United States District Court, D. New Mexico
FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
matter is before the Court on the issue of damages to be
awarded to Plaintiffs Adam Griego (“Griego”) and
Elijah Haukereid (“Haukereid”). On May 24, 2016,
Plaintiffs asserted claims against both David Chavez
(“Chavez”), an officer with the United States
Forest Service, and the United States of America, for
violation of their Constitutional rights arising from an
encounter that occurred on May 26, 2014 on Forest Service
land. See Complaint, Doc. 1. In March of 2017, Plaintiffs
dismissed their claims against the United States, leaving
only their claims against Chavez. See Docs. 34 and 35. Chavez
has not appeared or otherwise answered this lawsuit in any
way. As a result, the Court granted the Plaintiffs'
motion for default judgment [Docs. 36 and 44] against Chavez
and on May 20, 2017, entered judgment against him on both
meantime, on December 8, 2015, the United States charged
Chavez by information with assaulting Griego in violation of
the constitution of the United States. See United States v.
David Chavez, Cr. No. 15-4362 LF, Doc. 1. The information
charging Chavez does not mention Haukereid. Chavez pled
guilty, and on June 1, 2016, the United States Magistrate
Judge sentenced Chavez to one year probation with three
months of home detention with location monitoring, and 200
hours of community service. United States v. David Chavez,
id., . at Doc. 12. On January 22, 2018, the Court held a
bench trial on the issue of damages to be awarded to
Plaintiffs. Chavez did not appear at this trial. The Court
heard the testimony of witnesses and admitted exhibits into
evidence. See Doc. 69.
Court, having considered the evidence brought forth at the
bench trial, makes the following findings of fact.
Chavez's Assault and Battery of Adam Griego
May 24, 2016, there were eight people camping at the Juan
Tomas campsite in the mountains east of Albuquerque. Ex. 14,
Sonia Jaramillo Affidavit, ¶ 8. The campers were
relaxing. Ex. 15, Michael Pangburn Affidavit, ¶ 6. Both
Chavez and another United States Forest Service Officer,
David Olson, arrived at the Juan Tomas campsite at about the
same time. Elijah Haukereid (“Haukereid”), Tr.
15:13-25; Ex. 3A and 3B (showing Officer Chavez
holding Griego down on the hood of his Ranger vehicle and
Officer Olson's vehicle).
Griego was making a sandwich on the hood of his truck when
Officer Chavez approached him and asked if he had driven the
silver truck down the road. Griego, Tr. 67:11-68:3. Griego
said yes, and Chavez used expletives and put Griego in
handcuffs. Griego, Tr. 68:4-10. As Chavez admitted, Griego
complied with Chavez's commands. Ex. 6, Plea Agreement,
p.3 (“I instructed A.G. to turn around and place his
hands behind his back, and he complied with these
instructions.”); Griego, Tr. 68:9-10.
Officer Chavez slammed Griego's head into the hood of his
Forest Service vehicle immediately after putting him into
handcuffs. Haukereid, Tr. 17:5-11; Griego, Tr. 70:19-21. In
Officer Chavez's own words, he “slammed A.G.'s
face into the hood of [his] USFS vehicle two times.”
Ex. 6, p.4.
Griego could not lessen the impact in any way because he was
handcuffed and off balance when Officer Chavez smashed his
face down. Griego, Tr. 72:4-17. Officer Chavez used the force
of his whole body to smash Griego down. Griego, Tr. 71:17-23.
Griego was stunned from the impact. His head was throbbing
and he heard ringing. Griego, Tr. 72:18-21. Another camper,
Sonia Jaramillo, heard the impact of Griego's head
hitting metal from 10-15 feet away. Ex. 14, ¶ 11.
Officer Chavez admitted in his misdemeanor Plea Agreement,
Ex. 6 (p. 4), that:
When I slammed A.G. onto the hood, I knew it was wrong but I
acted anyway, and I did so in my capacity as a law
enforcement officer. A.G. was handcuffed and compliant, and
he did not pose a threat at any time. By slamming A.G.'s
head onto the hood of my vehicle in this manner, I willfully
deprived him of his right under the United States
Constitution to be free from unreasonable search and seizure
- specifically, the right to be free from the use of
unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer.
During the arrest, Griego asked Officer Chavez about the
reason for his arrest. Officer Chavez repeatedly responded
with profanity. Griego, Tr. 69:2-14. Specifically, during the
assault, Griego asked Officer Chavez what he was doing this
for, and he told Griego to “shut the fuck up.”
Griego, Tr. 76:17-22. Officer Chavez used profanity
frequently throughout the encounter with Plaintiffs and the
other campers as a means of intimidation. Ex. 15,
¶¶ 12, 16.
Despite the fact that Officer Chavez was required to provide
true and correct information in his Plea, Ex. 6, p.3, para.
6, Officer Chavez omitted from his plea the fact that he
slammed Griego's head into the metal part above the door
on the passenger side of the Ranger vehicle two more times
before shoving him in the vehicle. Griego, Tr. 75:17-76:16.
Officer Chavez detained Griego in the back seat of his police
vehicle in handcuffs for approximately 2 to 3 hours. Griego,
Tr. 81:12-17; Ex. 14, ¶ 15. During that time, Officer
Chavez kept his trained police K-9 in the vehicle as well,
and it constantly barked and lunged at Griego, threatening
him and bouncing off of the Plexiglass partition. Ex. 15,
para. 14; Griego, Tr. 78:6-79:9.
temperature inside of the vehicle where Griego was confined
was extremely hot. Griego, Tr. 77:3-78:8. It was around 80
degrees outside. Ex. 15, para. 7; Ex. 14, para. 15. The heat
caused Greigo to become dizzy and agitated. Griego believed
that it was 95 to 100 degrees inside the vehicle. Griego, Tr.
heat and the dog's aggressive actions caused Griego to
feel scared and nervous, like he was going to have a panic
attack. Griego, Tr. 79:1-13.
When Griego saw Chavez's dog advance on Haukereid, and
also based on Chavez's behavior, Griego feared not only
for his own life, but for those of Haukereid and his other
friends. Griego, Tr. 80:14-81:11.
Griego's hands and wrists were hurting and numb. He asked
Officer Chavez to loosen his handcuffs at least twice.
Officer Chavez refused and told Griego to “shut the
fuck up.” Griego, Tr. 81:18-25.
Officer Chavez refused to give Griego water when he was in
custody in the back of his vehicle. Griego, Tr. 83:2-15.
Greigo was so hot that his clothes were soaked and his body
began to stop producing sweat. Griego was concerned because
he thought he might get heat stroke. Id. at
82:16-83:5, 77:19-24. Officer Chavez also refused to open the
window despite Griego's two requests. Griego, Tr.
When Chavez finally allowed Griego to get out of the vehicle,
he was sweaty, flushed and red. Ex. 15, ¶ 14. He looked
dehydrated. Ms. Jaramillo noticed that Griego's face was
deep red, his hair was wet with sweat and his shirt was wet
in the front. Ex. 14, para. 16.
Officer Chavez asked Griego about the military stickers on
his truck and about his military service. He then told
Griego, “[T]he Army would be fucking embarrassed and
disgraced by you out here acting like an idiot.”
Griego, Tr. 89:20-90:4.
Officer Chavez commented after learning of Griego's
wife's suicide, "That's a great way to be
honoring the memory of your wife, is acting like a dumbass
out here." Griego, Tr. 90:10-12.
These inquiries and comments by Officer Chavez were intended
to harass, provoke and intimidate Griego and the other
campers in the vicinity. Griego, however, exercised
discipline and restraint, and did not respond. Griego, Tr.
Officer Chavez threatened Griego and Haukereid by telling
them, “If I ever see you guys on my fucking mountain,
I'm going to arrest you.” Griego, Tr. 83:16-24.
Griego took the threat seriously and did not return to the
mountain for several months after the assault. Griego, Tr.
85:24-86:5. The mountain was Griego's only coping
mechanism to deal with his PTSD symptoms at the time of the
assault. Griego's inability to return to the mountain for
solace was greatly adverse to his mental health and
wellbeing. Griego, Tr. 85:1-25; 66:3-67:7, Ex. 11.
Chavez's Assault Of Elijah Haukereid
After battering Griego, Officer Chavez saw that Haukereid was
recording him on a cell phone. Ex. 1, Cell Phone Video.
Officer Chavez then aggressively confronted Haukereid, and
slapped the phone out of his hand. Ex. 1; Haukereid, Tr.
Officer Chavez then drew his Taser and pointed it at
Haukereid. Haukereid, Tr. 20:13-21:2. Haukereid was
frightened. Haukereid, Tr. 21:3-7. Officer Chavez ordered
Haukereid to give him his identification and get down to the
ground. Ex. 1.
Haukereid questioned Officer Chavez about why he needed to do
that. Ex. 1. Officer Chavez then commanded his trained dog to
come out of the vehicle and attack Haukereid. The dog
advanced very close to Haukereid's face. Haukereid, Tr.
21:11-22:14; Ex. 15, para. 10.
Haukereid looked extremely scared, scared for his life. Ex.
15, para. 10; Ex. 14, para. 13.
Haukereid feared for his life and complied with Officer
Chavez's commands to get on the ground. Ex. 14, para. 13;
Ex. 15, para. 10; Haukereid, Tr. 22:11-12. At this moment,
Haukereid was “absolutely terrified.” He thought
the officers could kill all of the campers in the woods,
including him. Haukereid, Tr. 22:15-24.
Even though Haukereid did nothing wrong, he was handcuffed
and detained in the back of Officer Olson's vehicle for
about two hours. Haukereid was losing feeling in his
shoulders and arms. Haukereid, Tr. 25:19-22, 26:5-21.
Officer Olson made Haukereid apologize to Officer Chavez
before he would let Haukereid out of his vehicle. Haukereid,
Tr. 27:8-15. Haukereid apologized to Officer Chavez, and
Officer Chavez's responded to Haukereid by telling him to
“go fuck himself.” Haukereid, Tr. 27:8 - 28:2.
Officer Olson then placed Haukereid on the bumper of his
vehicle. Haukereid, Tr. 26:5-9, 28:3-6.
Officer Chavez threatened Haukereid, saying that if he
continued to ask about his phone, Chavez would take Haukereid
to jail. Griego, Tr. 84:1-4.
Adam Griego's ...