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County renews effort to fire jail supervisor

FOR THE RECORD: This story has been updated to reflect the correct title of the letter sent to Sgt. Eric Allen. That letter, a notice of intent to discipline, says in its first sentence that the county is notifying Allen of its “intent to terminate” his employment.

Following a nearly two-year stint on paid leave, Bernalillo County is taking steps toward firing a controversial Metropolitan Detention Center supervisor, the county manager confirmed Monday.

Sgt. Eric Allen is the subject of an investigation following two alleged confrontations with county jail inmates. A third inmate raised similar allegations against Allen in a civil lawsuit last year.

County Manager Julie Morgas Baca confirmed Monday that a notice of intent to discipline┬áhad been issued to Allen. She referred further questions to county spokeswoman Tia Bland. Bland later said there was nothing the county could “acknowledge or release at this time related to employment discipline regarding Eric Allen.”

Bland did confirm that Allen, who makes nearly $46,000 a year, has been on paid leave since January 2016.

September 2015 footage recorded on Allen’s body camera shows inmate Susie Chavez being shocked with a stun gun before she falls to the ground and begins to sob. Allen is heard telling another corrections officer to twist her wrist “until she shuts up and stops crying.” The video, released in August 2016, also shows officers spraying her with Mace.

A BCSO detective looking into that incident determined that the force used was not warranted.

Allen was already on leave when officials learned of the Chavez allegations. But it was an incident that took place three months later that initially landed Allen on paid leave.

In December 2015, Allen was one in a group of officers who took an inmate named Joe Ray Barela to the medical unit, according to jail records.

At some point, Allen used a “knee strike” and “pressure point compliance techniques” on Barela, who had a history of disruptive and violent behavior, according to jail documents. Video shows Barela limping as he is escorted through the jail.

A third inmate, Justin Allen, alleged in a civil lawsuit filed last year that Eric Allen used a Taser and inflammatory spray on him after he requested his antidepressants and a breathing medication.

Stephen Perkins, president of the Bernalillo County Corrections union, said the┬ánotice of intent to discipline was issued to Allen in mid-September. He said it does not cite any specific incident or policy violations, and refers only to code of conduct and ethical violations. The union has repeatedly defended Allen’s actions, and Perkins said the organization looks forward to rebutting the county’s allegations at a future hearing.

“We will defend him until the process is complete,” Perkins said. “We believe he did everything within policy … he acted in accordance with his training.”

Allen serves as the union’s vice president.

Allen started work as a corrections officer in 2003 and served as an instructor for a few years beginning in 2011. This is not the county’s first attempt to remove him.

He was fired in 2008 over allegations that he twice punched an inmate in the head.

The union argued Allen had been hit first. In 2009, an independent arbitrator ordered Bernalillo County to reinstate him, arguing Allen’s reaction was reasonable and in keeping with his training. Just a couple of years after that, he was promoted to sergeant.

Allen’s case remains under investigation by the District Attorney’s Office, a spokesman for the office confirmed Monday.