A teenage boy with special needs who was tased by former Rio Arriba Sheriff’s deputy Jeremy Barnes in Española Valley High School received a nearly $1.3 million settlement from the Española School District and Rio Arriba County.
County Attorney Adan Trujillo wrote in an email that the County’s insurance agency, OneBeacon, would pay $941,667 while $33,333 would come from the County’s General Fund.
Gerald Coppler, the attorney representing the District in the case, said he did not yet know how much of the $300,000 which fell on the District would be covered by their insurance—New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority.
In a press release announcing the sum, attorney for the family Shannon Kennedy wrote, “Law enforcement must not confuse normal teenage behavior with criminal conduct; they must work together with school officials to guide young people into adulthood; and they must recognize they are in the schools to protect students against actual threats, not merely mete out corporal punishment.”
The then-15-year-old student was taken in May 2019 to an administrative office in Española Valley High School for allegedly possessing a cannabis product when Barnes, in the course of arresting the physically-compliant boy, slammed him into a table when the child called him a homophobic slur. Lapel video shows Barnes, at the time a school resource officer without specialized training, tase the boy as security guard Jack Romero grappled with him.
“(The boy and his family) would like both the public and student resource officers to appreciate that harm is massive and the losses enduring,” Kennedy wrote. “We are all better served when students respect authority, not fear or revile in it.”
Barnes still awaits trial in a criminal case brought by the state Attorney General’s Office on charges including abuse of a child, violation of ethical principles in public service, false imprisonment, and aggravated battery.
His next court date is an April 6 docket call and jury selection in his case is set for May 11.
Court records indicate his conditions of release were modified to allow Barnes to carry a firearm on weekends and two weeks annually for his duties in the U.S. Army National Guard, though he is still barred from using Tasers or similar weapons, even in that capacity.
Barnes’ lawyer in the criminal case, Thomas Clark, has said the charges are not what they seem.
“I don't know what the political motivation may be, but my feeling is that Jeremy Barnes is being scapegoated,” he said previously. “Over and over and over again, the Attorney General’s Office declines to prosecute fatal police shootings and for whatever reason they’ve decided to target Mr. Barnes.”
The District approved an agreement with the Española Police Department Feb. 5 to place officers at Española Valley High School and Española Middle School.
The agreement requires specialized training for these officers, which will be required for all New Mexico school resource officers starting in the 2022-2023 school year after the recent passage of a state law that also allocates $1,000 in state funds for training per officer.
School resource officers will only be able to conduct searches when there is probable cause, a higher standard than the reasonable suspicion that District officials previously required.
Probable cause means the officer must believe that the student committed or is committing a criminal offense.