Suit accuses New Mexico State Police chief of lewd conduct
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico sergeant and two former colleagues claim in a lawsuit that State Police Chief Pete Kassetas engaged in lewd behavior, including sending an inappropriate photograph to a high-ranking female state official.
A lawsuit filed this week in state court also accuses the Department of Public Safety under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez of refusing to address the chief’s “discriminatory and retaliatory treatment” of employees who reported concerns about other officers’ misconduct.
“Kassetas’ behavior has gone unchecked by DPS, because the Office of Governor Susana Martinez has protected Kassetas from adverse employment action, making him untouchable and above the law he is commissioned to enforce,” the officers’ complaint said.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensation for what Sgt. Monica Martinez-Jones, former Deputy Chief Michael Ryan Suggs and former Lt. Julia Armendariz described as distress and mental anguish from a hostile work environment.
The Santa Fe New Mexican was first to report on the lawsuit, which a Martinez administration spokesman said contained “ridiculous allegations that are completely removed from the truth.”
The allegations against Kassetas include instances in which pulled down his pants and showed his behind to staff in Ruidoso after drinking on the job and sending a deputy cabinet secretary “a picture of a man’s testicles” last year.
The lawsuit also claims Kassetas had showed leniency toward men in the department who were arrested while off duty, while denying women promotions.
One officer charged in a sexual assault in Colorado was given a five-day suspension, while another officer charged with battery in Rio Rancho got a two-day suspension, according to the lawsuit.
Both Martinez-Jones and Armendariz indicated they were victims of discrimination. Martinez-Jones said she had been denied a promotion eight times since 2013 because of her gender. Armendariz, who is gay, said Kassetas subjected her to a hostile work environment, where other members of the governor’s detail to which she was assigned used the phrase “that’s so gay” as a put-down in her presence.
She complained to Kassetas, but he too made inappropriate comments toward her with objectifying remarks about the women she dated, she said.
In one example cited in court documents, Armendariz complained to Kassetas that a lower-ranking agent had been mistreating a black female officer and used a racial slur in reference to her.
Instead of the behavior derailing or hurting the male agent’s career, he was later promoted by Kassetas, who gave him a position sidelining some of Armendariz’ duties, according to the lawsuit.
Armendariz retired in December.
Suggs, who reported directly to Kassetas, said he became a target after trying to speak out about the chief’s behavior. Suggs, who retired this year, is a magistrate judge in Otero County.
State Police spokeswoman Lt. Elizabeth Armijo said the agency would not comment on the pending litigation.
Ben Cloutier, a spokesman for the governor, said an investigation into allegations involving state police that were brought to the Department of Public Safety is already underway.