Police: Three former state police officials got settlement of $900K

Former Chief Kassetas continues to deny harassment occurred

By Jens Erik Gould
jgould@sfnewmexican.com
Posted 8/29/19

Three former New Mexico law enforcement officials received a total of $900,000 after accusing former New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas of …

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Police: Three former state police officials got settlement of $900K

Former Chief Kassetas continues to deny harassment occurred

Posted

Three former New Mexico law enforcement officials received a total of $900,000 after accusing former New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas of discrimination and retaliation, according to documents released Monday (Aug. 26).

The state paid the sum to former Lt. Julia Armendariz, former Sgt. Monica Martinez-Jones and former Deputy Chief Ryan Suggs, according to a settlement signed by the plaintiffs in December 2018 and released by the state General Services Department on Monday.

Diane Garrity, a Santa Fe-based lawyer for the three officials who filed the suit, also received a $100,000 payout in a settlement with the General Services Department after she alleged in a separate lawsuit that the department refused to provide related public records.

The three former officials filed a June 2018 lawsuit accusing Kassetas of using his position to promote and protect women with whom he was interested in having personal relationships while passing over other officials and punishing those who reported misconduct.

The lawsuit also accused Kassetas of "mooning" staff members in Ruidoso, sending a photo of testicles to then-Deputy Public Safety Secretary Amy Orlando and referring to women as "bitches."

The release of the new documents came after settlements were disclosed earlier this month showing three other former Department of Public Safety employees received a total of $1 million after alleging they were sexually harassed or were victims of sexual discrimination.

The documents released Monday did not specify how the $900,000 would be split up among the three former officials, and Garrity said she could not give that information due to confidentiality agreements.

As he had previously, Kassetas vehemently denied on Monday that he discriminated against or harassed any of the three former officials.

"All three of them walk with $900,000? Are you [expletive] serious?" the former chief said in an interview. "How does that happen? It shouldn't happen. I'm infuriated over it. The taxpayers should be, too."

He added the settlement was a "terrible outcome" for taxpayers, but said he did not feel responsible because he didn't create the "atmosphere" he was accused of within the department.

Kassetas previously acknowledged the mooning incident and sending an off-color text to Orlando.

"I made some mistakes, but I didn't make $1.7 million in mistakes," Kassetas said, referring to a previous estimate of the total amount paid in settlements. "That's the reason the governor didn't fire me, nor could she fire me, because I'd done nothing wrong and they knew it."

Kassetas retired at the end of December 2018 after 26 years with the police department.

Days before former Gov. Susana Martinez left office last December, the General Services Department settled several sexual harassment complaints and lawsuits by former state police officers and Department of Public Safety employees claiming sexual harassment by Kassetas.

State lawyers sealed the settlements to keep them out of the public view for five years. However, General Services Secretary Ken Ortiz, appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said his agency wouldn't honor the five-year seal and began posting the settlements this month.

"This complaint is based on Kassetas' blatant, ongoing and systematic discrimination against NMSP officers based on gender and sexual orientation and his retaliation against those who oppose his unlawful, discriminatory and improper conduct," the lawsuit against Kassetas read. "It is also based on DPS's failure or refusal to address Kassetas' discriminatory and retaliatory treatment of plaintiffs and other highly ranked, mostly female, employees."

The separate $100,000 settlement with Garrity was notarized Jan. 3, 2019 and also released by General Services on Monday.

In a complaint filed in August 2018, Garrity sought an injunction to force the department to comply with the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act and release documents she had requested that were related to settlements paid by the state.

"Because the records sought go directly to allegations contained in the complaints filed in the Kassetas Law Suit, which Governor Susana Martinez's office has vehemently denied in the media, the public records sought are expected to support plaintiffs' claims," Garrity's attorneys wrote in the complaint.

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