New Mexico Cop Costs City more than $800,000 in Excessive Force Settlements
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A New Mexico city that has paid out more than $800,000 in settlements for excessive force incidents involving a single officer says it can not terminate him because it has no video evidence of his abusive behavior.
But then why would the city of Española have shelled out almost a million dollars in settlements since 2012?
Surely the tiny city of just over 10,000 people living in area of less than ten square miles can find better ways to spend that money.
Española police officer Greg Esparza apparently does has a body camera, only he never turns it on, according to KRQE.
The only time his abusive behavior was caught on camera was because another cop had his camera turned on, which you will see in the above news segment.
His behavior was so alarming that in 2016, the city's insurance company asked it to do something about the rogue cop.
And the city hired an outside investigator who interviewed several of his fellow officers – but not a single victim who had sued him – and determined nothing could be proved against Esparza.
The following year, Esparza was promoted to sergeant.
According to the Rio Grande Sun:
Investigator Forrest Smith, with Universal Investigations LLC, was assigned to the investigation and tasked with determining whether Esparza violated Department policy, or used excessive force, in four separate incidents.
“The concern and assignment was to determine if there may be a pattern of excessive force by Officer Esparza,” Smith wrote in his investigation report.
Smith spoke to five officers, but none of the people who filed complaints, tort claims or lawsuits with the city.
He wrote in his undated investigation report that city Human Resources Director Sally Baxter suggested he not even try to talk to the people claiming Esparza’s wrongdoing because two of them had lawyers.
Smith cleared Esparza of wrongdoing in all four cases, even though the city’s new insurance company thought otherwise.
Traveler’s Insurance Claim Professional Megan Carr wrote in a Sept. 16, 2016 email to Baxter, that the company is concerned about Esparza’s behavior.
“We have additional concerns about the number of excessive force claims that have been brought against Officer Esparza, and the potential liability they create for the city in terms of establishing a pattern and practice,” Carr wrote.
That investigation concluded in February 2017 and Esparza was promoted to sergeant later that month despite the warnings from citizens and the insurance company that he was a huge liability.
Less than a year later, he was sued again, according to the Rio Grande Sun.
According to the Dec. 10 tort claim, Esparza got out of his car, parked on Riverside Drive, as Tapia was walking past Chili’s.
“Sergeant Esparza got out of his vehicle, demanded that Mr. Tapia stop, accusing him of shoplifting, which Mr. Tapia denied, and then deployed his taser at Mr. Tapia’s chest,” Raphaelson wrote in the claim. “Mr. Tapia feared that Sergeant Esparza was going to continue to batter him so he pulled the taser prongs out of his chest and ran away.”
Emails between Raphaelson and city officials state Esparza did not have his lapel camera on for the incident and, four months after the incident, he had also not completed a use-of-force report, required by Department policy.
According to the Department’s own policies, Esparza was not allowed to use that level of force on a person fleeing from a suspected non-violent misdemeanor.
The chief who promoted Esparza, Richard Gallegos, retired in April 2017, and the chief who replaced him, Matthew Vigil, retired in August after he was indicted for felony domestic abuse, so this is a city that does not do a very good job on vetting its officers.
But the new police chief, Louis Carlos, is vowing to change that.
"Unfortunately, nationwide we're not seen in a very good spotlight. I want to evolve from that, I want to change that," Carlos told the city council upon being sworn in two weeks ago, according to KRQE.
We'll believe that when Esparza is stripped of his badge.