IMPERIAL, CALIFORNIA — A retired sheriff’s deputy initially suspected of impaired driving posted bail early Friday after being struck with a baton on his legs during an encounter with two Imperial police officers.
Jesus Lopez, 49, who works for the U.S. Marshal’s Office, was arrested and booked into the county jail on suspicion of resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer with a deadly weapon following the 12:49 a.m. incident on Aten Road west of Highway 86.
The incident involving Lopez follows another encounter with Imperial police that occurred in July 2010 when 22-year-old motorist Edmund “Bubba” Gutierrez died after a violent struggle with two officers.
Coroner’s officials ruled Gutierrez’s death as a technical homicide since he was in police custody, but the Imperial County District Attorney’s Office cleared officers Eric Granado and Joseph Garibaldi because there was insufficient evidence to charge them with any wrongdoing.
A federal wrongful death lawsuit has been filed, naming Imperial, the IPD and Granado and Garibaldi as defendants.
A Border Patrol agent reported seeing Lopez weaving in the road and alerted Imperial Police, Police Chief Miguel Colon said.
The impaired driving call escalated into violence when, Colon said, Lopez acted belligerently with officers, refused to take a sobriety test and refused to cooperate with officers.
Lopez never attacked the officers Colon identified as Cpl. Albert Valenzuela and Edmond Escallada. Valenzuela used the baton while Escallada used pepper spray in the effort to arrest Lopez, who Colon described as a former power lifter.
Two Border Patrol agents at the scene assisted in the arrest that was captured by a camera mounted on one of the patrol cars and which corroborates Colon’s version of the event, he said.
Colon’s candor over the matter involving Lopez contrasted with how much information the IPD released at the time of Gutierrez’s death almost two years ago.
“I’m really dismayed over how a retired law enforcement officer showed so much belligerence toward other officers,” Colon said.
Lopez was in the process of covering the $50,000 bond when his attorney Bob Espinoza showed up at the county jail. Espinoza decried how his client was treated at the hands of police and strongly denounced the allegations against Lopez, adding that the circumstances surrounding the baton beating are untrue.
“He was hurting so bad,” Espinoza said. “The beating that was administered to an unarmed, defenseless man was a stupid act of a coward.”
Even though officers told Lopez that they didn’t smell alcohol on him, they still had to conduct a check in order to make a determination of his sobriety before he could be released, Colon said.
That involved conducting what police call a “field sobriety test,” which Lopez flatly refused, Colon said. Lopez was never Tasered during the incident as IPD officers no longer have Taser devices, Colon said.
Lopez, according to Colon, told the officers “I’m not going with you” and refused to move, keeping his hands up but acting in an uncooperative manner.
Lopez, who Colon said is a 24-year veteran of the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office, kept moving back into his vehicle.
“He refused to turn around and get handcuffed,” Colon said of Lopez, and since the officers had no idea “what state of mind” Lopez was in, force was used to arrest him. Colon described the use of the baton as a “distraction blow.”
Valenzuela has not been placed on administrative leave, Colon said.
Imperial Mayor Doug Cox said he was apprised of what happened.
“It’s under investigation and really that’s all I can say about it,” Cox said.
Espinoza emphatically denied Colon’s version of how the event played out. When “the dust is cleared” the truth will come out as one or two witnesses will attest, Espinoza said.
“The allegations (aren’t) true and you’ll see the brutality that was involved,” he said.