While incident reports stated both men were arrested and jailed, Isodorio Padilla’s medical records show he was not medically cleared and spent two days in Española Hospital.