Maybe it’s the thin air in Leadville, Colo., but within the span of a week, a Lake County Sheriff’s department deputy tasered 30 school students and has been suspended, and another Sheriff’s officer arrested
a Leadville City firefighter/EMT responding to a medical emergency. The picturesque, but frigid and oxygen-deprived town, Elev. 10,200′, also lays claim as the home town of terror defendant, “Jihad” Jamie Paulin-Ramirez. We covered her indictment the day it happened, and included an earlier interview I conducted with the previously unheralded Leadville Police Sergeant, Saige Thomas, whose early efforts investigating the case helped lead to Paulin-Ramirez’ ultimate capture. Quite a bit of legal action in one week for the tiny mountain town.
I’m really not making this up, but the taser incident occurred Thursday during a career fair in which Deputy John Ortega was apparently demonstrating his idea of how fun
and rewarding it can be to enter law enforcement to a group of clinically masochistic Leadville school students. According to Denver’s 9 News, S met M as follows:
According to school administrators, the students asked the deputy to shock them so they knew what it felt like.
Two of the students received minor burns and were taken to a local hospital. They were treated and released.
A student says one female student was shocked seven times at her request.
Since 9 News fails to explain it, a “dry tase” is a “pain-compliance” technique where the taser is switched into a special mode called “stun-drive mode” and the LEO presses it against a suspect’s body, rather than shooting an electric barb from a distance. The latter is a disabling technique. A dry stun, however, inflicts severe pain and often injury, as occurred here, with the aim of getting a resisting suspect to voluntarily submit so as not to receive any more pain. The dry stun has also been used inappropriately in some instances as a form of punishment. Readers can find lots of material on the topic via Google.
Updated: The Denver Post has updated story. (Denver Post repeats Taser International propaganda that taser is “non-lethal.” Tell that to all the people dead from tasers. They’re “less lethal” than guns, and were designed as a gun substitute, though real-world usage has expanded enormously. Google to find out more).
As if all of this weren’t idiotic enough, the deputy, who’s supposed to have basic knowledge of criminal law, played Career Fair lawyer for the kids too, and reportedly drafted his own waiver for them to sign. Umm, Deputy Dumbo, minors can’t waive liability for child endangerment or child abuse, a point Sheriff Holte agreed with when I spoke with him. It’s analogous to “consenting” to sex with an adult–that would be statutory rape.
Update: 9 News spoke with DA Mark Hurlbert: And he agrees with what I said yesterday about the appropriateness of child abuse charges: “What we are looking at is child abuse charges, even if there is talk the kids consented, kids can’t consent to being abused,” Hurlbert said.
Probable cause obviously exists for his arrest, and if a private citizen were asked by a kid to slug him in the mouth, and he did, he would have been immediately arrested. Sheriff has instead tossed the ball in DA Mark Hurlbert’ court, the Denver Post is reporting. That implies the guy will only receive a summons to appear in court, since DAs can’t arrest people the last time I checked. This double standard treatment is disgusting, and clearly not the fault of the DA. I’ve seen other cases where cops were arrested by members of their own departments.
Update: This story is breaking fast. Leadville Police may be getting involved, Leadville PD Chief out of pocket, cell phone going into voice mail. Update 4-10: Leadville PD will probably not be handling, based on combined reports, and DA Mark Hurlbert will be conducting both investigations because of local feud between City and County, neutrality needed. The DA’s office does employ its own investigative staff.
Update: Sheriff Holte, based on a press release distributed late yesterday, and comments made to other media has now lost some of the praise I gave him for candor. He’s minimizing the tasing, he failed to make the arrest he should have made, and he is actually quoted as saying the Ortega is “intelligent.” Guess Chief Holte’s definition is different than mine, and includes IQs around the 75 mark.
In contrast with Deputy Ortega, Lake County Sheriff Ed Holte did use intelligence and common sense in the incident by placing Ortega on unpaid administrative leave, pending DA Hurlbert’s investigation, Holte told me this morning. He also did a couple of other things that law enforcement officials don’t often do even with the most blatant videotaped evidence of misconduct: He didn’t provide a knee jerk defense of the conduct and he released the deputy’s name. The latter is important not just to provide equal treatment for all, but because without a name media and public follow-up on the case is severely hampered. Court officials generally need a name to look up a case.
New Blog Feature: Laura Victoria’s Verdict
Ortega needs to be arrested on preliminary charges. DA Hurlbert must be sorting through the number of counts by finding out the number of victims, which makes sense.
He should be charged with a few counts soon, and the others can be added later via an amended complaint. The proof is obvious, the legal violations blatant, and most importantly, it is critical for public transparency to show the public that law enforcement don’t get special treatment in the Fifth District, unlike in some jurisdictions like Denver and Aurora, Chicago, D.C., Prince Georges County, Md., New York and, come to think of it, the majority of jurisdictions in the U.S. Google for now, I’ll post some links later. This is live blogging.
Should Ortega go to jail? Yes, but maybe not for a lengthy period. Stupidity should be treated more leniently than malice. He needs to be arrested now just like a private citizen that pays his salary would be. He can then bail out and await complete charges once the DA completes his investigation.
As to the firing part, no amount of remedial training can eradicate stupidity this severe, and the sadistic tendencies are disturbing. I like to give folks second chances, and maybe he’s a nice guy and all, but he needs a new job where he’s disarmed. The public interest needs to come before the public employee interest. Probably no need to fill the vacancy either, save the taxpayers some money. The money saved should go to a publicly funded oxygen bar for Leadville’s downtown core, and one in the Lake County Court House.
Leadville Fire Captain Arrested for Obstructing
Sheriff Holte already had enough on his hands before Ortega’s antics. About a week before the S & M career fair, another Lake County Sheriff’s officer arrested rival Leadville City Fire Captain Dan Dailey, who based on a an analysis of the evidence, was the first responder on the scene of an injury from a domestic violence case. Daily is a well-respected EMT. Channel 7 has the best coverage on this one. Good coverage too at the DP. The best part is Captain Dailey was released from jail so he could go back to the scene where they needed his expert medical help. According to the DP, Hurlbert was to announce his filing decision early this past week. My sources told me it would take longer than that, and my sources appear correct, as no filing announcement has yet been made.
Laura Victoria’s Verdict
Whether a legal technicality like obstruction can be proved or not doesn’t matter. It’s a stupid case against a respected EMT firefighter simply trying to do his job. I spoke with Leadville Mayor Bud Elliott, and he was passionate and persuasive. The DA has lots of discretion, and should save Captain Dailey the agony of waiting and wondering about his career, and no-file the case.
This will also free up time needed to sort through DA Hurlbert’s other headache, the Deputy Ortega child abuse charges. If the 30 victim number is roughly correct, that could result in I would imagine at least a 90-count complaint. Mark Hurlbert should be added as an additional victim of Lake County Sheriff’s office incompetence. Too bad Hurlbert can’t charge Ortega with “Felony Dumb.”