NewsCovering Colorado


Deputies fired after tasing investigation, criminal investigation recommended

Posted at 1:58 PM, Sep 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-12 08:43:08-04

LAS ANIMAS COUNTY — Two Las Animas County Sheriff's Office (LACSO) Deputies have been fired nine months after an incident where a father was tased in the face after stopping on the side of the road when his son was pulled over in a traffic stop.

Kenneth Espinoza's attorney said in November 2022 his client was driving to a shop to get his truck serviced, and his son was following him separately in another vehicle. His son was pulled over by Deputy Mikhail Noel with the Las Animas County Sheriff's Office. Espinoza's attorney said he pulled over behind the deputy to wait for his son.

In the body camera video released by Epinoza's attorney, Lieutenant Henry Trujillo is seen walking up to Espinoza's window. He tells Espinoza he needs to leave or he will "get charged." Espinoza refuses and moments later receives conflicting orders to "leave" and "stay" from the deputies while Noel points a pistol at him.

In the body camera video, Trujillo and another deputy are seen trying to get Espinoza in the back of their car. Trujillo tased Espinoza once while he was handcuffed, according to the sheriff's office.

The 3rd Judicial District Attorney's Office dropped all charges against Espinoza, including resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer.

The incident led to a third-party investigation by the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office and resulted in a recommendation that Deputy Noel and Lieutenant Trujillo be fired and that the office should consider a criminal investigation into their actions.

The report said the two former deputies violated policies regarding the use of a taser and submitted information about the incident that did not match what was seen in footage from their body-worn cameras. The report also said Noel violated the office's use of force policy by pointing a pistol at Espinoza.

The LACSO Undersheriff Reynaldo Santistevan completed a separate internal investigation into the actions of the deputies and agreed with the findings of the investigation done by the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office. In the recommendation report, Santistevan admitted to making several errors before investigating.

He said after the incident he approved the use of force by the two deputies without watching the body camera videos, which he said was wrong. He also said after watching the body camera video, he should have immediately put both deputies on administrative leave.

"Going forward I will review all documents, written statements, review all body camera videos of our deputies, and assisting officers, along with any videos from surveillance cameras if available prior to any determination on the justified use of force by any employee of the Las Animas County Sheriff's Office," said Santistevan in the report.

Undersheriff Santistevan also said Espinoza did nothing wrong by pulling behind the deputy during his son's traffic stop and that "Lt. Trujillo was incorrect in ordering Mr. Espinoza to leave the area or face charges."

Kevin Mehr, Espinoza's attorney, filed a lawsuit against the LACSO Sheriff, Undersheriff, both former deputies and the Las Animas County Board of County Commissioners for excessive force. Mehr said they are hoping the two deputies will have their peace officer certification taken away.

"I think that both of these guys are going to face a mandatory decertification. And they can't be police officers again, at least for a while," said Mehr.

He also said Trujillo should have never been on the force because of his criminal history.

In 1997, Trujillo was charged with felony menacing with a weapon, which he pleaded down to misdemeanor disorderly conduct. The next year, he was convicted of misdemeanor harassment.

Mehr said that conviction now should have barred Trujillo from becoming certified by the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board, which is required to be a peace officer in Colorado.

The Colorado Department of Law said, however, disqualifying misdemeanors, including harassment, had to have been committed on or after July 1, 2001.

Multiple restraining orders have been filed against Trujillo, including one in 2006 for a domestic abuse incident.

Court documents show he faced another protection order in 2007 for stalking and physical assault/threat.

In its investigation, the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office said the Colorado POST Board will decide the future of the former deputies' peace officer certification.

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