NM county settles over Mexican flag-flying episode involving sheriff

New Mexico

ESPAÑOLA, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico county has settled with a man who said a troubled sheriff pulled him over for flying a Mexican flag on his truck on the Fourth of July.

The attorney for Joshua Talamante said last week that Rio Arriba County has agreed to settle for $55,000 nearly six months after Talamante filed a tort claim notice, a precursor to a lawsuit.

In this Oct. 2, 2014, file photo, James Lujan is sworn in by the Rio Arriba County Commissioners as the new Rio Arriba County Sheriff in Espanola, N.M. Espanola Police said Lujan on Saturday, March 21, 2020, showed up drunk to a SWAT standoff, tried to order officers away, then ignored commands to leave the “kill zone.” (Luis Sanchez Saturno/The Santa Fe New Mexican via AP, File)

According to court documents, Talamante said Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan pulled him over during Chama, New Mexico’s July Fourth parade, last year and told Talamante he needed to take down the Mexican flag flying from this truck.

Talamante’s attorneys say Lujan yelled at Talamante and said he was “lucky he did not get shot” for flying the Mexican flag on the Fourth of July.

“Sheriff James Lujan is an incompetent, dangerous and unstable sheriff, and is an embarrassment to the professional New Mexico law enforcement community,” John Day, one of Talamante’s lawyers, said in a statement. “His threats and actions against Mr. Talamante for exercising his First Amendment rights by flying Mexican and American flags on the Fourth of July are a prime example of Lujan’s bizarre theory that he gets to violate the constitution based on his personal beliefs.”

Lujan did not return phone messages.

The settlement is one of many recent legal problems involving Lujan and his office.

Lujan is facing charges after police say he showed up drunk to a SWAT standoff, tried to order officers away, and then ignored commands to leave the “kill zone.”

According to the complaint, an armed Lujan, in plain clothes, attempted to take over the scene involving a barricaded man in Española last month.

A former deputy of Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office recently was charged with battery and false imprisonment in connection with an episode at a Family Dollar store.

Joseph Aquino recently was charged after New Mexico State Police say he pushed and fought with a store employee before arresting him on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in March 2019. Police say Aquino had no lawful authority to do so.

According to the complaint, Aquino, 44, told an investigator he felt threatened by the employee because of the way the worker looked at him in Chimayó, New Mexico.

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