Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
The New Mexico State Police have agreed to pay more than $ 600,000 to resolve two separate lawsuits filed by people handcuffed by state police officers in incidents in Santa Fe County.
In October, state police agreed to pay $ 335,000 to a Rio Rancho man who was beaten up by a state police officer and handcuffed to a railing in the county jail cell in 2019.
A $ 300,000 settlement was reached a few months earlier with a disabled Santa Fe woman who alleged that a state police officer had treated her roughly and handcuffed her after she refused to provide identification. The situation worsened when she had seizures while she was handcuffed to the ground along a state road.
Both plaintiffs in the case used the same lawyers, Dorie Biagianti Smith and Jamison Barkley, who share a law firm in Santa Fe.
Biagianti Smith said the settlements should be a lesson to law enforcement that the civil rights of suspects must be respected.
She hopes that the state police will receive the message and will take measures to train the officers in dealing with people with mental health problems and disabilities and not just to assume wrongdoing without reasonable suspicion.
“Sometimes the police are not always right,” she said. “We keep police officers at a high level and of course the public should realize that they have to respect cops, but that a cop is not always right. People need to be aware that you have rights when a police officer approaches you. “
Barkley noted that the settlements preceded a proposal to exempt law enforcement officers from qualified immunity to protect them from legal claims for alleged violations of constitutional rights.
She said removing qualified immunity could help prevent incidents that resulted in the settlements from taking place in the first place.
“When done right, litigation is supposed to be a tool to change behavior,” she said, referring to the behavior of law enforcement agencies.
The state police did not respond to several requests for comment.
The settlements came before the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission’s recommendation last week that lawmakers should abolish qualified immunity. Currently, plaintiffs must demonstrate that an officer has committed a clear violation of the law before they can proceed with a case.
Opponents of a change in the law argued that doing so would increase insurance costs for local governments and encourage law enforcement officials to leave New Mexico.
The proposal will be up for debate during the upcoming 60-day parliamentary term.
Beat prison cells
In May 2019, Ryan Cordova was arrested by State Police officer Peter Romero for drunk driving after crashing his car into another vehicle on San Francisco Street in front of the downtown plaza.
Cordova was taken to Santa Fe County Jail, where Romero tied him to a railing in a cell, beat him, hit his head against a wall, kicked him and broke his wrist, as in his February lawsuit.
Although there were no direct witnesses, the incident was recorded on security footage in the prison.
The DWI indictment against Cordova was dismissed last October, but he filed a lawsuit against state police and Romero alleging assault and violation of his constitutional rights. Attorney Barkley said if Romero were an average person, he would likely have been charged with assault over the beatings he gave Cordova. But it’s qualified immunity that kept him safe from prosecution.
Cordova had no permanent injuries from the beatings, she said, and he was satisfied with the settlement because Romero was no longer with the state police or in law enforcement.
Jessica Guttman just wanted to watch the horses; she has always admired them. But instead of going on a peaceful getaway with her two friends, she had a traumatic experience that haunted her four years later.
When she was standing in a public right of way on NM 14 near the state prison on September 20, 2016, State Police Officer Kevin Smith stopped with flashing emergency lights to find out what she was doing.
Guttman was amazed at his aggression towards her and initially refused to provide identification. Before she knew it, she was on the ground and handcuffed.
According to her lawsuit, Guttman had seizures due to a traumatic brain injury she sustained as a child. She remained handcuffed to the floor for 30 minutes while her two friends Smith and later his supervisor Sgt. Jerry Delgado, who arrived at the scene to release her friend during the incident, stated that she had a disease that was handicapping her.
Your friends captured part of the encounter on a cell phone video.
Guttman, who was also represented by an attorney for Disability Rights New Mexico, filed a lawsuit against state police and the two officers in 2018.
Through her lawyers, Guttman told the Journal that she was so scared after the incident that she wore her riding spurs for months. She hopes law enforcement officers receive the training they need to learn how to deal with disabled people.
As for officers, Delgado retired from the state police and then served briefly as police chief in Las Vegas, New Mexico. According to Barkley, Smith remains a state police officer.
“It was very annoying to Ms. Guttman that the State Police never disciplined Kevin Smith,” said Barkley. “He was never suspended. It was never written. And as far as we know, they never acknowledged what he did was wrong. “
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