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Suit filed over Taser use against special ed student

SANTA FE – The mother of a 15-year-old special needs student who was shocked with a Taser by a Rio Arriba County sheriff’s deputy has filed suit against the county, saying the boy suffers from post-traumatic syndrome from the May 10 incident.

The boy’s mother could hear her son’s screams from another room, after she had been prevented from seeing him at Española Valley High School, before Deputy Jeremy Barnes applied the Taser in the school dean’s office, says the suit filed in state court.

The suit says Barnes was not licensed to use the Taser, since his 2013 Taser certification had expired after just a year.

The lawsuit also details a checkered law enforcement past for Barnes. He was fired in 2014 from the Grants police department amid a contentious domestic dispute with dueling restraining orders in which he was accused of abusive and threatening behavior. His ex-girlfriend told an investigating officer that Barnes would chase her and their son “around with the Taser” and “fire it off and make it ‘crackle’ to scare them.”

The lawsuit, filed by Albuquerque attorney Shannon Kennedy, seeks not only compensatory damages but also court orders requiring the sheriff’s office to improve training on “the use of power to seize and arrest children” and the use of force against students; require that school resource officers verify whether a student is receiving special education services prior to detaining a student; and prohibit the resource officers from restraining disabled children in handcuffs without a “clear and present danger.”

The May 10 tasering at the high school has been condemned by the leadership of the Española school district. Video of the incident from Deputy Barnes’ lapel camera has attracted national attention.

The boy, who was in trouble for allegedly hitting someone with a backpack, is seen complying with Barnes’ orders to stand up and turn around so he can be handcuffed with his hands behind his back.

But when the boy calls Barnes a homophobic slur, the deputy immediately and forcibly pushes him down toward a desk. In the ensuing scuffle, Barnes shouts “I’m going to (expletive) tase you” and he then tases the boy as he screams. The lawsuit says Barnes shocked the boy with “three cycles” of the Taser for about 15 seconds.

The lawsuit says that Barnes’ “enduring lesson” for the boy, identified only as A.M., “was illegal and catastrophic.”

The lawsuit also cites a recording of a phone call between Barnes and Sheriff James Lujan after the incident and describes them as “cavalier” about the tasering. The sheriff says, “You know a marine would been able to handle that without a Taser.” Barnes responds, “I went through the wrong basic training then” and laughs when he says, “Um, alright. My bad, sheriff.”

Lujan has defended Barnes over the tasing. The state Attorney General’s Office is investigating.

The suit says that the Grants Police Department, after firing Barnes, submitted a misconduct report to the state Law Enforcement Academy, which issued only a “cautionary letter” in response because Barnes had “taken full responsibility” for his actions. A 2016 state court complaint alleged that Barnes was among a group of Grants officers who used excessive force, including with Tasers, against a man officers were pursuing for violation of a protective order. The case was settled.

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