The New Mexico Attorney General is investigating and New Mexico Lt. Governor Howie Morales called for additional training for law enforcement after an article in last week’s Rio Grande SUN detailed how Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Barnes used a Taser on a 15-year-old Española Valley High School student.
“The taser attack on the young student with special needs in Española is totally unjustified and nauseating,” Morales said in a statement Tuesday. “I am embarrassed that an adult in authority showed less impulse control and acted worse than a child did. It is our responsibility in government to ensure that such violent and excessive assaults on students in our schools can never occur again.”
In a statement issued later on Tuesday, the Española School District condemned the tasing.
"It is important for a law enforcement officers to understand that the officer is operating in a school setting, not out on the street, and that students will have bad days or special needs, but do not need to be tased, physically restrained, or incarcerated by law enforcement for daily disciplinary situations," the statement said. "Specialized training for law enforcement officers working on a school campus is essential for students and staff to have a safe educational environment typically governed by a disciplinary process, not an environment governed by threats of incarceration for otherwise disciplinary matters."
Now the Sheriff’s Office is struggling to deal with the backlash.
Calls reveal levity
In the 20 minutes after he tased a student, Barnes made and received multiple phone calls, lapel video shows. Now, the Sheriff’s Office is concerned about phone calls they’ve received after the story made national headlines.
The first call Barnes received after the incident was from Sheriff James Lujan. In the lapel video he joked with Barnes that a U.S. Marine would not have needed a taser to control a 15-year-old boy.
Much of what Lujan said is inaudible in the lapel video, but before the end of the conversation, Barnes was chuckling.
Barnes also called his supervisor, Sheriff’s Office Lt. Lorenzo Aguilar, to tell him that he tased the boy.
In a third call, to a person only identified as David, Barnes relays the same information.
“I tried putting handcuffs on him and he pulled away and then he started fighting with Jack (Romero) and me,” Barnes said.
After a brief exchange, David tells Barnes to have Jack Romero be sure and complete his reports.
“Well, (expletive) it, that’s what he gets bro,” David said. “Did he (urinate on) himself when he got tased?”
Barnes said the student did not.
Sheriff’s Office Maj. Randy Sanches did not respond to multiple requests for information about the calls.
Deputies armed off-duty
As last week’s story about Barnes tasing the student spread throughout the country, the pressures on the Sheriff’s Office from the public increased.
Multiple calls from people demanded answers and action.
“What kind of animals do you have working there?” an unidentified caller asked Sanches during a phone call, according to an audio clip shared by Lujan.
Sanches named the two breed types of the Sheriff’s Office’s two working dogs for the caller.
“They want to know if we have fired (Barnes),” Sheriff’s Office Maj. Randy Sanches said in a phone interview May 31. “They called us thugs, the F-bomb was used on us and our secretaries quite often, and those are OK, they’re protected (speech), but when I have somebody say that they’re going to take my deputy out, that’s concerning, we’re investigating that.”
Sanches said that at least two callers have made threats to Barnes.
“We got a guy who said he was going to look for Barnes off-duty, not wearing his tin star, out of jurisdiction, and he would ‘take him out,” Sanches said.
He said the caller identified himself as an “American citizen.”
Lujan said in a May 31 phone interview the Sheriff’s Office was able to identify the phone numbers of the two calls that had threatened deputies and both were from cellphones. Whether or not the Office will file any charges against the callers is still up in the air, Lujan said.
“We don’t believe they’re local, but we do know who they are,” Lujan said. “Local people around here don’t do that kind of stuff.”
Even though he does not believe the threats came from anyone locally, Lujan said he is giving his deputies a standing order to carry their duty weapons at all times.
“I’m going to tell them, ‘Every one of you are to go everywhere armed, you’re not to go anywhere unarmed,’” Lujan said. “They put the threat out that they’re going to wait until (Barnes is) off-duty, so he’s going to protect himself and his family and whoever he has to, and so are the rest of the deputies and myself.”
Lujan said he does not like to carry a gun when he’s off-duty, but will be doing so for the time being.
Complaints about Barnes have not just been limited to phone calls to the Sheriff’s Office.
“Apparently the student triggered the inadequacies of the deputy,” Barbara Valdez wrote on Facebook in response to the story. “The student complied and was attacked plain and simple!”
The social media comments following the incident have been divided, but the majority of comments expressed concern over the use of force.
“Wow! I have respect for our police departments in our area but my son has an IEP (and) this scares me,” Crystal Lopez commented on Facebook. “Not too sure I want my son there.”
The negative comments as the story made international headlines were apparently enough to convince the Sheriff’s Office to deactivate its Facebook page.
The page, which featured Barnes carrying the torch for the Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics, received multiple negative comments. As of Sunday, the Facebook page could not be found.
Requests for comments from the Sheriff’s Office relating to the Facebook page were not returned as of press time.
Not all the comments on social media were opposed to the student being tased. There were a multiple comments that praised the use of the taser on the student.
“Espanola (sic) has to (sic) many punk kids like this that think they don’t have to listen to authorities like teachers principals and cops,” Belinda Luevano wrote on Facebook. “Espanola (sic) is so messed up I’m glad I don’t live there because those kids r (sic) awful.”
Other commentators agreed, and more than a few said children are more criminal than they used to be.
“Kids these days have no respect for no one,” JP Vigil wrote on Facebook.
Juvenile crime down
In fact, referrals to the juvenile justice system have been decreasing steadily during the last five years, the New Mexico Juvenile Justice Services Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2018 states.
Delinquent referrals are “an act committed by a child that would be designated as a crime under the law if committed by an adult,” the report states.
In Fiscal Year 2018, 8,770 referrals were sent to the juvenile justice system for delinquent acts, allegedly committed by 6,817 of New Mexico’s more than 200,000 youths.
In 2018 the most common delinquent offense referred to the Juvenile Justice System was battery, followed by use or possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of marijuana or synthetic cannabis.
Just because a referral is made to the Juvenile Justice System, however, does not mean that a child will have long-term involvement with the children’s court system.
Of the 8,770 referrals made in 2018, 4,073 of those referrals were handled formally, and of that number, the district attorneys throughout the state rejected charges for 944 of those cases, the report states.
Of the remaining cases formally handled, 2,436 resulted in the filing of formal charges.
In Rio Arriba County in 2017, the latest data available from the Juvenile Justice Services, a total of 143 delinquent referrals were made. Of that number, the district attorney rejected 65, and 67 were handled informally through referrals to other programs or informal conditions.
One of the 115 delinquent referrals from Rio Arriba resulted in detention, two in probation and six were dismissed during the court process.
The student tased by Barnes has not yet formally been charged, although he was referred to the juvenile justice system, First Judicial District Attorney’s Office Spokesman James Hallinan said Monday.