Two Colorado sheriff's deputies have been fired following an investigation that revealed their unjustified use of Tasers against a man during a traffic stop. The Las Animas County Sheriff's office confirmed on Monday that Deputy Mikhail Noel and Lt. Henry Trujillo violated multiple agency policies, including inappropriately using a Taser against Kenneth Espinoza while he was handcuffed and providing inaccurate reports of the incident. The Pueblo County Sheriff's Office, which conducted the investigation, also recommended that the matter be referred for a criminal probe, alleging that the deputies' actions escalated the use of physical force, resulted in bodily injury, and led to a false arrest.
Attorney Kevin Mehr, who is representing Espinoza in lawsuits against the deputies and the sheriff's office, described the excessive and unlawful force used by the deputies as "the most outrageous thing I've ever seen." The sheriff's office confirmed that Noel and Trujillo were fired on August 25 but refrained from providing further comments due to the pending lawsuit from Espinoza. Attempts to reach Noel and Trujillo for comment were unsuccessful at the time of reporting.
The events leading up to the investigation began when Espinoza's son was pulled over for a traffic stop on November 29, 2022, while his father was driving behind him. Espinoza pulled off the road to support his son, but Trujillo and Noel ordered him to leave. Initially refusing, Espinoza began to drive away when the deputies instructed him to stay. According to the report, Noel claimed that Espinoza tried to strike him with his truck, prompting Noel to point his gun at Espinoza. Espinoza was subsequently handcuffed, informed of his arrest, taken to a patrol car, and stunned with a Taser.
Noel and Trujillo alleged that Espinoza was uncooperative, resisted arrest, and attempted to harm them by kicking. However, the investigation, which reviewed body camera footage and the investigative report, found no evidence supporting their claims. Undersheriff Reynaldo Santistevan, in a letter to the Las Animas County Sheriff, stated that Espinoza did not attempt to strike Noel with his truck and "at no time does Mr. Espinoza actively use any force against Lt. Trujillo or Dep. Noel." Santistevan recommended the termination of both deputies, noting that they failed to de-escalate the situation and only made it worse.
Santistevan acknowledged his mistake in initially reviewing only the deputies' use-of-force reports for grammatical and spelling errors without watching the body camera footage. He admitted that he should have thoroughly reviewed all documents and videos before approving the use of force. The investigation further revealed that there had been numerous complaints regarding Trujillo's behavior in the past, which were sent to the district attorney's office, but no action was taken.
As a result of the unjustified use of force, Espinoza has filed a lawsuit against the Las Animas County Sheriff's Office, alleging failure to train and discipline employees. The investigation's findings and the subsequent firing of the deputies highlight the importance of holding law enforcement officers accountable for their actions and ensuring appropriate training and discipline within police departments.