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Woman sues Española Police Department, alleges rights violation

SANTA FE, N.M. — A Rio Arriba County woman is suing the Española Police Department for alleged abuse at the hands of police officers after she surrendered following a DWI arrest.

Shannon Baum claims officers “beat, threatened and otherwise assaulted” her following the June 2011 arrest, according to a federal lawsuit filed by attorney Dan Marlowe.

The suit says Baum was washing her car at the F & A Zip Car Wash on La Joya Street in Española when an officer approached her and asked her to pull her car to the side of the car wash. The officer asked why Baum’s eyes were red and the woman said she had been crying. The officer conducted field sobriety tests and arrested Baum on a charge of DWI.

Baum tried to get back into her car and the officer got on top of her. Baum tried to push the officer off and they both fell to the ground, the suit says. Two other officers arrived at the scene and Baum put up her hands in surrender, saying “Okay. Okay.”


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The suit states that the officers then used a chemical spray in her face several times, then “slammed” her face-first against the car wash’s driveway and handcuffed her. Baum started to cough and scream, and she was having difficulty breathing and couldn’t open her eyes.

The suit states the officers put a “gag bag” over Baum’s face.

Marlowe did not return calls seeking more information about what the bag was, but the suit says it caused further breathing difficulties for Baum.

“(Baum) reasonably believed that she was suffocating as she gasped uncontrollably,” the suit states. “(Baum) was hyperventilating from serious blockage of the airways.”

Police Chief Eric Garcia was not chief when the incident took place and he did not have more information on the arrest or what a gag bag was, he said.

An officer then elbowed Baum in her side, the suit alleges.

Baum was taken to the department, where she took a shower. She could hear officers standing by the shower making jokes about her, the suit states.

She could still feel effects from the spray two weeks later, the lawsuit claims, adding that her front tooth was dead due to her head hitting the pavement and she injured her shoulder, for which she received surgery and will need more procedures.

The suit alleges Baum’s civil rights were violated by the officers. It seeks unspecified damages for compensation, emotional distress and attorney fees, among others.

A copy of the suit includes information on the criminal case Baum faced in state District Court. Baum was found guilty of DWI and battery on a peace officer in August 2011, according to a court records database.