AZTEC, NEW MEXICO – The Sheriff’s deputy who was caught on camera beating a man in the head with a Maglight flashlight was fired for violating the agency’s use of force policy.
Dale Frazier, a nearly five-year veteran of the department, was captured on video striking Donovan Tanner, 22, in the head and neck with his department-issued flashlight during a St. Patrick’s Day incident.
The announcement came Monday from Sheriff Ken Christesen following an internal investigation that lasted more than three weeks.
The incident sparked an internal investigation March 30 — the same day it came to the attention of administration — and Frazier was placed on paid administrative leave April 6, Sheriff’s Capt. Tim Black previously said.
Christesen declined to comment on the termination because it is considered a personnel issue, he said.
He also declined to comment on the flashlight incident because of pending litigation.
“I think it is absolutely the right thing to do,” said Arlon Stoker, Tanner’s attorney. “I appreciate the Sheriff wanting to do a thorough investigation, but in this case I don’t think there is any other conclusion you can come to.”
Stoker, on Thursday, filed a civil rights lawsuit against the county, Frazier, Sheriff’s deputy Terry McCoy, Farmington Police Officer Misty Taylor and the Farmington Police Department.
Asserting numerous civil rights violations motivated largely by race, Tanner contends his rights were violated when he was unlawfully detained and arrested by Frazier.
Christesen adamantly denies there were past excessive use of force accusations against Frazier or allegations that Frazier demonstrated a racist attitude.
Moreover, Christesen denies there exists any issues of racism among deputies at the Sheriff’s Office.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
Leonard Gorman, the executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, condemned the beating, calling it an example of the type of discrimination faced by American Indians in Farmington.
Frazier, whose official last day was Friday, has 10 days to file a grievance for the termination per county policy, County Attorney Jim Durrett said.
“It gives the person an opportunity to be heard and have an independent third party make a decision on the validity of the action taken by the sheriff or department head,” Durrett said.
Should Frazier file an appeal, both parties would present evidence to an impartial third party — an appointed local attorney who is not a county employee — who will decide the outcome of the hearing.
The hearing officer “can do just about anything he wants to,” Durrett said, including upholding the termination or imposing lesser disciplinary action.
If Frazier opts not to file a grievance within the 10 days, the sheriff’s decision would be final.
Despite Frazier’s termination, the county will continue to represent him in the civil suit because he was employed at the time the incident occurred, Durrett said.
It remains unclear if Frazier will face criminal charges for the flashlight beating.
District Attorney Rick Tedrow asked the Department of Public Safety to review the incident, specifically to determine whether the force Frazier used was excessive.
Following the review from the Department of Public Safety, “the next determination would be whether there was criminal liability based on what occurred,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O’Brien said.