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Thursday, April 29, 2010

District Attorney charges deputy with child abuse for using taser on high schoolers at career fair

April 29, 2010
By Yesenia Robles, Denver Post

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert has charged a former Lake County sheriff's deputy after a Taser was demonstrated on 34 Leadville High School students at a career fair April 8.

Deputy John Ortega resigned last week after he returned from a week on unpaid suspension.

Ortega is charged with 11 misdemeanor counts of child abuse causing injury, one count of child abuse causing no injury and nine counts of reckless endangerment. In total, Ortega could face up to 27 1/2 years in jail. All the time would be served in county jail.

"We take this very seriously. He's an adult, and he should not be Tasering kids," Hurlbert said Wednesday.

Lake County Sheriff Ed Holte said students asked Ortega to use the Taser on them, but he declined.

When the students told Ortega they were willing to sign release forms, Ortega "foolishly agreed," Holte said.

Each count is related to one of the students who was shocked by the Taser. Some of the students decided not to press charges, Hurlbert said.

Ortega, who joined the Lake County Sheriff's Office in 2008, used the Taser — a weapon that delivers an electric shock — on the students' legs using the "drive-stun technique."

Tasers normally fire two small darts attached to thin wires anchored to the gun. As the darts penetrate the skin, a powerful electric shock is emitted. Holte said the drive-stun technique eliminates the wires and projectiles, allowing the gun to operate like a stun gun. When the gun touches a person's skin, a painful shock is felt.

Hurlbert said some of the students who were shocked had heart problems that Ortega was not aware of. Hurlbert said no one was seriously injured.

The day the Taser incidents occurred, school administrators sent a note home with each student, asking parents to report whether their child had been shocked, and to seek treatment if necessary.

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