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Griego v. Chavez

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 21, 2018

DAVID CHAVEZ, Individually and in his official capacity as a Forest Ranger, Defendants.


         This 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 Plaintiffs' claims.

         In the 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.


         The Court, having considered the evidence brought forth at the bench trial, makes the following findings of fact.

         A. Chavez's Assault and Battery of Adam Griego

         1. On 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[1]; Ex. 3A and 3B (showing Officer Chavez holding Griego down on the hood of his Ranger vehicle and Officer Olson's vehicle).

         2. 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.

         3. 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.

         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.

         5. 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.

         6. 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.

         7. 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.

         8. 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.

         9. 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.

         10. The 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. 77:11-13, 19-22.

         11. The 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.

         12. 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.

         13. 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.

         14. 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. 77:25-78:5.

         15. 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.

         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.

         17. 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.

         18. 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. 90:6-17.

         19. 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.

         B. Chavez's Assault Of Elijah Haukereid

         20. 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. 19:18-20:4.

         21. 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.

         22. 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.

         23. Haukereid looked extremely scared, scared for his life. Ex. 15, para. 10; Ex. 14, para. 13.

         24. 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.

         25. 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.

         26. 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.

         27. 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.

         C. Adam Griego's ...

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