Cristy Gonzales filed a federal lawsuit Nov. 27 against Pueblo Police Officer Bennie Villanueva for allegedly tasing her, and Police Chief Chris Noeller for allegedly failing to either terminate or decertify Villanueva as required by state law when Internal Affairs found he had used excessive force on multiple investigations, according to a press release by Mehr Law.
According to the lawsuit, the incident took place on Feb. 21, 2022, when Villanueva and another officer approached Gonzales on suspicion of driving a stolen Toyota Tacoma. The truck in question had just run out of gas and Gonzales had exited it and was attempting to stop it, the press release noted.
At that point, Villanueva jumped from his vehicle saying “she’s running” into his police radio, the press release explained. Body camera video released by Gonzales’ attorney Kevin Mehr shows Gonzales wasn’t running. She was standing still and was complying with the other officer on the scene. Villanueva allegedly shouted for Gonzales to get on the ground. As Gonzales was complying, Villanueva allegedly continued to shout and discharged his taser into her back.
A subsequent investigation by the Pueblo County District Attorney’s Office found Villanueva not only used excessive force in the incident but that he has a pattern of such behavior and has been the subject of multiple Internal Affairs investigations, at least one of which involved the unjustified use of a taser, noted the press release.
“According to Colorado state law, Officer Villanueva should have been fired or at least decertified for a year,” said Mehr in the press release. “But Chief Noeller didn’t do that. In fact, in his annual report to the Attorney General, he said that Villanueva had not been subject to a ‘disqualifying incident.’”
“That’s simply not true,” continued Mehr, “and if he’d lie to the Attorney General to protect an aggressive and violent officer who disregards department policy and state law, then what else has he and this department covered up?”
In March 2022, a Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training inspection sanctioned the Pueblo Police Department Law Enforcement Academy for teaching improper arrest techniques, forcing the academy’s Assertive Community Treatment program to cease instruction and recent graduates to suspend their POST certifications.