After Violent Videos, Española Police Advisory Board Proposed

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A new federal lawsuit states Española police's use of force training was inadequate and that the city government was indifferent to a culture of excessive force among officers—citing Rio Grande SUN coverage of previous excessive force allegations against Sgt. Cody Martinez and Officer Gabriel Wadt.

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.

(4) comments

John Martinez

in this day and time i would hate to be a police officer or have someone i love be an officer. It seems that a criminal is less required to "respect" a person, the law, someone's property or well being. Not saying what some of these officers did was right or justified. But these are three cases of how many that officers handle on a daily basis? But yet the Newspaper's headlines the priest that is not guilty of molesting a child, no follow up, no comments?...we are quick to turn the good guys bad and bad guys good....never any good stories on anything positive in the town ever since Trapp JR. took the paper over. That's why it will never be a quality news source and why no one cares of your opinions or comments.


Better late than never right? This should be a joint county-city board to improve coordination and oversight and avoid duplication. Given the lawsuits paid out there are nearly over $1,000,000.00 reasons this should have happened sooner, and it goes to the leadership who hired these thugs masquerading with badges. Why Rio Arriba's Sheriff James Lujan is still serving speak volumes about the inept management and leadership in the County. Apparently Lujan's poor judgement in hiring Barnes an officer who had a spotty record and later Lujan's wacky statements justifying the tasing is simply reprehensible. Fire this bum, Lujan! What else do you need, Commissioners $2 million more in lawsuits for police abuse to get off the dime and take action?

Just because the insurance pays it out doesn't eliminate the need to truly invest in better officers, better training, and better video equipment, all things the Mayor, Council, and Commissioners should do immediately. The good news is that Barnes was indicted by the AG's office, why they don't do that to Greg Garza and Anthony Armijo is simply baffling. Nevertheless the Mayor, Council plus the County Commission should implement a policy that officer's are required to turn on their video and that failure to do that requires a one week suspension without pay and a warning letter. With the next violation of the same officer failing to turn on his or her video camera again an outright dismissal. You political leaders need to send a message to the law enforcement of our community, that they will respect the law, rights and safety of the public, not abuse its citizens they've sworn to protect and they better have their cameras on when they interact with the public on a call. That I assure you will enhance compliance. The lawsuits have spoken, the people have spoken the only question is the Mayor, Council and County Commissioners listening? For our safety and those of our fellow citizens, good God let's hope so.

R. Holcomb

The chief and deputy chief want to befriend their officers to keep the ranks happy in hopes of keeping their jobs. They think that if the officers are happy with them then the city council will layoff of the chief and everything will be fine. Problem is you have some lousy officers who speak and act like the criminals they are arresting. Had the officers been severely disciplined then you’d have the respect of the community which is most important, if you can remember being a police officer means you’re a PUBLIC SERVANT!

1983 Action

OK folks... You see what the mayor did here, right? Rather than act as a true leader, he chose to kick the can down the road and once again operate in secrecy, followed by his four loyal sheep (Robert Seeds, Justin SalazarTorres, Manny Martinez and John Richi). Meantime, nothing has been done or is being done to solve the problem. The dirty cops all got a raise!

By allowing EPD "management" to (mis)handle this situation, the status quo continues...

Creating an "advisory board" will NOT solve the problem. What? So the "mayor" can appoint his buddies or his family's relatives to be part of the sham, only to continue to support the poor excuse for "leadership" at the EPD? Please! This is yet another example of the shadow city government in full effect at the city. Easy steps: 1) Deny the citizens any input; 2) shut down the one opportunity you have to inform all of the members of the council on the situation; and 3) say you are going to address the problem "as soon as possible."

"mayor:" If you want to address the problem, be a LEADER! (not in your DNA buddy)

If you want to get nothing done and pass the buck: create an "advisory board."

We all know he won't take solid, smart advice. Its no secret that the "mayor" only rewards those who parrot his ignorance back to him (Interim Police Chief, Interim Deputy Police Chief, City Clerk and all the minions he invites to his "call to action" meetings. Has anything changed in Espanola? NO!).

If you want to get absolutely nothing done to address the problem, then create a "task force." Sounds great. Equally ineffective however.

The only language or action that will indeed lead to action being taken is to call in federal oversight of the "police department." Else the problems will just continue and the "mayor" will continue to hide the dirty little secrets, yet vomit out is flowery language to the public. People in Espanola, who actually care, are smart enough to know the difference between a rain shower wetting them and a little chihuahua lifting its leg and relieving itself on their legs. Time to wake up!

There is already a Federal lawsuit pending, as well as numerous other state lawsuits. How many millions will this be worth to the victims of the EPD? It's coming out of our pockets!

Report the Espanola Police to the FBI: 505.889.1300

Submit formal complaints to the US Department of Justice which has jurisdiction of police use Excessive force or other Constitutional violations by persons acting as law enforcement officials or public officials.

Include as many details of the incident as possible, such as the dates and times; names of possible witnesses; and supporting documents, such as police and medical reports, or photographs.

You may also mail a written copy of the complaint and materials you submitted to the FBI to the Criminal Section at:

US Department of Justice

Civil Rights Division

Criminal Section - 4CON

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20530

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