In lawsuit, retired state trooper claims grudge led to fake arrest

August 12 – A retired New Mexico State Police officer sues the Colfax County Sheriff’s Department and the Angel Fire Police Department for allegedly violating the state’s civil rights law because of a personal grudge.

A civil complaint filed Monday in state district court by Benjamin Swope — who worked for the state police at the time — claims Sgt. Tom Lewis of the Colfax County Sheriff’s Office wrongfully charged him with battery without probable cause.

Swope was arrested in September after an altercation at the National Rifle Association’s Whittington Center range near Raton. Swope, his wife and stepfather were approached by a group of strangers who yelled at and insulted them, according to Swope’s civil complaint. One of the strangers – who was later identified as Shane Bryan – grabbed Swope’s gun, which was lying on a table in front of him.

“That’s when my client takes his hand away from the gun, knocks out his cell phone [of his hand]and that was the whole basis of battery charging,” Swope’s attorney Nicholas Sitterly said in an interview.

“From my perspective, that’s nonsense,” Sitterly added.

Lewis quickly arrived on the scene after a member of the group then called 911. According to Swope’s complaint, Lewis had previously worked with Swope at the New Mexico State Police and he had a “personal grudge against Swope due to conflicts.

“Lewis should never have been the investigator due to his negative relationship with Officer Swope,” the lawsuit states.

The criminal complaint to Raton Magistrates Court charged Swope with one count of misdemeanor assault. The court dismissed the charge on February 18 after hearing Swope’s testimony and viewing video of the incident. The video, which was taken by Bryan, shows Swope standing in front of his gun. Bryan heads for the gun before his phone falls out of his hands.

At some point after Swope’s arrest, Lewis left the Colfax County Sheriff’s Department to work for the Angel Fire Police Department. While working at his new job, he filed a new lawsuit against Swope on March 7, this time in Springer Magistrate Court.

Swope’s lawsuit says the Angel Fire Police Department does not have jurisdiction over the NRA Whittington Center shooting range where the incident occurred and did not investigate the matter. Sitterly said the situation was bizarre.

“Somehow the officer is filing the same subpoena again, but in a different courthouse and breaking all the rules for the new subpoena,” he said.

Swope’s complaint alleges that the Colfax County Sheriff’s Office and the Angel Fire Police Department failed to detect erroneous and inappropriate complaints and failed to train their officers or supervisors to ensure that the facts supporting probable cause were listed.

Sitterly said Swope is seeking damages for the pain, suffering, humiliation and embarrassment he and his family have faced and reimbursement of costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees.

“I don’t think we’re looking for exorbitant damage here, just something that fairly compensates for the experience,” he said.

Lewis declined to comment, and the Colfax County Sheriff’s Department and the Angel Fire Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

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