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Law-and-order gov. shadowed by police claims

May 27, 2019

When Susana Martinez was elected governor in 2010, there was little doubt that she was a bonafide law-and-order politician.

It was in her record: A career prosecutor since the mid-1980s. Elected four times as district attorney. She met her husband while he was working as a sheriff’s deputy. After she was elected, it seemed that she was always making sure to get pay raises for cops — as well as always advocating tougher punishment for violent criminals.

And, of course, it was in her rhetoric. Whenever she got the chance she was always praising the brave men and women who protect our streets and highways. I remember a passionate speech she gave at a graduation ceremony for the state Law Enforcement Academy a couple of years ago in which she talked, from personal experience, about how police officers’ families always worry about their loved ones not making it home from work.

So it’s surprising that in the past year, some of Martinez’s worst political headaches have been related to lawsuits from state police, former state police — some of whom were part of her security detail — and past and present Department of Public Safety officials who have filed lawsuits containing terrible claims about her.

The latest was the revelation last week, first reported by KRQE-TV, that toward the end of Martinez’s term last year, the state, with little or no real investigation, settled a bunch of these complaints — and paid out $1.7 million to do so — in spite of the protests of her state police chief, Pete Kassetas.

The highest profile of these cases was filed nearly a year ago by former state police Deputy Chief Ryan Suggs and two female state police officers, including a former head of the governor’s security detail. This suit claimed discrimination and retaliation by Kassetas (who has denied these claims) but contained lots of information that could charitably be called “unflattering” to Martinez.

The Suggs lawsuit brought up a 2015 settlement in which the state paid $200,000 to Ruben Maynes, a state police officer on the governor’s security detail who claimed he was the victim of harassment and retaliation. That matter was settled just two months after Maynes’ lawyer informed the administration that he was considering filing a complaint.

The suit claimed Martinez had loaned $20,000 to Maynes to help him pay his gambling debts, an allegation a spokesman for Martinez denied.

Probably the most startling revelation in the KRQE report was a claim that Martinez directed a member of her security detail to record a phone conversation with the governor’s husband, Chuck Franco. Unnamed sources told the TV station that New Mexico’s first couple at the time was having marital problems and that Franco “made politically explosive comments about his wife.”

Kassetas told reporter Larry Barker that he thinks the recording was a factor in the settlement of the cases.

One thing apparent in the complaints is that there was bad blood between the governor and one of her oldest allies, Amy Orlando, who had worked as a prosecutor under Martinez and later as deputy secretary of public safety. The Suggs suit claimed Kassetas had sexually harassed Orlando, who later filed her own discrimination claim. According to KRQE, Orlando’s lawyer had sent the state a request for all “embarrassing or compromising” information “regarding the personal life, alcohol or drug abuse or addiction, personal or intimate relationships or marital conflicts of the governor.”

At the time the Suggs suit was filed, Martinez’s spokesman commented, “It’s sad and disappointing that these individuals are willing to throw so many outlandish claims against the wall in order to create a wild-eyed conspiracy theory to settle scores with the state police chief.”

But if Martinez was throwing Orlando under the bus, Kassetas felt the same bus had run over him.

In a December email to Martinez and others, Kassetas said, “For the last two years about every three months like clockwork I have been dressed down by Gov. Martinez for my alleged conduct,” he wrote. “… I was left to defend myself and now here I stand publicly humiliated and professionally and personally ruined.”

After these lawsuits and complaints, I suspect the former governor feels much the same way.

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