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Town Police

Harger

Tasers

July 21, 2004


By Staff Reports

The Harger They Come

Reports of Officer Shane Harger’s resignation from the Town of Taos Police Department remain unconfirmed yet evidence of his “stuff” piled in the interrogation room of the police department suggest he won’t be wearing a Taos police uniform any time soon. On Monday, July 19, 2004, Patricia Trujillo of the Town’s personnel department, when asked about Harger’s departure, stated, “It’s a personnel issue and we can’t discuss it.” Acting Chief Lt. Daron Sylings replied in a similar manner. (Chief Curran is out on medical leave.) Meanwhile two new officers have been hired at the Taos Police Department.

New Blood

Officer Atencio, a one-year veteran of the Monte Vista, Colorado Police
Department comes to Taos as a certified Colorado police officer. Sylings said Officer Atencio will take a 3-week waiver course in order to be updated on New Mexico laws before taking the Law Enforcement Officer’s Certification Exam in this state. Part of the training will include “survival Spanish.” The second officer hired is Officer Demeter Woloshen, a certified officer from Gallup, New Mexico. Officer Woloshen has 7 years of experience.

According to Lt. Sylings, a new officer with the Town must ride with a training officer (TO) who evaluates their performance for anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months. The officers are graded on a daily basis in 31 areas, which include appearance, attitude, knowledge, performance and relationships. In the relationship sub-category are citizens, cultural groups, and departmental employees. Lt. Sylings stated that the officers are evaluated on “how they show up with their uniform looking and how they speak to a 90 years old man.” The TO can recommend the officer’s release to normal patrol duties with the Chief’s approval. Once released both officers will work in the patrol division.

When asked about how community-policing figures into the Town of Taos Police Department, Lt. Sylings said, “Community policing is our goal. That is the whole reason behind the bicycle units; they take us out of our patrol unit and make us more accessible to the citizens.”

In other police department issues, the Town of Taos does not currently employ a female police officer but according to Sylings the hiring of one is presently in the works.

Tasers

On the weapons front the use of Tasers is set to go before the city council for the approval of their use. (Editor's Note: Taser use was approved in a three-two vote on Tuesday eve. by the council. Councilors Gonzales and Sanchez voted against their use.) Lt. Sylings, who is an 11-year veteran of police work from Los Cruces New Mexico, where he was also a K-9 officer, is a certified Taser instructor. Taser International does the instructor certification during a 1-day course. The Town of Taos Police Officers will have 4 hours of instruction prior to using the weapons. The Taser, which is carried on the officer’s leg, just above the knee in order to distinguish from the handgun, has a one-time cartridge that fits on the end of the weapon. Lt. Sylings said that “just the display of the Taser is what we hope will do it.” During his desktop demonstration to this reporter, Sylings first pulled out the Taser, a first line of defense. Then he removed the cartridge and fired the weapon, which crackled. In a last resort, the officer would fire the cartridge.

The cartridge contains two needles attached to 21 feet of wire. The needles enter the suspect and emit voltage high enough to disrupt the suspect’s muscles, usually for a duration of 5 seconds. Once the Taser is turned off, the suspect’s muscles go back to normal. When asked what would be a justification for using the Taser, Sylings stated, “if an officer can use the taser to prevent a physical escalation of force.” He added, “We are hoping this will be a deterrent to citizen for us not to have to use force.”

The use of Tasers will be added to other defense mechanisms used by the police officers, including pepper spray, baton or night stick, and the handgun. Taser International touts its weapon as the safest and best alternative for an officer to use when force is needed.

The Harger They Fall

Horse Fly’s investigation of officer Shane Harger continues. Preliminary notes and research in court files shows that Officer Shane Harger received training in Louisiana and worked as a law enforcement in that state and in Mississippi. Harger was authorized to begin patrolling the Taos community by Chief Curran in August of 2003.

According to court documents, which summarize memos and reports but don't deal in specifics, Harger’s brief career in Taos has garnered attention from the public. In addition to 2004 April and March commendations from citizens, Harger was notified of citizens’ complaints and tort claims by the Chief in June of this year.

Earlier, Harger was the subject of a memo by Taos Police Officer Jimmy Williams “regarding vehicle pursuit,” May 30, 2004. There’s a troubling correspondence re: Harger’s arrest of a DWI suspect, including a May 24 memo from Sgt. Maggio to Chief Curran “regarding Officer Harger’s arrest of a DWI suspect,” a “Department Use of Force Report regarding a DWI suspect (May 23),” as well as information from emergency medical staff (May 22).

Curran also notified Harger of an investigation because of a “complaint by a fellow employee alleging unprofessional conduct and pending investigation (March 4)” and a complaint re:”denial of access to personal property (March 10)” though the latter was found to be unfounded by the Chief.

There’s a February complaint about an erroneous charge of speeding; and an interdepartmental memo (February 26) regarding “moving a paper shredder from the office of a sergeant to another part of the police department without permission.” The latter issue involved a series of memos and letters that included town attorney Tomas Benavidez, Chief Curran, Sgt. Tommy Jeantette, Sgt. Maggio, etc. Maggio was also requested by Chief Curran (January 5 memo) to investigate officer Harger because of a citizen’s complaint. On February 24, the lead dispatcher complained of Harger’s “unprofessional conduct.”

On Dec. 3, 2003, there’s a memo from Curran to Harger and Sylings “regarding tort claim notice and directives regarding same.”

On November 24, 2003, there’s a tort claim notice in the Harger file.

All of the above are preliminary findings found in court documents. Without debating the merits of each complaint, it is apparent that Harger, has trouble when it comes to citizens and fellow officers. One can only wonder why the officer wasn’t dealt with earlier and why the town waited until the “Mante Chacon” incident and attorney Alan Maestas’s revelations in court before dealing with the admitted "cage fighter."