Ex-deputy pleads no contest to felony in tasing - Albuquerque Journal

Ex-deputy pleads no contest to felony in tasing

A 15-year-old special needs student at Española Valley High School is held down after a sheriff’s deputy used a Taser on him at the school in May 2019. The image is from the deputy’s lapel camera.

A former Española Valley High School resource officer pleaded no contest Thursday to a single charge in connection with a May 2019 incident in which he used a Taser on a teenage special-needs student – a case that triggered public outrage and resulted in a $1.3 million settlement.

Former Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Barnes pleaded no contest to one felony count of false imprisonment, according to a news release from New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.

The plea was entered in the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in Tierra Amarilla.

Barnes will have to relinquish his law-enforcement certifications and he will “not be eligible to seek, obtain, or have employment in any law-enforcement position for the rest of his life,” Balderas’ office said.

Barnes, who faces up to 18 months in prison, is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 5.

“There is no excuse for a public officer to abuse his power and use unnecessary force against a child whom he was employed to protect, and this incident further proves the need for law enforcement sensitivity and de-escalation training,” Balderas said.

Thomas M. Clark, the attorney representing Barnes, said circumstances in his client’s life have changed.

“That made it more reasonable for him to enter into a plea. I’ll have more to say about that at the sentencing,” Clark said.

A body camera that Barnes was wearing on the day of the incident showed the officer walking into the school and a security guard informing him that the 15-year-old student hit her with a backpack, claiming the student was “resisting.” Barnes responded that he will “put his little ass in handcuffs” and take him to a juvenile lockup in Santa Fe.

The video does not show the teen resisting as he is being handcuffed, although the teen directs a homophobic slur toward Barnes, who initiates a scuffle and takes the teen to the ground with the aid of a security guard.

During the scuffle, Barnes informs the teen he is going to get tased, and is encouraged by the security guard to do so.

Tased multiple times, the teen screams in pain and pleads for Barnes to stop.

He then took the student into custody even though a juvenile probation officer had told him there were insufficient grounds to do so, and despite the presence of the student’s mother on scene, according to the news release from Balderas.

Balderas’ office said that at the time of the incident, “Barnes was neither properly certified as a law-enforcement officer nor was he current on the training necessary to carry and use a Taser.”

In the wake of the video becoming public, the Española School Board issued a statement condemning the use of the Taser: “It is important for a law enforcement officer to understand that the officer is operating in a school setting, not out on the street, and that students will have bad days or special needs.”

The family of the special-needs teen filed a lawsuit resulting in a $1.3 million settlement in 2020 from the Española Public Schools and Rio Arriba County.

Calls to the Española Public Schools superintendent and Rio Arriba County manager seeking comment on the Thursday plea of Barnes were not returned. A spokesman for the Rio Arriba Sheriff’s Office declined to comment.

Prior to being hired as a Rio Arriba sheriff’s deputy in 2018, Barnes was fired from the Grants Police Department in 2014 after an ex-girlfriend reported that Barnes would chase her and their son with a Taser and “fire it off and make it crackle” to scare them, according to the lawsuit. Barnes also faced complaints before he left the Clayton police in 2015, the lawsuit said.

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