Former Farmington cop pleads no contest to abusing middle school student in 2019

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 14 in criminal case

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
  • Zachary Christensen was charged with a third-degree felony count of child abuse and three petty misdemeanor counts of battery on Aug. 26.
  • The plea agreement was filed on Nov. 4, a day after a change of plea hearing took place in Aztec District Court.
  • The City of Farmington and the family of the juvenile has entered into a proposed agreement to settle a personal injury claim for $500,000.

FARMINGTON — The former Farmington police officer accused of battering and abusing an 11-year-old girl last year while trying to restrain her has pleaded no contest to child abuse and battery charges and could face up to three years and six months in prison.

The plea agreement comes as the City of Farmington and the juvenile's family enter into a proposed agreement to settle a personal injury claim from the incident for $500,000.

Zachary Christensen, ​​​​​37, was a school resource officer on Aug. 27, 2019, when his body camera recorded his use of force to restrain the juvenile at Mesa View Middle School in Farmington.

The student was reportedly being disruptive near the front entrance of the middle school.

Christensen’s body camera captured graphic footage of him trying to place the student into handcuffs as she resisted. The camera recorded an altercation where the defendant used force to detain the student, including slamming the juvenile into a window.

The student was later diagnosed with a mild concussion and she sustained scrapes and bruises during the incident.

The actions by Christensen violated the Farmington Police Department’s policies on use of force and job performance, Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe previously told The Daily Times.

Christensen resigned from the department on Oct. 1, 2019.

Former Farmington Police Officer Zachary Christensen on Aug. 27, 2019, was filmed while trying to detain an 11-year-old female student at Mesa View Middle School in Farmington. He plead no contest to child abuse and battery charges as part of a plea agreement.

Plea Agreement

Christensen was charged with a third-degree felony count of child abuse and three petty misdemeanor counts of battery on Aug. 26.

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office announced the charges on Aug. 26 as the case was prosecuted by the state agency.

A criminal investigation conducted by New Mexico State Police did not recommend charges.

That investigation was referred to the San Juan County District Attorney’s Office, which did not file charges against Christensen.

More:Farmington officer resigns following use of force on 11-year-old student

The plea agreement was filed on Nov. 4, a day after a change of plea hearing took place in Aztec District Court.

“Our office has been the most aggressive prosecutor of both child abuse and officer misconduct in the State, and we will continue to do so, as is our obligation,” Matt Baca, spokesman for the AG's office, said via email.

Julita Ann Leavell, Christensen’s attorney, did not respond to a request for comment.

Christensen had two petty misdemeanor counts of battery dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

Christensen faces a maximum of three years in the New Mexico Department of Corrections for the child abuse conviction and six months for the battery conviction.

The prosecution recommended the sentences of both convictions be served at the same time instead of consecutively. 

His sentencing hearing is set for 9 a.m. on Jan. 14 in Aztec District Court.

Proposed Settlement

On Nov. 23, a petition for approval of a settlement of a minor’s claim was filed in state district court.

Angela Liggins, the juvenile’s mother, through her attorney Mark Curnutt and City of Farmington Attorney Jennifer Breakell petitioned the court to approve the settlement terms of $500,000.

The agreement settles a personal injury claim where the family alleges the City of Farmington is liable for the injuries the juvenile incurred.

It also states the settlement cannot be construed as an admission of guilt by the municipality.

Curnutt declined to comment on the case.

"The City of Farmington and the Farmington Police Department are pleased this incident has been resolved and wish the best to the Liggins family,” Farmington police Spokesperson Nicole Brown told The Daily Times via email.

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The petition states a guardian ad litem will be hired to review the agreement and file a report about the settlement.

A neutral third-party is required in any settlement involving a juvenile because they are not legally capable of entering into a contract on their own.

A Dec. 8 motion filed in the case seeks to appoint J. Nicci Unsicker as guardian ad litem.

District Court Judge Curtis Gurley has not ruled on the motion as of the morning of Dec. 9.

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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