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Judge unseals suit against New Mexico State Police chief

September 28, 2018

A lawsuit filed earlier this month against state Department of Public Safety and New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas, accusing the chief of discriminating against a former officer, was made public Wednesday after a judge ruled the suit had been improperly filed under seal.

The complaint, brought by former state police Officer Jessica Turner, alleges Kassetas discriminated against her because she is a woman and because the chief took issue with her fiancé, a former deputy chief with the agency who raised concerns about mishandled rape investigations, drug and alcohol use among officers, and other problems.

The state District Court lawsuit is the second complaint filed against Kassetas and the Department of Public Safety since June, when a former high-ranking official and others in the agency filed a sexual harassment suit against the chief — a 26-year state police veteran who was appointed to the top job by Gov. Susana Martinez in 2013.

First District Judge David Thomson issued an order Wednesday to unseal the suit, filed by Santa Fe attorney Timothy Butler.

Butler on Wednesday evening said he had asked Thomson to unseal the case.

“I’m just smiling because it finally happened,” he said in a brief phone interview.

State police Lt. Elizabeth Armijo, a spokeswoman for the agency, declined to comment, saying the agency generally does not comment on pending litigation.

Turner’s lawsuit repeats a number of allegations raised in the first complaint, including claims that Kassetas referred to some women in the department as “dumb [expletive] bitches,” made inappropriate comments to a former top official at the Department of Public Safety and sent the woman photographs of a man’s testicles.

Much of Turner’s suit centers on an allegation that Kassetas had retaliated against her after her fiancé, former Deputy Chief Ryan Suggs — a plaintiff in the first lawsuit — had raised concerns about the department.

Gov. Martinez appointed Suggs as a magistrate judge in Otero County in February.

Turner resigned from the state police in April. According to KRQE-TV, her resignation came after the agency opened an internal affairs investigation into an incident in February in which Turner was found passed out in her vehicle along a roadside in Otero County.

KRQE-TV reported Turner was accused of drunken driving by Otero County sheriff’s deputies but was not arrested. She says in the lawsuit, however, that she had a medical condition that caused her to become unconscious in her truck.

Turner alleges the internal affairs investigation into the incident was mishandled and that Kassetas “threw the book” at her while he gave “great leniency” to other employees.

The lawsuit claims male officers accused of sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as those who failed DWI tests while on duty, were offered more leniency in investigations.

Much of the complaint centers on alleged issues between Kassetas and Suggs. The lawsuit contends that:

• Suggs raised concerns with Kassetas over “cases involving criminal sexual penetration of children that had been improperly investigated by officers” and that “Kassetas refused to implement any changes to the process.”

• After an officer with two DWIs was arrested on a third DWI charge, Kassetas met with the officer and “allowed him to resign in an attempt to conceal from his superiors and the media” that the officer had “dropped a [rape] case that had never been properly processed.”

• Kassetas did not inform Suggs, who was a drug abuse program coordinator for state police, that two recruits had been “stripped of their uniforms” because they were caught huffing hand sanitizer, though Suggs had “sole authority to address the matter.”

Turner is seeking damages under the New Mexico Human Rights Act, the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act and the state Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, as well as attorneys’ fees and other damages.

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