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Trial begins for past jail sergeant charged with battery

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Eric Allen’s attorney told jurors Wednesday that the former Bernalillo County jail sergeant was following his training when he used “pain compliance” on inmate Joe Ray Barela and told fellow officers to “hurt him.”

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Former MDC Sgt. Eric Allen is on trial in state District Court for aggravated battery. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Allen, 53, was indicted in December on one count of aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm. His trial on that charge began Wednesday and is expected to last three days.

Prosecutor David Waymire said that Allen battered Barela and directed fellow corrections officers to do so. Officers kicked Barela, knocked him into a cabinet, pressed a key and pen into his neck and behind his ears, and applied pressure to his temple, Waymire said.

Waymire said infirmary staff witnessed the altercation, and a nurse who testified Wednesday described the scene as “very disturbing.”

“Power and control, that’s really what this case comes down to,” Waymire said. “The power to hold a man’s safety in your hands as a correctional officer and to demean and to injure that inmate because he’s an annoyance.”

Waymire said Barela was handcuffed throughout the incident and was not a physical threat to anyone.

“At the end of the case, you will be outraged by what you have heard and you will know that the evidence shows that the defendant did this for no justifiable reason. There is no valid reason why the defendant did any of this. He did it to hurt Mr. Barela, and that is improper. It’s illegal.”

But Sam Bregman, who is representing Allen, said Barela refused to comply with oral commands, and the officers who are doing “one of the most dangerous jobs in society” simply did what they were trained to do.

“Pain compliance hurts. You are to hurt the person, use a reasonable amount of force to hurt him so he starts complying,” Bregman said. “It may not sound good when someone says ‘hurt him,’ but that’s part of the training officers have to get him to comply.”

Barela was housed in a Metropolitan Detention Center unit for high-risk inmates and on Dec. 18, 2015, he was sprayed with chemicals for failing to comply with officer commands. Officers had to escort him to the infirmary for evaluation after being sprayed, and the altercation began in the main hallway and continued close to the infirmary, Bregman said.

Bregman said jurors would hear no evidence of great bodily harm. He pointed out that his client, who had been a corrections officer for 16 years, had even served as a use of force instructor.

“That’s what this case is about. No injuries. Following your training. The evidence will show that Eric Allen committed absolutely no crime,” the defense attorney said. “To the contrary, he was doing his job. To the contrary, he was following his training.”

Allen, who spent more than two years on paid administrative leave, was officially fired from his position in March. County and union officials have said the Barela incident prompted his placement on paid leave.

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