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Two former Las Animas County Sheriff's Deputies facing criminal charges over 2022 tasing incident

Henry Trujillo lawsuit
Posted at 11:56 AM, Jul 08, 2024

LAS ANIMAS COUNTY — Two former Las Animas County Sheriff's Office deputies are facing misdemeanor criminal charges for their actions during a 2022 tasing incident.

The 3rd Judicial District Attorney's Office filed the charges against Lieutenant Henry Trujillo and Deputy Mikhail Noel in April, which include Assault, Official Misconduct, Official Oppression, Menacing, and Failure to Intervene. The criminal counts are in response to a Las Animas County traffic stop in Nov. 2022 involving Kenneth Espinoza and his son.

Espinoza's attorney said he was driving to a mechanic shop to get his truck serviced and his son was following him separately in another vehicle. The attorney said Deputy Noel pulled Espinoza's son over for following the deputy too closely. The attorney said Espinoza pulled over behind the deputy to wait for his son.

Body camera video, released by Espinoza's attorney, shows Lt. Trujillo walk up to Espinoza's window. He tells the father 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 gun at him.

In the body camera video, the two deputies are seen trying to get Espinoza in the back of a patrol car. Espinoza's attorney said the man was then tased in the face by Lt. Trujillo while he was handcuffed. According to a third-party investigation of the incident done by the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office, taser reports showed Lt. Trujillo deployed his taser once and Deputy Noel deployed his taser twice during the entire incident.

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

The two deputies were fired in 2023. Following the Nov. traffic stop, Espizona sued the deputies, the Las Animas County Sheriff's Office, and the Las Animas Board of County Commissioners in April of 2023. In March of 2024, Espinoza settled with the county for $1.5 million.

A third-party investigation by the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office followed and resulted in a recommendation that Deputy Noel and Lieutenant Trujillo be fired and the office should consider a criminal investigation into their actions.

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

He said he approved the use of force by the two deputies after the incident 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."

In April, the district attorney's office filed five misdemeanor counts against the two deputies.

Kevin Mehr, Espinoza's attorney, said he thought the charges should be felony counts, but said he's glad the deputies are being prosecuted.

“It’s always something you want to see happen when it’s this level of violence. It’s very rare that an officer ever gets charged," said Mehr.

News5 reached out to the Las Animas County Sheriff's Office for comment on the criminal charges. Undersheriff Santistevan said the office had no comment on the matter.

Class 1 Misdemeanors in Colorado carry a sentence of six to 18 months in jail, up to $5,000 in fines, or both.

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