Man shot twice by deputies in March 2013 files a lawsuit against county

........................................................................................................................................................................................

A man who was shot twice by police in March 2012 is suing the county, the sheriff's department, the sheriff and the deputy who shot him.

Nathan Felts, of Los Lunas, has filed a complaint for damages in district court, claiming Valencia County Sheriff's Deputies David Hill "unlawfully assaulted and battered him … (by) using excessive force and shot the plaintiff in the mouth and left shoulder."

The lawsuit names the Valencia County Commission, the Valencia County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Louis Burkhard and Hill and Deputy Jennifer Martin as defendants.

Burkhard said after a state police and an internal investigation, it was determined that excessive force was not a factor in the case. As to the lawsuit, the sheriff said he couldn't comment on pending litigation.

According to the lawsuit, filed by Felts' attorneys, the law firm of Griego and Guggino, of Los Lunas, and Gregory Pelton, Felts, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder since 2001, had attended a family gathering to celebrate his daughter's birthday on March 10, 2012, at his father-in-law's home in Los Chavez.

During the celebration, according to the lawsuit, Felts' emotional state worsened and his behavior became erratic. He said he wanted to end his own life, the lawsuit continues. It was at that time that the family, including everyone at the party, left him alone.

The lawsuit states the family was concerned about his safety and his wife called police for assistance. When the deputies were called to respond to the house, according to the court documents, they were informed Felts was suicidal, suffered from bipolar disorder and was threatening to blow up the house. The lawsuit also claims the deputies were aware the plaintiff was alone, but that his father-in-law was to return home to make sure he was OK.

The plaintiff claims Martin, who arrived at the house before midnight, had previous contact with Felts and knew he was mentally ill and "had a good rapport with the plaintiff and had recently transported (him) to a mental facility in Albuquerque."

When Hill arrived, he was greeted at the door by the father-in-law, the lawsuit states that he "aggressively took over the situation from Deputy Martin and improperly initiated a violent intervention."

Hill, according to the lawsuit, asked the father-in-law if Felts had any weapons, to which he replied that he didn't have any firearms, but said he did have a bat and that Felts would say it was a shotgun. When the deputies went inside the house, Felts yelled at the deputies, saying he had a shotgun.

When Felts stepped from a bedroom doorway holding a baseball bat, about 20 feet from the front door, Hill yelled twice at Felts to "drop it." When Felts stepped forward, Hill shot twice, first striking the man in his mouth, which, according to the lawsuit, tore off part of his tongue and lodged in his spine.

The second shot hit Felts' left shoulder. The bullet turned, causing his lung to collapse and lodged in his right rib cage.

The lawsuit claims that although the county was on notice that additional training was needed, the sheriff's department had not adopted any standard operating procedures or written guidance for its deputies on how to deal with the mentally ill.

The plaintiff is asking the court to award him past and future medical expenses, damages for pain and suffering, attorneys fees, damages for lost earning capacity, loss of enjoyment of life and damages for the nature, extent and duration of injuries including disfigurement.

After the shooting, Valencia County Sheriff's Capt. Gary Hall said Hill fired shots at Felts because he feared for his life.

"He believed he feared for his life," Hall said of the deputy. "Otherwise, he would not have used deadly force."


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.