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Officers who settled with state want out of confidentiality agreement

May 25, 2019

A lawyer for three former state police officers who settled sexual harassment, discrimination and other claims against the state Department of Public Safety and their former chief said Friday her clients want out of the unusually lengthy confidentiality agreement they signed with former Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration late last year.

Retired Deputy Chief Michael Ryan Suggs, retired Lt. Julia Armendariz and Sgt. Monica Martinez-Jones sued in June and settled in December. Their suit was one of several complaints by department employees against the state last year, including cases involving past members of Martinez’s state police security detail, that were settled days before she left office.

The settlements by the state Risk Management Division, which KRQE-TV reported this week resulted in payouts totaling $1.7 million, were all sealed until June 2023.

Diane Garrity, a Santa Fe attorney representing the three former state police officers, told The New Mexican on Friday, “My clients’ sexual harassment claims are meritorious and should be released to the public. And I believe that no sexual harassment settlement, or any whistleblower settlement, should be confidential. We do want to speak to the public.”

That suit claimed former Chief Pete Kassetas had used 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. It also claimed Kassetas had “mooned” staff members, referred to some women in his department as “bitches” and had sent a photo of a man’s testicles to former Deputy Public Safety Secretary Amy Orlando, who later filed her own complaint against the department.

Kassetas also has publicly complained about the secrecy surrounding the settlements and, according to the KRQE report, had urged Martinez and others in an email not to settle with an attorney he claimed was “attempting to extort the state based off of potential personal embarrassing events surrounding the Governor and [Martinez’s husband, Chuck Franco].”

The Suggs lawsuit also 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 less than two months after an attorney sent the administration a letter saying he was investigating Maynes’ claims.

The Suggs suit alleges the governor herself had written Maynes a personal check for $20,000 to help him pay his gambling debts. Martinez’s office last year denied that claim.

Among evidence the defendants had was a recorded phone conversation between one of the officers and Franco, according to the KRQE report, which cited unnamed sources who claimed Martinez and Franco were having marital problems and that Franco “made politically explosive comments about his wife.”

Martinez has denied having any involvement with the legal settlements.

Both current Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Attorney General Hector Balderas have said they believe the settlements should be made public. “We are evaluating statutory requirements,” a spokesman for Lujan Grisham said this week.

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