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‘Inactive’ certification for deputy who tased student disputed

SANTA FE — A Rio Arriba County deputy who used a Taser on a high school student last month is not certified to be a law enforcement officer, according to the state agency in charge of law enforcement licensure.

But Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan says Deputy Jeremy Barnes can continue to patrol the county because Barnes still has time to get certified, despite a negative finding by the state Law Enforcement Academy.

Lujan said that as of Monday, no one from the Department of Public Safety or the academy, which is part of DPS, has shared information about Barnes’ status with him.

Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan

DPS spokesman Herman Lovato said in an email to the Journal last week, “Deputy Jeremy Barnes’ certification is inactive and he is not eligible to be commissioned.”

The Law Enforcement Academy denied Barnes’ application to renew certification on May 30 — 20 days after he tased a special education student at Española Valley High after the student called Barnes a homophobic name — because Barnes didn’t provide any information about his own May 2011 arrest for reckless driving.

He checked a box on his application to indicate that he had been arrested before, but he didn’t provide a written explanation as the application had asked for. “In reviewing your application… it appears as though you have been dishonest in not reporting your prior arrest for reckless driving … ,” a letter from academy Director August Fons said. Lovato provided the letter and other documents related to Barnes’ certification last week.

Sheriff Lujan says Barnes has until October to get his certification because Barnes was hired in Rio Arriba in October 2018 and has a year to get the required law enforcement certification.

Barnes was previously an officer in New Mexico but had been let go by two other police agencies. He stepped away from law enforcement for several years before getting hired by Rio Arriba County, so he had to reapply for certification, Lujan said.

Lovato said in an email Monday that it’s a police agency’s job to make sure its officers are certified. “This is a personnel matter,” Lovato said. “The law enforcement agency is responsible for vetting their employees, including if they hold a valid certification.”

Lovato said an officer the 12 months an officer has to complete certification is at the start of his or her law enforcement career. Barnes apparently began his New Mexico police career in Grants, where he was fired in 2014.

On Monday, Maj. Randy Sanches, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said he also still had not received anything from the academy. “I’m getting the runaround over there,” Sanches said. The Journal provided Sanches with copies of the Barnes documents that Lovato provided to the Journal, but Sanches could not be reached for comment afterward.

Currently, Barnes is still on patrol with all his weapons. Lujan said there will be opportunities for Barnes to reapply for his certificate before October. The sheriff also said he could pull Barnes from patrol after October and put him on desk duty until he gets certified. Lujan also said last week that no one from the state academy had informed him that Barnes’ application was denied. “Not even a phone call,” Lujan said.

On May 10 Barnes tased the 15-year-old special student at Española Valley High after he directed the student to stand up and turn around to be handcuffed. Barnes was not put on leave and has remained on regular patrol. The mother of the student has filed a lawsuit against the county.

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