Las Animas sheriff suspends lieutenant without pay amid investigations into tasing, road rage fights

A Newark police officer wears a body camera last month. The cameras, which will be worn by officers as part of a federal monitoring agreement, are provided by Panasonic.

The Las Animas County Sheriff’s office has placed one of its lieutenants on unpaid administrative leave after he fought with a teenager during a road rage incident last month. 

Lieutenant Henry Trujillo cussed out and punched a 16-year-old on June 18 after the two pulled over on a residential street in Trinidad, according to video of the brawl captured by a resident’s home surveillance camera. Trujillo was in plain clothes and a personal vehicle at the time. He and the teenager exchanged multiple kicks and punches during the altercation, the video shows. 

The Trinidad Police Department investigated the fight and referred the case to the Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which filed misdemeanor charges against Trujillo. On June 26, the Las Animas County Sheriff’s Office changed his employment status from administrative leave with pay to leave without pay, according to a statement from the sheriff’s office released on Tuesday. 

The move is the latest administrative action against Trujillo, who was already on paid leave prior to the June 18 road rage incident.

The sheriff’s office placed Trujillo and another Animas deputy, Mikhail Noel, on leave in April after it launched a third-party review of a November 2022 tasing incident. During that, the two deputies pulled over Kenneth Espinoza and his teenage son in Trinidad.

Espinoza and his son were caravaning and in two separate vehicles. Officers pulled over his son, but Espinosa stopped to watch, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court in May.

Trujillo and Noel ordered Espinoza to leave, saying he should not be near the traffic stop. After initially refusing, Espinoza then started to drive away but Noel pointed his taser at Espinoza and ordered him to stop.

The suit alleges that Noel used a Taser to stun Espinoza directly on his body while he was in his truck, calling them “drive stuns.”

Body camera video shows the deputies pulled Espinoza from the truck, handcuffed him and squeezed him into the back of a patrol car.

As the deputies struggled to get Espinoza into the car, video shows, one deputy warned that he was going to use the taser on him, and used an expletive.

One device can be seen contacting Espinoza's body along with the wires that carry taser electrodes, as crackling sounds are heard.

Espinoza alleges he was struck dozens of times by taser during the incident, according to his lawsuit. The case is still pending in the U.S. District Court of Colorado. 

Investigations into the November 2022 tasing incident and the June road rage fight remain underway, according to the Las Animas Sheriff’s Office. 

Ken Mehr, the attorney representing Espinoza in his civil lawsuit against Trujillo and the Animas sheriff’s office, said moving the lieutenant to unpaid leave was a step in the right direction. 

“It's finally like the sheriff's department is taking his conduct seriously,” Mehr said. “It doesn't appear that they've ever done that before.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting.