Rio Grande County and the City of Monte Vista, in southeastern Colorado, have agreed to pay $290,000 plus several thousand dollars in additional costs to settle a lawsuit over a police home invasion two years ago that resulted in shoulder surgery for an elderly man who was body-slammed by two cops shortly after being tased by a third.
According to attorney David Lane, who represents plaintiffs Rafael Delgado Sr., Rafael Delgado Jr. and Annabelle Delgado, the behavior exhibited by the suit's five defendants — Monte Vista police officers Joseph Ruybal, David Pino and Matthew Bordewick, as well as Nobel Havens and Tyler Dean of the Rio Grande County Sheriff's Office — is all too typical of small-town law enforcement.
"We see this all the time," Lane says. "It's the neighborhood bully syndrome. These cops believe they are the law and they can do whatever they want. There's no accountability, because nobody ever takes them to federal court — but we did. So my job is to punch the neighborhood bully in the nose, which is a really fun job."
The lawsuit is accessible below, and in addition to outlining the incidents of May 10, 2016, it also reveals that what happened led to a case of déjà vu for Rafael Sr. In 2003, he sued the Monte Vista Police Department and several of its officers, claiming, among other things, that he'd been a victim of excessive force after he was arrested in the wake of then-recent back surgery. This matter resulted in a settlement, too, and the document maintains that afterward, department reps who "harbored resentment toward the Delgados because of the lawsuit...continued to harass" them even after the original charges against Rafael Sr. were dropped.
The latest episode was prompted by a call from a neighbor who saw Rafael Jr. walking past carrying what turned out to be a BB gun — "a perfectly legal activity," Lane points out.
When the five officers arrived at the Delgados' residence, all three were inside and "there was no indication that any of them posed a threat," the narrative maintains. Nonetheless, the cops are said to have done a search of the immediate vicinity before Ruybal pounded on the front door while Pino "knelt in a tactical stance a few feet away from the door with his handgun or taser drawn."
When Rafael Sr. responded, Ruybal asked, in reference to Rafael Jr., "Is Ralphie here?" Rafael Sr. said he wasn't, but the officers eventually burst inside anyhow, despite not having obtained a warrant. Ruybal then grabbed Rafael Sr. by the neck and forced him to his knees while twisting his arm behind his back before giving him a violent introduction to the floor.
At that point, Annabelle entered the room, yelling that Rafael Sr. was a diabetic. Rafael Jr. arrived, too, and the officers drew their weapons and pointed them in his direction — though Annabelle was between the guns and him.
Before long, the cops took Rafael Jr. away and escorted Rafael Sr. outside, where he attempted to empty his pockets, the contents of which included a small, closed pocket knife approximately the size of a lip-balm tube, the lawsuit estimates. This led to a cry of "He's got a knife in that hand" and another attack, with Pino tasing Rafael Sr. in the back and Bordewick and Dean banging him against the ground before fitting him with handcuffs.
Eventually, Rafael Sr. was arrested on suspicion of first-degree assault on a police officer and menacing, both felonies, as well as three misdemeanors: obstructing government operations, resisting arrest and criminal mischief. But all of the charges were eventually dismissed, as was a disorderly-conduct beef against Rafael Jr.
A big reason why, Lane believes, is because the entire exchange was recorded on video. In his words, "Body cameras are my best friends."
He adds, "Rafael Jr. wasn't doing anything with the BB gun. He was just carrying it from point A to point B. But the police invaded the Delgados' house anyway and roughed up Rafael Sr. so badly that he ended up having to have arthroscopic shoulder surgery."
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Lane insists that a lawsuit wasn't his first option. "We tried to negotiate with them prior to filing and they blew us off. But once we made these Rio Grande County cops and the Monte Vista cops come to court, they realized, 'This isn't my courthouse. This isn't my judge.' They started to see the light of day and settled it."
The amount of money is huge for the modest-sized municipalities in question, but the officers involved came out of the situation more or less unscathed. Lane reveals that none of the defendants received any departmental discipline, and taxpayers picked up the tab.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly estimated the settlement amount in this case at approximately $600,000, not $300,000. We regret the error.