Deputies fired for using stun gun on a grandfather 35 times
LAS ANIMAS, Colo. (KKTV/Gray News) - A pair of Colorado law enforcement officers accused of using a Taser on a grandfather 35 times last November have been fired, KKTV reported.
“Lt. Henry Trujillo and Deputy Mikhail Noel, both of the Las Animas County Sheriff’s Office, were terminated following the completion of an independent third-party investigation by the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office, as well as an internal recommendation from [Las Animas County] Undersheriff Rey Santistevan,” said the Mehr law firm, which is representing the victim.
The victim’s attorney, Kevin Mehr, said the deputies’ terminations are “the right step ... the right direction for the department to be going in,” but added that the victim still wants accountability for the incident to be taken.
The Las Animas County Sheriff’s Office said the two officers were terminated on Aug. 25, but “due to pending litigation, no further information will be released.”
In November 2022, Kenneth Espinoza and his son were following each other in separate vehicles when the son was pulled over. Body camera footage shows one of the deputies approaching Espinoza’s vehicle where the two got into an argument over why Espinoza was parked behind the traffic stop. At one point, the deputy can be heard telling Espinoza to leave.
As he starts to pull away, the deputy can be heard yelling for him to get out of his vehicle, and both officers can be seen drawing their weapons. Things escalated from there, ending with Espinoza being stunned with a stun gun multiple times.
At the time of the incident, the Las Animas County sheriff said that a Taser was used on Espinoza just once, citing data from the Tasers. But on Monday, Mehr Law said the independent investigation found that Espinoza was tased more than one time, and the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office’s report recommended a criminal investigation into Noel and Trujillo and their actions in the November 2022 incident.
“The reports also reveal a series of failures ranging from both Noel and Trujillo making false claims about the incident to Las Animas County Sheriff’s Office to the pair tasing Espinoza repeatedly even though he wasn’t resisting and had broken no laws,” Mehr Law said Monday.
The firm also claims that Santistevan signed off on the original use of force report without reviewing it or watching the body camera footage.
“This is the most clearcut case of police negligence, brutality and abuse of power that I’ve ever seen,” Mehr said. “The videos show it, the third-party investigation confirms it and Undersheriff Santistevan admits it.”
The third-party report completed by the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office also said “it is inherent the Las Animas County Sheriff’s Office consider the referral of a criminal investigation” related to the two former deputies’ actions.
“Ken wants accountability. This is the first step towards that,” Mehr told KKTV. “I can’t necessarily say what a full and complete accountability will look like, but there’s a lot of … A lot of issues that were made evident within the Las Animas County Sheriff’s Department.”
Trujillo, one of the two deputies fired in connection with this incident, has a history of criminal convictions, restraining orders and complaints against him. Court records indicate he was forced to resign from the Las Animas County Sheriff’s Office in 2009, only to be later rehired and promoted.
He’s also currently under investigation for a separate incident this summer, where surveillance video appeared to show him getting into a fight with a teen on the side of the road.
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