FARMINGTON — A Crouch Mesa man is alleging a sheriff's deputy trespassed on his property and then shot him with a Taser last week while he was celebrating his birthday with friends.
The San Juan County Sheriff's Office released a report on the incident and videos shot from the patrol cars of two deputies on Wednesday.
The video taken by a dashboard camera in Deputy Daniel Ashburn's patrol vehicle shows two women, identified as Jackie Slaherty and Monica Almeida, in a red car in front of Ralph Cruz's Crouch Mesa property as Ashburn arrives. The following account is based on the videos, except where the information is identified as coming from Sheriff's Office reports.
Slaherty told Ashburn that she had received a report of a woman, identified as Rhonda Sanchez, inside the house she and Almeida were watching. Slaherty said she went to the house and discovered that Sanchez had broken into the residence. She said she got Sanchez out and followed her to Cruz's tool shop.
Almeida, who was still in the car, told Ashburn she had just phoned Cruz, who was outside the house preparing to eat, and Cruz was telling Sanchez to come out of the shop.
Ashburn asked Almeida if she could call Cruz and have him unlock the gate.
"I'm not going to climb over this," Ashburn said.
He then added that he could hang himself on the barbed wire along the top of the fence.
Almeida said that her phone had died while she was talking to the officers.
Ashburn went around the fence on the east side of the property.
A man later identified as Marion Vialpondo met him at the fence. Ashburn asked Vialpondo if Sanchez was there and then asked if he could come over the fence.
According to a preliminary Sheriff's Office report, Vialpondo shrugged his shoulders and walked away. Ashburn then climbed over the fence.
In the video, a dog is barking at the deputy just after he climbs over the fence. In the report, Ashburn said he got his pepper spray out because he was afraid the dog might attack him. Cruz yelled he would kill the deputy if he shot the dog.
Ashburn told Cruz that wouldn't be a good idea. Then Cruz began yelling "What the f--- do you want?"
When Ashburn asked what his name was, he said, "I don't gotta tell you a f------ thing."
Ashburn warned Cruz to stay back or get shot with the Taser.
Ashburn told Sgt. Dave Pixton, who later responded to the incident, that Cruz swung at him and he shoved Cruz's head down. He said Cruz's head bounced and he "ate dirt." Then Ashburn told Pixton that Cruz came up and hit him.
After he was shot with the Taser, Cruz's friends told Ashburn that he had a pacemaker and was on blood thinning medicine due to a stroke a few weeks earlier.
Ashburn explained to Cruz that he was looking for Sanchez, who had a warrant out for her arrest. Cruz told Ashburn that Sanchez was on the property inside his shop.
In a phone interview on Wednesday, Cruz said Sanchez was at the property next door. Deputies said Sanchez left that property during the dispute.
San Juan County Sheriff's Office Capt. Brice Current, in a phone interview, said Ashburn did not know Cruz was the property owner when he approached and that Cruz didn't give Ashburn an opportunity to decide whether to pursue the matter or get off the property.
"The officer also has a family and needs to be aware of his own safety," Current said.
He said officers need to be able to defend themselves if they are attacked. And if someone does not like what an officer is doing, he said, there are other forms of redress including complaints, lawyers and the court system.
Cruz was released from the hospital Sunday and said on Wednesday that he plans on bringing the case to the courts.
"I'm not going to let it go," he said. "I'll got to jail before I let it go so it won't happen to nobody again."