The Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s deputy who used a taser on a 15-year-old special education student may soon find himself wearing handcuffs now that New Mexico Office of the Attorney General has filed charges Monday, accusing him of child abuse and battery.
The criminal information filed with the court by Assistant Attorney General Brittany DuChaussee Monday lists a number of witnesses the state plans to call to testify during a future preliminary hearing. Among them are four special agents from the Attorney General’s Office, the mother of the student now-former deputy Jeremy Barnes is charged with abusing, the victim and two other students who were present as well as multiple school employees.
When reached for comment Monday, it was unclear whether or not Barnes knew about the charges. He refused to provide the name of his attorney, and threatened to file charges against the Rio Grande SUN reporter.
“F*** off Tabitha, do not call me again or I’m going to press charges for harassment,” Barnes said. “Leave me the f*** alone.”
Santa Fe-based attorney Tom Clark said Tuesday Barnes retained him and he would be representing him in the case. He said he was unsure which route the Attorney General’s office was going to take with the case because the criminal information had been filed with the court, which implied the case would proceed after a preliminary hearing, but that Barnes had also received a target letter, which indicated that it would instead go through the grand jury process.
Sheriff James Lujan also expressed confusion, after first insisting that criminal information filed with the court did not equate to Barnes being charged with a crime. Lujan is incorrect.
“The (Attorney General’s) office stated there was a Criminal Information filed,” Lujan wrote in a text message Monday. “To my understanding that is not a criminal complaint but another avenue of process for a judge to review the case.”
Lujan also offered a warning.
“I would caution anyone to say charges were filed,” he wrote.
Lujan said he had talked to Benjamin Baker, one of several special agents at the Attorney General’s Office.
Attorney General’s Office Spokesman Matt Baca said Tuesday that Baker had spoken to Lujan, but he could not say what Baker had described or how Lujan may have interpreted that information.
Baca said it would be accurate to say Barnes had been charged with the crimes.
Rumors have been swirling throughout the County since Barnes surrendered his badge, gun and patrol unit Saturday.
Lujan refused to say whether Barnes was still employed by the Sheriff’s Office and whether or not he had terminated Barnes.
Clark said it was accurate to say that Barnes was no longer employed by the Sheriff’s Office.
Rio Arriba County Attorney Adan Trujillo said Monday that Barnes was no longer employed by the Sheriff’s Office, after he requested to be transferred to the County Public Works Department. He said Lujan had submitted a letter to County Manager Tomas Campos for the transfer.
Trujillo said that he believed Campos was in the process of approving the move, but following the Rio Arriba County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, he was able to say definitively that the transfer had not been approved.
He said Lujan had planned to terminate Barnes from the Sheriff’s Office and when he made that intention known, Barnes requested that he instead be transferred to Public Works.
A letter labeled “correspondence” from Barnes to Lujan dated Sept. 20 was a single sentence requesting a transfer to the Public Works Department.
“Deputy Barnes asked me if we could transfer him to the public works department,” Lujan wrote to Campos. “In light of all the media and pending litigations it would be a better fit for him and the county of Rio Arriba.”
It is unclear why Lujan thought transferring Barnes to Public Works would be a benefit in light of “pending litigations,” but Trujillo said the Sheriff’s Office was involved in a complex legal situation regarding the May 10 taser incident at Española Valley High School.
Trujillo said after Campos learned of the criminal information filed with the court by the Attorney General’s Office, he decided not to continue with the request to move Barnes to the Public Works Department.
Because the transfer was denied by Campos, Trujillo said it was Lujan who fired Barnes. Trujillo said a termination letter that had been prepared prior to the request for transfer could be obtained through a public records request.
Neither Barnes nor his attorney returned requests for comment prior to press time.
Campos did not respond to questions sent via text message because he did not feel comfortable discussing personnel matters, Trujillo said.
As of press time, there were no upcoming hearings or court dates scheduled for Barnes.
Attorney General Hector Balderas announced his investigation into the tasing the day the Rio Grande SUN published a video and story about it. He said he planned to aggressively investigate the incident.
“School should be a place where students feel safe and law enforcement officials must always act to protect our children and our communities,” Balderas said Tuesday. “My office looks forward to seeking justice in this case.”
DuChaussee charged Barnes with felony child abuse, false imprisonment, aggravated battery and a violation of ethical principles of public service. The latter two charges are misdemeanors.
If found guilty and sentenced on the charges consecutively, Barnes could spend over six years in prison, and pay up $12,000 in fines along with any court-ordered restitution.
In total, 137 days elapsed from the time Barnes tased the victim until charges were filed by the Attorney General’s Office.
Attorney Shannon Kennedy, who represents the victim and his family in a civil suit naming the County, the Sheriff’s Office, the Española School District and Española Valley High School, said the victim’s mother was still trying to adjust to the news that Barnes had been criminally charged.
“She is grateful the Attorney General’s Office has stood up for her son so Barnes cannot hurt more school children with his abusive words, Taser X2, and unchecked power to arrest and remove from school,” Kennedy said Tuesday. “This sends the message Sheriff Lujan and former deputy Barnes are not above the law and her disabled son is not below the law.”