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Sheep rancher claims Utah officer used excessive force in traffic stop

Published: Tuesday, May 6 2014 6:14 p.m. MDT

Geronimo was taken to the hospital for medical clearance before being booked into the Uintah County Jail. After his release, Ericksen uploaded photos of Geronimo's swollen face to her Facebook page in post that blasted Naples police for "unwarranted police brutality." The post has been shared hundreds of times and has drawn numerous comments of support for the sheep herder.

After watching the video of the traffic stop, Ericksen said her opinion hasn't changed.

"I don't think there's any reason they should have to do that, unless (someone) has a gun or something," Ericksen said. She also questioned whether Geronimo fully understood what was happening during the traffic stop.

"I think if things were maybe explained a little bit better to him, he might have had a better understanding and the officer could have calmed him down a little bit before he got out of control," Ericksen said.

State court records show, however, that Geronimo has had plenty of experience being stopped by police. Since 1994, he has been ticketed 14 times for a variety of traffic-related offenses, including failure to register a towed vehicle, driving without insurance and operating a vehicle with faulty equipment. In many of those cases, the charges were dismissed after Geronimo repaired his vehicle or showed proof of insurance to the court. In other cases, he paid the ticket.

After his run-in with police last month, Geronimo was charged in 8th District Court with assault on a police officer, a class A misdemeanor, interfering with an arrest, a class B misdemeanor, no valid license, a class C misdemeanor, and using plates registered to another vehicle, a class C misdemeanor. His preliminary hearing is set for May 21.

Ericksen has encouraged others to attend the hearing to show support for Geronimo and believes Fishler's law enforcement career should be over.

"Police officers should be your friends," she said, "somebody you look up to, somebody that you're not scared of when you get pulled over."

Geronimo's attorney, Greg Lamb, described his client is a "simple man" whose focus right now is on taking care of his sheep during the critical lambing season. He added Geronimo believes he is a victim of police brutality, but declined to comment further on the case.

Watkins stands by Fishler. He said the preliminary findings of an internal investigation into Geronimo's excessive force complaint show that Fishler did not violate department policy.

"If my officer did something wrong, then he'll be judged for that. He'll be judged for the truth," Watkins said. "If my officer did something right, he should be judged for that truth, and the truth always comes out in the end."

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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