Woman shocked with Taser while on ground is suing police officer and chief for not reporting it
Nov 27, 2023, 3:59 PM
DENVER (AP) — A woman who was shocked in the back with a Taser while lying on the ground in Pueblo, Colorado, last year is suing the police officer who stunned her and the city’s police chief, accusing the police department of failing to report excessive force by the officer to state regulators.
The federal lawsuit filed Sunday by Cristy Gonzales, who was suspected of stealing a vehicle, says the police department found Cpl. Bennie Villanueva used excessive force against Gonzales and another person several weeks later. However, it says the agency withheld the information from a state board which oversees who is qualified to serve in law enforcement. If it had been reported, Villanueva would have lost his certification to work as a police officer for at least a year, the lawsuit said.
Gonzales was suspected of stealing a truck in February 2022, and didn’t stop for Villanueva, according to a police investigation. Eventually the vehicle ran out of gas, according to the lawsuit.
After she got out of the truck, Villanueva pulled up and ordered her to get onto the ground, according to body camera footage released by Gonzales’ lawyer. After another officer grabbed one of her arms, she got down on her knees and then appeared to be pushed to the ground, when Villanueva deployed his Taser into her back.
According to the lawsuit, Gonzales was hit with two probes in the small of her back near her spine. It says she continues to have numbness and difficulty using her right hand since the Taser was used on her.
Telephone messages left for Pueblo police Chief Chris Noeller and the city’s police union were not immediately returned Monday. Villanueva could not immediately be located for comment.
After seeing the video of Gonzales’ arrest, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the vehicle theft filed an excessive force complaint, prompting an internal police investigation, according to the lawsuit. After the investigation, Noeller issued a letter of reprimand against Villanueva for his conduct in the Gonzales case as well as for violating department policies in two other cases.
In the letter, provided by Gonzales’ lawyer, Kevin Mehr, Noeller said Villanueva appeared to use the Taser on Gonzales “for no apparent reason.” However, he also said that the use of the Taser appeared to be “a result of your reaction to a highly stressful call for service after having been away from patrol duty work for several years.”
In a second case, Noeller said Villanueva deployed his Taser on a suspect a second time apparently accidentally while attempting to issue a “warning arc” to get the suspect to comply. In a third case cited in the letter, Villanueva threatened to use a Taser on a suspect in custody who was not cooperating with medical personnel but he did not end up deploying it.
Each year, police departments are required to report to Colorado’s Peace Officer Standards and Training board whether their officers have had an “disqualifying incidents”, including a finding of excessive force, that would disqualify them from being certified to work as police officers in the state, according to the lawsuit. It claims the Pueblo Police Department did not report any such incidents for any of its officers in 2022.
“The Pueblo Police Department lied to the POST board, just plain and simple,” Mehr said.