A New Mexico cop accused of using excessive force and who cost his city a fortune in settlements, has triggered changes in his department.
KRQE News 13 exposed the problem on Special Assignment.
Police video obtained by News 13 shed light on a traffic stop encounter between former Española Police Sergeant Greg Esparza and Virginia Valdez back in 2016.
“It’s officers like him that give you guys a bad name, honestly,” Valdez told the responding officer during a traffic stop.
When Valdez told the initial Española Police officer she couldn’t get on her knees, Esparza showed up and took matters into his own hands. Video shows Esparza grab Valdez by the arm and take her down to the ground.
She said she had a dislocated knee, which is why she couldn’t get on her knees. Officers thought she may have been driving a stolen van, but they were wrong.
Valdez later threatened to sue for the way Esparza handled her, but took a $25,000 settlement instead.
“There was no need for him to f** come and jump me like that, no need whatsoever,” Valdez told the responding officer. “He (Esparza) didn’t know what was going on.”
A KRQE News 13 Special Assignment revealed Valdez was not the only citizen to complain about Esparza, who’s named in at least seven use-of-force lawsuits or tort claims over the past six years.
The City of Española paid out more than $800,000 in settlements for complaints involving Esparza. After our story aired, Española police launched another internal affairs investigation and Esparza was placed on desk duty.
Then in July, the city accepted his resignation from the department.
“Unfortunately, nationwide we’re not seen in a very good spotlight. I wanna evolve from that, I wanna change that,” explained Española Police Chief Louis Carlos when he was sworn in earlier this year.
Since then, he says he’s fulfilling that promise, starting with more training for officers.
“The training piece is big,” Carlos told KRQE News 13. “When we lose sight of training, especially in this profession, we have a tendency to make up our own rules.”
“With that said, I created some Lieutenant positions to help me with the accountability piece,” Carlos explained.
In most cases, lapel video from Esparza’s encounters with citizens did not exist. Now, Chief Carlos says every encounter between his officers and the public must be recorded.
“We have a lot of work to do, we’re not done. It’s just that we’re focused and we’re continuing on,” Carlos added.
News 13 checked with the state Department of Public Safety to see if Esparza is working as a law enforcement officer anywhere else in New Mexico. His certification is currently inactive.