- Associated Press - Saturday, May 19, 2018

ESPANOLA, N.M. (AP) - A northern New Mexico city has paid out more than $800,000 in settlements in connection with excessive force complaints involving one police officer.

Court records show that Espanola Police Sgt. Greg Esparza has been named in seven lawsuits or tort claims involving excessive force since 2012, KRQE-TV reported this week.

“The amount of complaints are certainly concerning to all of us involved,” Espanola Mayor Javier Sanchez said.

The city paid $25,000 to Virginia Valdez after she filed a tort claim notice following an encounter with Esparza in June 2016.

An officer pulled over Valdez on suspicion that her vehicle was stolen and possibly connected to a shoplifting report, according to authorities. The encounter was captured on a police body camera.

Following the stop, Valdez was outside of the car and an officer ordered her to get on her knees, the video showed. Valdez told the officer she couldn’t.

Seconds later, Esparza entered the camera’s frame and threw Valdez to the ground, the video showed.

Before Valdez was forced to the ground, she was trying to tell the officer that she couldn’t kneel because she had a dislocated knee, she said. She didn’t know why she was being pulled over at the time, Valdez said.

Esparza did not respond to KRQE-TV’s attempts to reach him for comment.

One of the lawsuits against Esparza claimed he used a stun gun against a 71-year-old retired teacher for not keeping his distance as emergency personnel were treating the man’s son for an overdose.

The lawsuit claims Espanola police handcuffed and arrested the man and his wife. The city later paid the couple a $650,000 settlement, according to court documents.

Another lawsuit against Esparza claims he used a stun gun on paraplegic man. Esparza claimed the man was resisting. The encounter wasn’t recorded on video.

Sanchez said the city is making changes. The city is planning to increase training for officers and add more accountability measures in the department, he said. The city has also recently hired a new police chief.

The police department declined to comment on if Esparza has been disciplined for any of the complaints.


Information from: KRQE-TV, http://www.krqe.com

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