ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A former Española police officer choked a teenager and then tried to punch another after a foam football hit his patrol car in June 2012, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday on behalf of the teens’ family.
The lawsuit names former Officer John Vigil, the Española Police Department and the City of Española as defendants.
According to the lawsuit, Dolores Tapia and two of her children were headed home from church when they saw someone rummaging through the family’s van. When Tapia approached the man, she realized he was a police officer. The lawsuit alleges Vigil used a string of expletives in conversation with the woman, saying “he could do whatever he wanted.”
Vigil told Tapia one of her kids threw a Nerf football at his patrol car and that he was going to arrest her and her son for it, according to the lawsuit. Tapia apologized, had her kids do the same, and asked to speak to his supervisor.
“At one point the officer gets so worked up, so agitated, so emotional and out of control, that he grabs one of the children by the neck and lifts him up to the point where the child’s feet are off the ground,” John Day, the attorney representing the family, told KRQE News 13.
Day said the teen gasped for air and turned bright red then blue before other officers pulled Vigil off. He said Vigil then chased another teen and tried to punch him.
According to the lawsuit, Vigil’s supervisor told Tapia they had the right to press charges, but the lawsuit claims Vigil was never disciplined and no one investigated the attack.
Vigil was let go from the Española Police Department in August of 2013. Española’s police chief, who wasn’t with the department at the time of the incident, said Vigil failed to attain proper certification within the required time frame.
Day told News 13 Vigil shouldn’t have been hired in the first place. According to the lawsuit, a pre-hiring investigation by an Española police lieutenant exposed Vigil as a ‘”hothead’ who was quick to anger,” and recommended the city not hire him.
“There were plenty of red flags, and for some reason, the city government decided to ignore them,” Day said.
The lawsuit also alleges Vigil was fired from another police department for losing his temper, but doesn’t name the department.
Española’s police chief wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit.
News 13 reached out to the city’s attorney, but did not hear back.