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County fires jail guard facing battery charges

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

A sergeant at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center who spent more than two years on paid administrative leave and is facing felony battery charges was officially fired Wednesday.

Former jail Sgt. Eric Allen had been on administrative leave since early 2016. Last November, county officials started the firing process by sending him a letter indicating their intent to discipline him by terminating him for a “pattern of excessive force and inappropriate conduct.”

“This morning, Eric Allen was formally terminated from his correctional officer position at the Metropolitan Detention Center. Allen had previously been on administrative leave while MDC was investigating several use-of-force incidents,” Candace Hopkins, a spokeswoman for the jail, said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Allen has filed a grievance in response to his termination.”

Allen, 52, was placed on leave in January 2016 and eventually indicted in December 2017 on charges of aggravated battery against Joe Ray Barela, a state prison inmate who was at the county jail for a court hearing.

During his time on paid administrative leave, Allen collected more than $90,000 in pay, according to county records. As of today, he will be off the county payroll, Hopkins said.

Court records show Allen was booked and released from MDC in February. His trial is scheduled for September, according to a state court website.

According to jail reports on the Barela incident, Allen used a “knee strike” against Barela and “pressure point compliance techniques” when escorting the inmate to a medical unit.

The reports said Barela had a history of being disruptive and not following commands, and had been booked into the facility more than 30 times.

But different reports prepared by Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office investigators and a private investigator for the county human services department determined Allen’s actions were excessive and troubled medical staff inside the jail. One medical staffer described the incident as torture and two others were in tears.

The altercation reportedly led to a rift between medical staff and corrections officers, according to the reports.

Sam Bregman, Allen’s attorney in the criminal case, said it was disappointing that Allen was fired.

“I think I have a pretty good handle on the facts, and nothing that I see shows that he did anything wrong,” Bregman said. “I’m very confident he’ll be found not guilty.”

But the Barela case wasn’t the only use-of-force incident in which Allen has been scrutinized. He had been fired in 2008 for allegedly punching an inmate, but an independent arbitrator ruled that he should be reinstated the following year.

Allen also came under scrutiny in a different use-of-force case when video surfaced of his treatment of inmate Susie Chavez in September 2015. In that incident, the petite woman was shocked with an electric control weapon, held in a wrist lock and hit with pepper spray after she wouldn’t stop crying.

Allen was one of two supervisors on scene. He recorded the incident using his on-body camera.

Footage of the encounter led to protests and received national attention.

A Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office detective later concluded in a police report that Allen and Lt. Mary Shaw used force in a rude and insolent manner.

The county last year settled three lawsuits – for a total of $1.1 million – that were brought on behalf of Barela, Chavez and another inmate who accused Allen of being brutal, according to prior Journal reports.

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