by Bill Knowles
TRINIDAD — District Attorney Henry Solano, released a report looking at allegations concerning the use of excessive force by two Trinidad police officers on May 16, 2018.
Earlier in the day on May 16, Sean O’Connell, a resident of Trinidad called the dispatch stating he was wanting to report an alleged incident of an unnamed Las Animas Sheriff’s Deputy almost running him over, and that he had video of the incident on his phone. The call did not originate from the scene of the incident; it came in later with the caller wishing to speak to officers at his private residence.
When officers Jennifer De La Fuente and Roger Gutierrez arrived at the address, O’Connell began recording the events on a video camera. As the officers approached the front steps, O’Connell went from the front of the house to a secluded area at the rear of the property, and the officers followed him. In this area, O’Connell and the officers were not visible from the street in front of the house, or from the side where the view was blocked by a tall security fence.
O’Connell described the alleged event to the two officers and handed them his phone to view the recording. During the exchange O’Connell was holding the video camera in one hand, recording the encounter, while keeping the other hand in his pocket. Officer De La Fuente requested that he remove his hand from his pocket for “…officer safety reasons.” De La Fuente made the request several times, and all were rejected by O’Connell, who stated “…he was on his property and did not need to comply with the request,” according to the report. He told the officer
s to take his report while he kept his hand in his pocket or they could go. De La Fuenta handed him his phone and both officers started to leave with O’Connell following close behind while recording with one hand and keeping the other hand in his pocket.
Officer De La Fuente again told O’Connell to remove his hand from his pocket. Instead of complying, he pushed his hand deeper into his pocket. De La Fuente grabbed O’Connell’s hand in an attempt to remove it from his pocket. She told him what she was doing and why, according to the report. O’Connell continued to resist. Officer Gutierrez then took hold of the other arm and a minor scuffle began.
As O’Connell was subdued and his pockets searched, he began yelling obscenities at the officers. A search produced a knife in another pocket. The officers left the area, handing the knife to another person who came out onto the porch from the house, while O’Connell continued to yell at the officers.
The video was posted on YouTube by O’Connell but was later pulled by the vendor as a violation of its policy against posting bullying or harassing information. He posted a second video complaining about the first one being pulled. A third video was then posted showing a minor abrasion on his right elbow and a phantom injury to his left elbow, an injury not visible in the video. Later another video was posted showing O’Connell’s right wrist and forearm heavily wrapped as he complained of a wrist injury.
It was determined by the DA in the body of the report that no criminal charges will be filed against Officers De La Fuente and Gutierrez.
However, it was determined that O’Connell acted in a manner that would provoke a response from the officers. That was shown by his actions at the scene and later with his posts to YouTube.
As no serious bodily injury occurred, there was no grounds for first or second degree assault. Third degree assault presents multiple legal problems with the first being that there does not appear to be admissible evidence that the conduct of the officers was knowing and reckless. The force used in this incident, according to the report, was very limited and not disproportional in how it was exercised.
The Trinidad Police Department was unable to comment to the World Journal concerning the incident by order of the DA according to a spokesperson at the police department.