Two Las Animas County sheriff’s deputies, Lt. Henry Trujillo and Deputy Mikhail Noel, were fired in late August following an independent investigation that found they had used excessive force, written false reports, and had no legal basis to detain a handcuffed man. The 69-page internal affairs report, made public on Monday, also recommended a criminal investigation into their actions during the November 2022 incident.
The incident occurred when Noel pulled over Espinoza’s son for following his patrol vehicle too closely. Espinoza, who was driving behind his son, stopped a few feet behind the deputy and watched from a distance. Lt. Trujillo arrived on the scene and ordered Espinoza to leave, but he refused, stating that his son had been pulled over. After a brief argument, Trujillo allowed Espinoza to stay and returned to his vehicle.
However, Noel approached Espinoza and ordered him to leave. When Espinoza backed up his truck to leave, both deputies shouted at him to stay. Noel then drew his pistol and pointed it at Espinoza, who stopped the truck. The deputies grabbed Espinoza, and Noel shocked him with a Taser while Trujillo pulled him from the truck and declared his arrest. Espinoza, who was unarmed and handcuffed, expressed his willingness to cooperate.
The body-worn camera footage revealed that Trujillo shot Espinoza with a Taser cartridge, striking him in the face and chest before slamming the door on his leg. Trujillo falsely claimed in his report that Espinoza had kicked the door open, nearly striking his face. The footage also showed Trujillo and other officers throwing Espinoza onto the ground after he did not immediately comply with their request to step out of the car.
The internal affairs investigation found several other instances of false claims made by Trujillo and Noel in their reports. The investigation also highlighted the initial failure to thoroughly investigate the deputies’ actions, raising concerns about other potential cases that may have been mishandled.
Las Animas County Sheriff Derek Navarette requested the independent investigation after Espinoza publicly spoke out about the incident and filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office. The Third Judicial District Attorney’s office is currently reviewing the case to determine whether the deputies should face criminal charges.
The firing of Trujillo and Noel has been welcomed by Espinoza’s attorney, Kevin Mehr, who stated that it should not have taken a lawsuit for action to be taken. The attorney also expressed concerns about the need for a re-review of other uses of force by the deputies.