ACLU sues State Police over use of force - Albuquerque Journal

ACLU sues State Police over use of force

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Dametrio Maldonado and his daughter were on their way to help with preparations for an annual Memorial Day race in Acoma Pueblo in May when they came upon a woman who’d crashed her car.

As a result of his call for help, Maldonado says, he was handcuffed and slammed into a cruiser by a New Mexico State Police officer who ultimately cited him for unlawful parking.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in state District Court in Santa Fe, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union call what happened to Maldonado a “textbook example of a police officer misusing the power entrusted to him.”

It was not clear whether Sondre Loberg, the officer named as a defendant in the suit, has hired an attorney, and attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. A spokesman for the State Police said the agency does not comment on pending lawsuits, but he confirmed that Loberg remains employed by NMSP as a patrolman stationed in Grants.

The lawsuit alleges Maldonado pulled over when he saw the wrecked vehicle and a woman sitting in the street screaming. He spoke to dispatchers as his daughter went to check on the woman. Acoma Tribal Police soon arrived, followed by officer Loberg, who yelled at Maldonado to leave. Maldonado said he was waiting for his daughter, who was speaking to another officer.

“At that point, in a display of deference to the officer, Mr. Maldonado politely smiled at defendant Loberg and proceeded to drive forward to comply with the officer’s directives,” the suit says.

Loberg followed Maldonado, told him to get out of his car, and then set to work trying to handcuff him. Because of Maldonado’s stature, the handcuffs didn’t close easily and Maldonado says he struggled to keep his balance as the officer tried to cuff him. Loberg “violently pushed Mr. Maldonado face down onto the hood of his patrol car” with enough force to shatter his cellphone screen, the ACLU alleges.

After keeping Maldonado in the back seat of his police vehicle for around 20 minutes, Loberg let him out and accused him of failing to comply with his orders. He told Maldonado that he perceived his smile as “a big F.U.” But he agreed to release Maldonado at the request of the Acoma officer. Loberg issued Maldonado a citation for unlawful parking, which was later dismissed.

Preston Sanchez, an attorney with ACLU New Mexico, said Maldonado did the right thing by stopping and the encounter that followed “blatantly reflects a system of policing in New Mexico that is racially biased.”

“We hope it highlights some of the issues between law enforcement and their treatment of Indigenous people,” Sanchez said of the lawsuit. “We hope it brings that issue to the forefront.”

Maldonado says he had to go to the emergency room as a result of the interaction, followed by physical therapy, and he was unable to farm during the subsequent season. He is asking the court to award damages and other relief.

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