It has been over two months since Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Barnes tased a 15-year-old special education student at Española Valley High School. His internal affairs investigation is on-going, but a review by his supervisors said his behavior might have made the student feel threatened.
The Sheriff’s Office has been tight-lipped about the internal affairs process, but records show the investigation into the incident includes a detailed history of the student, and less information about Barnes’ history.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas sent multiple letters to the Sheriff’s Office asking for records related to the use of the taser in June and had to take legal action to force the Office to relinquish the information in July.
Attorney General's Office Spokesperson Matt Baca said the Sheriff’s Office initially failed to provide some of the documents following the legal action, but as of Tuesday all had been received.
Records obtained from the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office show a review into Barnes’ May 10 taser incident was first requested May 28 by Undersheriff Martin Trujillo.
In a memorandum addressed to Cpt. Billy Merrifield and Lt. Lorenzo Aguilar, Trujillo requested they review the event and note any policy violations. He also asked the two to make a recommendation.
“Deputy Barnes did approach the situation unprofessionally,” a May 29 review authored by Merrifield and Aguilar states. “This type of approach may appeared (sic) to have been perceived as a threat to the male student and therefore could have contributed to the male student becoming non-compliant or resistive.”
The review found that Barnes violated procedure for using non-deadly force by using profanity when he told the student he was going to “(expletive)” tase him.
“In regards to the area(s) the probes were deployed into the front area of the male student, the preferred target area for the front of the subject is lower center mass (Below the Chest),” the review states. “With the above noted, I recommend disciplinary action(s) for the identified violated policies.”
June 5 correspondence from Sheriff James Lujan directed Trujillo to assign someone to conduct an internal affairs investigation into the incident, and said a main point of concern was the “use of profanity.”
A formal internal affairs investigation began June 11 when Trujillo sent a memorandum to Sheriff’s Office Maj. Randy Sanches ordering him to investigate.
A June 13 notice to Barnes notified him that he was being investigated for possible violations of policy.
Even though there was no evidence of Barnes receiving any specialized training included in his personnel file, a memorandum dated June 10 from Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Robert Vigil said Barnes had been trained to act as a school resource officer. Vigil wrote that he had personally trained Barnes for “approximately” two weeks on “how things were managed at the school.”
Vigil said he taught Barnes about child and adolescent developmental psychology, positive behavior interventions and support, conflict resolution, peer mediation, restorative techniques and children with disabilities or other special needs. It is unclear what specialized training Vigil had on the topics.
“I explained to Deputy Barns (sic) to be aware of the emotions in kids and how they change,” Vigil wrote in relation to child and adolescent developmental psychology training. “Barns (sic) was informed to be causes (sic) and pay attention to changing behavior.”
Vigil also wrote that Barnes would have to build relationships with students. A portion of the training took place in Dean of Students Alex Rosa’s office, Vigil wrote, where Barnes was able to witness Vigil assisting in conflict resolution and positive behavior intervention.
“Children with disabilities or other special needs, this subject was covered with deputy Barns (sic) as I explained what an Individualized Education Program (IEP) was and how important it was that we follow these IEPs,” Vigil wrote.
The information included in the internal affairs investigation includes a full background history of the student and interaction he had with any other law enforcement, including when he was the victim of a crime.
The records relating to Barnes’ history included only partial court documents from an excessive force lawsuit, and other items already reported by the media. There were no police reports or other information about Barnes’ past included.
When asked Tuesday why the office was looking into the background of the student, Sanches declined to comment, citing the active investigation.
During his in-person interview, Barnes had little new information to provide, but he did voluntarily make a statement saying he used his taser to prevent injury.
“I used the taser to prevent anybody from getting hurt, including the person that was tased,” Barnes told Sanches. “Had I not used the taser somebody could have been seriously injured, he could have been seriously injured, or I could have been seriously injured.”
Sanches also collected statements from the school employees who were present during the incident, but has not yet interviewed the other witnesses to the event, the other students present.
He declined to say whether or not he planned to interview the students, again citing the on-going investigation.
The High School, and by extension its employees, have also been served with a notice of tort claim, making those witnesses employed by the school essentially co-defendants in a civil suit.