Sheep rancher claims Utah officer used excessive force in traffic stop

Published: Tuesday, May 6 2014 5:50 p.m. MDT

Pablo I. Geronimo, 63, is charged in 8th District Court with assault on a police officer, interferring with an arrest, never having obtained a driver's license and using license plates registered to another vehicle. Geronimo has filed an excessive force complaint against the Naples police officer who arrested him on March 26, 2014. The preliminary results of an internal affairs investigation show that officer Ben Fishler acted within policy when he took Geronimo to the ground during a traffic stop, according to Naples Police Chief Mark Watkins.

Cable Murray

NAPLES, Uintah County — A Uintah County sheep rancher has accused a Naples police officer of using excessive force during a traffic stop last month that was recorded on the officer's chest-mounted video camera.

Naples Police Chief Mark Watkins said the video, obtained through a public records request, clearly shows officer Ben Fishler did not brutalize Pablo I. Geronimo after pulling him over for driving a truck with expired registration.

"In reviewing the video and talking to all involved, I believe the force that was used was justified," Watkins said. "The injury that happened to Pablo was unfortunate and I'm not excited about that whatsoever."

Some who have known Geronimo for years, however, believe Fishler didn't need to take the 5-foot, 5-inch tall, 63-year-old man to the ground, causing him to suffer injuries to his face and head.

"The police have gone too far. They didn't need to use that kind of force on somebody his age and his size," said Camille Ericksen, who has known Geronimo for about 15 years.

On March 26, Geronimo was stopped on U.S. 40 in Naples after Fishler spotted the expired registration tags on his truck. In the video, Geronimo acknowledges he doesn't have a valid license and that his truck's registration is not current. Fishler — who has been on the job for eight months — collects insurance and other information, then heads back to his patrol car.

"Can you telephone someone to come drive the truck, car away?" Fishler asks when he returns to Geronimo's truck. "I can't let you leave. You're not a licensed driver."

"But I am working with the sheep," Geronimo replies, explaining that the longer he is delayed in getting back to his flock, the more difficult it will be to gather them up.

When Geromino says he doesn't have a phone, the officer pulls out his personal cellphone and calls a number Geronimo gives him. The person on the phone isn't able to help and the call ends.

"OK, what's the next number to call?" Fishler asks.

"Everybody's working," Geronimo replies before going quiet as Fishler tells him he'll have to impound the truck if someone can't be reached in 10 minutes.

"I don't want to do that. I don't want to have to impound it," Fishler tells Geronimo, who then becomes obviously emotional, takes his seat belt off and starts to get out of his truck. Fishler gives Geronimo three commands to stay in the truck, but Geronimo tells him he's going home and walks away.

"Sir! Come here!," Fishler shouts as he follows the crying man down the shoulder of the busy highway. "Sir! Come here! Come here! Come here!"

Fishler grabs Geronimo's left arm and the older man pulls it away, telling the officer, "I am not stealing anything!" and "I am not animal, I am man! I can talk to you!"

"Put your hands on your head!" Fishler orders as he moves Geronimo back toward the truck. "Put your hands on your head!"

When Geronimo turns back toward the officer instead, Fishler takes him to the ground. The officer's chest-mounted camera comes off and its lens is blocked by the ground, but Geronimo can be heard crying as Fishler tells him he's under arrest.

"You didn't obey my commands," the officer says. "I told you to stay in the vehicle."

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