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A sheriff’s office that seems to be out of control

Before you try to pick up the needle, no, this isn’t a broken record.

Over the past few months, this newspaper has commented with some regularity on actions of the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office. And here we go again.

The badge and patch of the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office

The latest allegation, brought forth in a formal tort claim notice by the ACLU, is that the sheriff’s office has been retaliating against a newspaper reporter.

The Rio Grande Sun’s Tabitha Clay is said to have drawn the ire of the sheriff’s office for, among other things, breaking the story about a deputy using a Taser to take down a 15-year-old special needs student at Española Valley High in May.

What the state Attorney General’s Office, in recent criminal charges, formally describes as child abuse, false imprisonment and aggravated battery was caught on the deputy’s own lapel camera, leaving no doubt about what happened and who initiated the scuffle that left the student screaming in pain.

According to the ACLU tort claim notice filed for reporter Clay, in September two deputies – including the guy who zapped the special needs teen with a Taser – parked outside of Clay’s home, which is in Santa Fe County, outside of the jurisdiction of Rio Arriba County law enforcement.

This would have been long after the Taser incident, by the way, reinforcing the fact that no action was taken against the deputy until he was about to be charged by the AG’s Office.

Clay also was threatened with arrest at an accident scene while on the job, the Sun reports. The newspaper also says that on Sept. 16, sheriff’s deputies denied Clay access to the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in Tierra Amarilla with her laptop, camera and cellphone.

To review events since May:

• A special needs student was shocked with a Taser, after the kid called the deputy a homophobic slur, and the sheriff’s office apparently took no action against the deputy until he was facing the serious prospect of criminal charges.

• Another deputy was caught on surveillance video using a Taser on a jail officer, for no discernible reason. That deputy was placed on paid leave after the incident.

• Deputies allegedly parked outside the home of a reporter whose news stories they didn’t like, a frightening gesture.

• And as discussed in this space last week, Sheriff James Lujan is accused in another tort claim notice of, on the Fourth of July, pulling over a business owner driving with American and Mexican flags on the truck, cussing out the driver and making him switch the positions of the flags. The next day, according to the notice, Lujan’s son maneuvered to run over the Mexican flag when it fell off the truck and a deputy subsequently confiscated the flag.

It all leaves the impression of an agency out of control.

Federal authorities have jumped into the affairs of the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office before. Tommy Rodella, Lujan’s predecessor, is serving a stiff federal prison sentence for civil rights violations for tailgating, pursuing and roughing up a young driver.

Maybe it’s time for a higher authority, like the feds or the attorney general, to take a broader look at this sheriff’s office. It seems rife with childish and rogue behavior which might be funny if it wasn’t supplemented with the painful voltage of Tasers and the force of law behind it.