FARMINGTON — A charge filed against a man in October after he punched a San Juan County deputy in the head, announcing as he was handcuffed that he is friends with the sheriff, was recently dismissed.
But Sheriff's Office officials say the San Juan County District Attorney's office dismisses most battery and assault on police officer charges.
Sheriff Ken Christesen confirmed he is friends with Hector Rangel, father of Chris Rangel who was involved in the incident. Hector Rangel donated money to Christesen's re-election campaign. But Christesen said neither he nor anybody speaking for him talked with the District Attorney's Office in an attempt to have the charges dropped.
"I've lost some pretty good friends," he said, "because I would not get involved in their case."
Efforts on Thursday and Friday to reach the Deputy Josh Lynn, who was struck by Chris Rangel, were unsuccessful.
Chris and Hector Rangel when reached by phone declined to comment, but their attorney, Curtis Gurley said, "I've done criminal law in this county for 25 years. I've never seen the sheriff get involved in any case. Any sheriff." He added, "I've had clients ask to talk to the president."
At night on Oct. 25, Lynn responded to a domestic violence report at the Rangels' home in Farmington, according to the police report. The report wasn't prosecuted later because it lacked clear evidence.
As Lynn drove to the home a 911 dispatcher told him that the male suspect inside possibly had a handgun. From the audio of his dashboard video, Lynn can be heard saying and expletive.
He parked outside the gated property and drew his handgun after he stepped from his cruiser. A New Mexico State Police officer was also on the scene.
Lynn's dashboard video then shows the property's front gate open and Chris Rangel walks towards the state trooper.
In the video, the officers cannot be heard announcing themselves, and Rangel continues toward the state trooper, ignoring commands to stop. Lynn holsters his gun and walks towards Rangel.
An officer tells Rangel to put his hands behind his back. Scuffling noises are then heard and shadows that can be seen on a wall indicate a struggle between the two, according to the video. An officer says, "Stay the f*** down. Turn around. Get on your stomach."
According to a Sheriff's Office report, Lynn had struck Chris Rangel twice in the head with his open palm, which was an attempt to disorient him and get hold of his arms. Rangel, unaware of who hit him, spun and punched Lynn in the head four times, according to the report.
Later in his cruiser's video Lynn is heard saying, "... dude punched me like six times in the face. He's saying he's friends with Ken Christesen."
Sheriff's Office Lt. Cory Tanner said his office does not teach the open-hand method Lynn used, but the deputy's actions were "reasonable." A man wielding a handgun was reported, and it was dark, he said. Lynn's actions may have been judged differently in another situation, he said.
"It's hard to put these things in brackets, where you can do this and you can't do that," he said.
On May 14, battery on a police officer charges were dismissed because Chris Rangel had remained law abiding for six months.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Brent Capshaw said the District Attorney's Office handles many "iffy" cases the way Chris Rangel's was handled. His attorney could argue that Rangel was struck from behind in the dark by attackers who did not identify themselves, and he tried to defend himself, Capshaw said.
"He's got a defense," he said. "I don't know if a San Juan County jury would accuse him of battery on a peace officer under the facts outlined in the narrative."
Lynn approved of Chris Rangel's charges being dropped, Capshaw said.
Tanner said about 30 to 35 percent of the people annually who are charged with assault, aggravated assault, battery and aggravated battery on police officers are found guilty in court.
Statistics Capshaw provided confirm Tanner's findings. He said more than a third of the people charged with assault or attack on a police officer whose charges his office has processed over the past five years were found guilty in court.
Someone could be charged with battery on a peace officer for any "unlawful contact" with an officer, he said.
He said he isn't aware of Christesen having any involvement in Chris Rangel's case or how it was handled.
"I think Ken would stand by his deputies first and foremost," he said.