by Eric Mullens and Brian Orr
WALSENBURG — An altercation between Walsenburg police officers and civilians at the scene of a loud noise complaint Thursday night, May 17, has prompted an investigation by the Huerfano Sheriff’s Office due to allegations of excessive use of force by Walsenburg Police Department Cpl. John Salazar and Officer Rich Isnetto.
According to his report, Isnetto was initially dispatched to #36 Stacy Drive on a report of a noise complaint where underage parties were drinking alcohol. Isnetto said he could see a number of people through the open living room window and heard loud noises coming from the residence. He said he positioned himself on the south side of the home and waited for backup. “While I was waiting, I continued to hear loud noises and observed two female parties, one who was unidentified and the other was Amanda Daniels, 22, walk up to the front door and enter the residence. Daniels exited the residence shortly thereafter,”Isnetto said in his report.
Isnetto said he then knocked on the door and announced “Police, open the door”. He said he was able to see multiple parties running around in the residence and was able to hear voices saying “The police are here.”
Isnetto then contacted Cpl. John Salazar via radio and said the parties were attempting to hide and may be possibly exiting the back of the residence. Salazar, according to Isnetto’s report, had already positioned himself in the small easement alley located behind #36 Stacy Drive.
Isnetto was admitted to the residence by an unidentified female and began sitting a number of juveniles on the couch. Isnetto said in his report that Daniels then re-entered the residence and asked him if he had a search warrant and said she knew the law. Isnetto said Daniels then told the others in the home to leave because the police can not hold them there.
According to numerous other eyewitnesses, Daniels was not inside #36 Stacy when the police rolled up, but rather, outside and walking away from the scene. The HWJ was told repeatedly that Daniels was grabbed by Salazar by the hair and thrown to the ground.
According to numerous individuals, and even her own father, Daniels is not a person to shy away from a fight.
Isnetto said in his official report that a number of parties then began to leave the home and he commanded them a number of times to stop. Isnetto’s report then says Salazar came around the house to the front lawn and was speaking to Daniels when Isnetto went back into the home to “secure it and apprehend any additional juveniles”.
No juveniles were arrested or issued a summons for disturbing the peace or for minor in possession or for consumption of alcohol. The resident of #36 Stacy Drive was also not arrested or summoned for any infraction of the law.
The struggle begins
Isnetto’s report said he was in a back room of the residence when he heard Cpl. Salazar yelling, and he then ran out of the residence and found Salazar attempting to handcuff Daniels, but she was resisting. Isnetto said he also saw an unknown female attempting to get Daniels away from Cpl. Salazar and an additional female, later identified as 30 year old Maria Cruz Yanez, run up behind Salazar and begin hitting him while stating “let her go”.
Yanez and other witnesses on Stacy Drive told the HWJ on Monday that she never put her hands on the officer and was just screaming for him to stop hitting Daniels. “I’ve never seen a man beat a woman like that,” Yanez said, “and to see it was a police officer — it was just terrible.”
Isnetto said in his report he threw Yanez to the ground and told her to stay there, but he saw her get up and walk towards #32 Stacy Drive. By this point, Salazar had used pepper spray on Daniels. “I saw that the pepper spray completely saturated her eyes and face,” Isnetto said in his report.
Isnetto said Daniels continued to struggle and would not comply with the police verbal commands to stop resisting.
At this point the officers say an unknown person came to where they were struggling with Daniels and sprayed the officers with a civilian brand of pepper spray. Isnetto then shot Daniels with his taser which struck her in the lower abdomen.
He said Daniels fell to the ground but immediately sat back up and pulled the taser wires from her body. “At that point Cpl. Salazar deployed his taser but she broke the wires out of his cartridge also. Daniels then got up and ran into the residence at #32 Stacy Drive,” Isnetto said in his report.
Isnetto said he and Salazar went to the back of that residence from opposite sides. Isnetto said in his report that Daniels was standing just outside the backyard gate.
Yanez’s story differs from that of the officers at this point. She told the HWJ that Daniels was at the sink in her kitchen trying to flush the pepper spray from her eyes when police forced their way into the home and dragged her outside. Yanez and another neighborhood resident,Michelle Moncada, 26, say they were inside Yanez’s kitchen yelling through the back screen door at the police to stop assaulting Daniels. It was during this time Yanez said Isnetto told her repeatedly to “Shut the f*** up,” or she would be arrested.
Statements made by Isnetto and Salazar say Daniels was outside of #32 when they began to struggle with her again. The officers say Daniels attempted to run back into #32, but Salazar was right behind her and grabbed onto her.
Isnetto said he threw Daniels to the ground before she could re-enter that apartment, and Salazar attempted again to handcuff her. Isnetto said in his report, “Daniels continued to fight and resist us.”
Devon Pino, a next-door neighbor, was watching the scene unfold from her backyard. “Salazar was just grinding her face into the ground,” she said. Another neighbor, Meghan Bobian, who was watching, was told to “Get the hell away.”
Bobian said her children also saw the altercation, and the scene upset her young son so much he started vomiting.
The officers then allege Daniels, while struggling on the lawn with the two officers, grabbed Cpl. Salazar’s duty weapon and attempted to pull it from his holster. Salazar repeatedly commanded Daniels to “get off his gun.”
At that time, according to Isnetto’s report, he (Isnetto) again used his taser in a body touch or drive stun on Daniels’ upper torso. Daniels was then turned onto her stomach by the officers, who say she was still resisting, and as Salazar got control of one of her arms, Isnetto again deployed a drive stun to Daniels’ upper back.
Resident drawn into conflict
Isnetto said as officers were attempting to secure the handcuffs on Daniels, Yanez came out of her residence and yelled at them not to arrest her.
Isnetto then grabbed Yanez’s arm and attempted to arrest her. He said another female grabbed Yanez’s other arm and attempted to pull her back into the her apartment. “I was able to pull Yanez from the other female’s grip and affect [sic] the arrest,” Isnetto said in his report.
Yanez was charged with second degree assault. She was taken to the jail May 17, and on May 19 posted $15,000 bond and was released.
When she spoke to the HWJ on Monday, May 21, Yanez did not even know what police said she had done. When she was told the officers said she had struck Cpl. Salazar, she broke down in tears.
Moncada said she tried to give a statement to other city officers at the scene, but no one would take her statement. She said, although she was a witness to the events in and around Yanez’s home, no one took her statement until the next day when she was finally interviewed by Huerfano County Sheriff’s Sgt. Craig Lessar.
But, even though Daniels was now handcuffed and had been sprayed with pepper spray and shot with a taser at least three times, officers say she continued to resist as they tried to walk her to Isnetto’s patrol car which was parked in front of #38 Stacy Drive.
“She was trying not to go towards the patrol vehicle and pulling backwards. Once at the patrol vehicle, Daniels refused to enter the backseat. Cpl. Salazar and I attempted to just push her into the vehicle but it was not working. I then administered a drive stun to Daniels’ torso which got her seated in the patrol vehicle,” Isnetto wrote in his report.
Isnetto said Daniels kicked from inside the police car and hit Salazar in the throat, which made him stumble backwards. “I then went to the other side of the patrol vehicle and grabbed Daniels by the Mandibular Angle (located under the jaw line) and pulled her into the car,” Isnetto wrote. He said Daniels continued to kick at Salazar as he (Isnetto) pulled her into the vehicle.
Greg Daniels, Amanda Daniels’ father, says his daughter told him that at this point, while she was handcuffed and in the back of the patrol car, Salazar shined a flashlight directly in Daniels’ eyes, and then struck her in the face with the flashlight. The bruising on her face indicates a blow landing there.
Transport to hospital
Cpl. Salazar then told Isnetto that his throat was hurt and an ambulance was dispatched to the scene. Both Isnetto and Salazar were transported to Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center, Salazar for the throat injury and Isnetto for the effects of the pepper spray the officers say was used on them.
Daniels, who had been left unattended in the back of the patrol car, was eventually transported to the medical center by deputies from the sheriff’s office. Daniels says, despite the handcuffs, she was able to reach her cell phone and call 911 herself and ask for an ambulance. The HWJ is trying to get the 911 transcripts to verify this.
After a brief examination at SPRHC, she was medically cleared and taken to the jail.
But Huerfano County Sheriff Bruce Newman said when Daniels arrived at the jail she complained of a pain in her back, and it was found that at least one of the barbed contacts from the taser was still in her skin. The barb was removed by a detention officer.
Salazar was initially treated at the local medical center but was then transported to St. Mary Corwin hospital in Pueblo.
Walsenburg Police Chief James Chamberlain said Salazar was taken to Pueblo by a private auto, driven by Becky Bernal, an emergency dispatch employee of Huerfano County. Chamberlain said he escorted that private transport to the Pueblo hospital.
In charging Daniels, city police say Salazar suffered a substantial risk of death from the injury to his throat. However, he was released from the Pueblo hospital at about 4:30 am Friday, according to Chamberlain and has been medically cleared to return to duty.
No explanation was made as to why, if Salazar was so severely injured, he was transported to Pueblo in a private vehicle and not an ambulance.
Walsenburg Police Officer Joshua Berzanji was assigned to document the injuries to Daniels and Yanez and said in his supplemental investigation report, ”Ms. Daniels had visible bruising around her left eye. Her right wrist also appeared swollen. She also had marks where she was tased, on her right side front hip and left side shoulder. She stated that she also had marks on her inner thigh but did not submit those for documentation. I took photographs of her injuries.
I also photographed the right side of her face and her left arm to document that there were no other visible injuries. I then photographed Maria Cruz Yanez. Ms. Yanez stated that she did not have any visible injuries. She stated that the back of her neck hurt. I photographed Ms. Yanez’s face and the back of her neck. There were no visible injuries to document.”
In his official report, Cpl. Salazar said, “Once Amanda was secured in the Police [sic] vehicle, I felt an extreme pain in my throat and I was barley [sic] able to talk and breath. I then called over the radio for an ambulance. While I was walking to one of the porches of Stacy [sic] drive I found my scorpion body cam on the side walk which I did not know had been broken of [sic] me in the first struggle. I spoke briefly with Doreen Ortiz and she stated that she had seen some of the incident. There is video of me talking with Doreen but the picture is frozen from the camera being thrown to the ground and there is video from when I was waiting for the ambulance.”
Salazar said in his report that once at the hospital, HCSO Deputy Joe Albano took photos of everyone’s injuries. “I was then medially [sic] examined by Dr. Mosby at which time he ordered me to be transferred to Saint Mary Corwin Hospital. Where the ER Doc found there to be substantial risk of serious boidly [sic] injury. Due to the kick to my throat. Nothing Further.”
Sheriff Newman said Daniels was booked into the jail on charges of first, second and third degree assault on May 18. She was released on $15,000 bond that same day.
The WPD report says police will seek additional charges of attempted disarming of a peace officer (class five felony), resisting arrest and obstructing a peace officer, both class two misdemeanors.
The third degree assault charge is a class one misdemeanor and the first degree assault charge is a class three felony. The second degree assault charge is a class four felony.
WPD Chief Chamberlain said the incident investigation, including the initial complaint of a loud party and possible underage drinking is being investigated by Isnetto and Salazar, although he intends to have the investigation overseen by WPD Lt. Kurt Liebchen.
The Huerfano County Sheriff’s Office has opened an investigation into the incident due to the number of witness complaints of excessive force by both officers. That investigation is being led by HCSO Detective Sgt. Craig Lessar.
Chief Chamberlain said he will be going to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s Pueblo Office to request that the agency conduct a review of the case.
Sheriff Newman said on Monday his office has received complaints from several parties regarding excessive use of force by city police in this incident.
He said there may be up to a dozen witnesses to be interviewed by Lessar concerning this case and it may be
“a couple of weeks” before the final reports are completed.
Walsenburg police reports, made available Monday to the HWJ, list only two witnesses, 19-year-old Tiffany C. Trujillo and 34-year-old Doreen M. Ortiz. The addresses of both reported witnesses were blacked out in the document provided.
WPD Officer Berzanji interviewed the resident of #36 Stacy Drive, Shaylee Lita Montoya, 18, and filed a supplemental investigation report on Friday, May 18.
In his report, Berzanji said, Ms. Montoya was not involved and that she was at home that night when a large group of intoxicated individuals approached her residence. She told the officer she didn’t know any of the individuals in the group and that she had asked them to leave and was attempting to escort them off her property when two males, one a juvenile (not identified in the report) and Derrick Garcia, entered her home. She said the two males began arguing and shoving each other and she went into her home and attempted to escort them out. She said at that time a number of other individuals entered her home.
She said WPD officers arrived at her home, and when one officer entered her home, the people inside began to scatter and run out of the rsidence. She said in her statement that she gave permission to Officer Isnetto to search the home, and as he was about the check the last room, she heard a yell coming from outside. She said Isnetto ran outside and she followed.
She said that when she was outside, she saw Daniels removing taser probes from her person and Yanez on the ground. She said she knew Daniels and earlier that evening had seen Daniels with Yanez. She said she (Montoya) panicked and left the residence and walked to her grandparents’ house.
Berzanji interviewed the juvenile male at about 12:42 am Friday, and he found the subject highly intoxicated and lying down near the rear of #36 Stacy Drive.
The officer drove the juvenile male home and spoke with him with his mother present. The juvenile said he and Garcia had been drinking down by the river in the 1000 block of Colorado and then they walked up to the homes on Stacy Drive and “joined up” with a bigger group of people. He told the officer he didn’t remember anything past that.
The HWJ has been told that a number of witnesses, including residents of Stacy Drive, fear retaliation from police if they give a statement against officers.
The investigation by the sheriff’s office isn’t sitting well with Cpl. Salazar, who filed a supplemental investigation report on Monday, May 21.
That report said in part that he was monitoring his police radio and heard sheriff’s deputies call out at Stacy Drive. “I was later informed they conducted witness interview of the events that occurred May 17. It was brought to my attention on May 19, that Deputy Rapo and Deputy Lessar received several written statement forms from witnesses of the incident and also collected taser evidence in the form of AFIDS, blast doors, wires etc. As of 0600 hrs on May 21, I have not received any statements of Taser evidence collected by the Huerfano County Sheriff’s Office,” Salazar wrote in the report.
“I would hope they are not retaining evidence pertinent to an ongoing investigation being conducted by the WPD. I hope they are not withholding the statement forms nor Taser evidence concerning the case in an attempt to investigate the Officers of the Walsenburg Police Department.”
Salazar’s supplemental investigation report continues, saying, “If these statement forms and all evidence including the Taser evidence are not turned over to the Walsenburg Police Department by the end of work [sic] day Monday May 21, 2012, I will request that criminal charges be filed against the Huerfano County Sheriff’s Department and these two deputies for obstructing a peace officer and withholding evidence of an ongoing investigation.”