Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan is the subject of another tort claim alleging that he spent part of his Fourth of July holiday screaming at a Chama man for flying a Mexican flag along with an American flag from the back of his truck.
Civil rights attorneys Albuquerque-based Attorney Philip Davis and Santa Fe-based Attorney John Day are representing the alleged victim, Joshua Talamonte, according to a notice of tort claim sent Sept. 18 to Rio Arriba County Clerk Linda Padilla.
“Sheriff Lujan is dangerously ignorant and incompetent,” the lawyers said in a prepared statement. “This constitutional lawsuit will be the means to teach this out of control sheriff a lesson about both the US and the New Mexico constitutions and the strong protections they provide for free speech.”
In the notice, the lawyers wrote that Talamonte was driving home from work when Lujan pulled him over for no reason.
“Lujan exited his police vehicle, shouting profanities and claimed that Mr. Talamonte was violating a law against flying flags from his truck,” the tort claim notice states.
A separate statement from the lawyers states that Lujan screamed at Talamonte he was “a disgrace to the country for flying a Mexican flag,” and he was “lucky he didn’t get shot!”
Lujan also told the man that he was flying the flags on the wrong sides, and made him switch the two flags so that the American flag was on the driver’s side of the rear of the truck.
The notice is unclear about how the exchange ended, but the following day, Talamonte said he was still flying both flags when the Mexican flag came loose and fell onto the road where another vehicle swerved “to run over the flag that had fallen,” the notice states.
When Talamonte stopped to pick up the flag, the truck behind him stopped as well.
“The driver of the tailing vehicle was in fact the son of Sheriff Lujan,” the notice states. “(Lujan’s son) pointed to the veteran plates on his own truck and claimed to be a police officer.”
The notice and statement do not specify which of Lujan’s sons is alleged to have pretended to be a police officer; none of his sons are local police officers or deputies.
After an argument, when Talamonte was at his Chama home, Sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Albo arrived.
“Deputy Albo told Mr. Talamonte that he had been ordered by Sheriff Lujan to seize the Mexican flag, and was apologetic about having to follow his bosses’ orders,” the lawyers wrote in the statement.
Just why the flag was taken in the first place is unclear, but the tort claim notice and statement both indicate it was Lujan who returned the flag.
“Apparently aware that his bizarre actions could be a constitutional problem for him, (Lujan) personally returned the illegally seized Mexican flag,” the statement reads. “But he also stated that Mr. Talamonte had been rude to one of this deputies—meaning his son, who was the pretend officer.”
The notice of tort claim accuses Lujan of false arrest, and retaliation based on his right to free speech as well as deprivation of his property. The notice also alleges that Lujan’s son impersonated a police officer in violation of state law.
Day said Tuesday that the legal team had contacted appropriate federal authorities concerning the incident but he declined to provide details. He also said any retaliation, threatened retaliation or similar, would be dealt with swiftly.
“Sheriff James Lujan is a toxic combination of arrogance and incompetence,” the lawyers said in a prepared statement. “Clearly, Sheriff Lujan has a problem with the Mexican flag.”
Lujan said Tuesday he did not want to talk to a SUN reporter and said additional questions posed to him would result in criminal harassment charges filed against the reporter. He directed all inquiries to Sheriff’s Office Maj. Randy Sanches who did not return requests for comment as of press time.