Colorado man handcuffed, tased in face while observing traffic stop, sues sheriff's office

 A Colorado man is suing police for using a Taser stun gun on him repeatedly while he was handcuffed, including the face, and throwing him onto the icy ground after he had already been put into the back of a cruiser.

Kenneth Espinoza of Colorado Springs filed the lawsuit in federal court against the Las Animas County Sheriff's Office and the two officers who pointed guns at him and tased him. The lawsuit, filed last week, accuses the officers of excessive force, false arrest, and malicious prosecution, among other claims.

Sheriff Derek Navarette declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday and only said that the two officers involved were placed on leave last week pending an outside investigation of Espinoza's arrest.

Navarette said in a separate news release last week that Espinoza was only tased once, which Espinoza's attorney says is a lie.

"I could talk for hours about all of the things that were done wrong in this situation," Espinoza's attorney, Kevin Mehr, said Friday.

'You're gonna get lit up'

One of the most disturbing aspects of the case is why the police were even concerned about Espinoza in the first place, Mehr said in the lawsuit.

Espinoza was in his truck following his son, who was in a separate truck, as the pair headed to a mechanic on Nov. 29. Espinoza's son, Nathaniel, was pulled over for what Deputy Mikhail Noel told him was driving too close to his patrol vehicle, according to body cam footage of the entire incident.

Kenneth Espinoza is pictured.

Espinoza pulled his truck over behind the deputy but not closely behind him. A second responding officer, Lt. Henry Trujillo, immediately took issue with Espinoza waiting for his son's traffic stop to wrap up.

"You need to leave," Trujillo told him in a conversation that escalated after Espinoza resisted the idea that he had to move his truck.

"I don't need to do anything, I'm on a public street," Espinoza said. "Do I not pay taxes?"

Trujillo responded: "You need to leave now or you're going to get charged. It's that easy ... You need to go."

Separate body camera footage shows that Espinoza was sitting in his truck a safe distance from the traffic stop, which is not illegal. Americans have the right to record and observe traffic stops and other police activity as long as they don't interfere.

Things escalated after Noel joined his fellow deputy and told Espinoza to leave twice. Immediately after Espinoza starts to pull away, Noel shouts, "Stay! Stay!" He grabs the door handle on the slow-moving truck while shouting and pulls his gun and points it at Espinoza, screaming at him to "get out the (expletive) car!"

Instead of getting out of the car, Espinoza slowly parallel parks the truck next to Trujillo's cruiser. Noel continues to aim his gun at Espinoza while Trujillo pulls his Taser.

From there, footage shows Trujillo forcefully grabbing Espinoza's arm and twist it backward outside the truck with him still inside.

"You're gonna get lit up," Trujillo tells Espinoza after repeatedly telling him to get out of the car. Noel gets into the passenger seat and uses his Taser's drive-stun mode on Espinoza multiple times.

The officers get Espinoza out of the car and handcuff him before leading him to Trujillo's cruiser. When Espinoza hesitates to get in, saying "Give me a second," and then seems to resist getting in, Trujillo deploys his Taser, which is when one of the weapon's barbs hits Espinoza in the lip.

Soon after getting him in the car, Trujillo asks for Espinoza's ID and then forcefully removes him from the car, dragging him down on the icy road.

"This is how it's going to work. You're going to do what you're told to do and that's it," Trujillo tells him.


In all, Mehr said Espinoza was stunned by Tasers 35 times, the vast majority being in the drive-stun mode, described by the maker of Taser as "a pain compliance option."

"Simply “touching” the (Taser) against the subject is not sufficient," the company's website says. "The subject is likely to recoil and try to get away from the (Taser). It is necessary to aggressively drive the front of the (Taser) into the subject for maximum effect."

Espinoza's body is covered in what looks like snake bites from the drive-stuns, Mehr said, and he had to be treated at a hospital for the Taser barb that caught his lip.

Kenneth Espinoza's wounded lip is shown.

His son, Nathaniel, said both he and his father have nightmares from that day. Speaking at a news conference announcing the lawsuit, Nathaniel said he watched as he saw both deputies pointing what he thought were two guns at his dad.

"To watch my father almost lose his life to these men ... Time stopped," he said. "I can still see them pointing the gun at my father ... and just feeling everything just leave my body."

Prosecutors have declined to pursue any charges against Espinoza.

Mehr said in the lawsuit that "Espinoza was engaging in constitutionally protected behavior when he stopped to observe and record the traffic stop involving his son."

"It is no doubt that what Trujillo and Noel did to Mr. Espinoza would chill an ordinary person from continuing to observe and record any police action in Las Animas County, for fear of being brutally assaulted by theinvolved officers," he said.

Watch body cam video of Kenneth Espinoza with Las Animas County Sheriff's deputies

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