Lawsuit accuses state police chief of misconduct

Pete Kassetas. Associated Press file photo

A former top deputy to New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas and two others have filed a lawsuit alleging Kassetas “mooned” staff members, referred to female staff members as “bitches” and sent a photo of a man’s testicles to the deputy Cabinet secretary for public safety, a woman.

The lawsuit also alleges Kassetas has used his position to promote and protect women with whom he was interested in having personal relationships.

The complaint, which also names the state Department of Public Safety as a defendant, was filed Tuesday in state District Court in Santa Fe by former state police Deputy Chief Ryan Suggs, former Lt. Julia Armendariz and Sgt. Monica Martinez-Jones.

Gov. Susana Martinez in February appointed Suggs as a magistrate judge in Otero County. Armendariz once headed the state police security detail for the governor. Martinez-Jones works for state police in Roswell.

The lawsuit also alleges the state has paid $690,000 to settle claims by three women that they were sexually harassed while on the governor’s tour bus during her re-election campaign in 2014.

Kassetas is accused in the lawsuit of discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation and of retaliation against the former and current state police officers for reporting misconduct at the agency.

A state police representative who responded on behalf of Kassetas to a request for comment said in an email Wednesday: “Right now we have not yet been officially served with a lawsuit. We generally do not comment on pending litigation and will not in this case as well.”

Ben Cloutier, a spokesman for Martinez, said the lawsuit “contains many ridiculous allegations that are completely removed from the truth.”

“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,” Cloutier wrote in an email.

The lawsuit, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages to be determined at trial, doesn’t include details of the alleged sexual harassment of the women on the governor’s tour bus during the 2014 campaign.

Cloutier said there were never any allegations of sexual harassment involving the campaign bus and no settlement. “This appears to be invented out of whole cloth,” he said.

Martinez promoted Kassetas, a 26-year veteran of the state police, to chief in 2013. The lawsuit contends he:

• Pulled his pants down and “mooned” staff after drinking at a commanders meeting in Ruidoso and while in a state police vehicle.

• Sent a picture of a man’s testicles blocking out the sun, at the time of a solar eclipse last year, to Amy Orlando, deputy secretary of the Department of Public Safety, the parent agency of the state police. Kassetas also allegedly once told Orlando that boots she was wearing “made him feel all hot and bothered.”

• Referred to Orlando and a second attorney with the agency as “dumb [expletive] bitches.”

• Had a photograph taken of him while lying in uniform on a white sheepskin rug.

• Disrespected women in the state police whom he found unattractive, made salacious remarks about women he found attractive and used his position to favor women that he identified for possible personal relationships.

• Said he was “never going to promote that bitch,” referring to Martinez-Jones, who alleges she was denied promotion to lieutenant eight times in favor of less qualified men.

• Promoted a male officer who had slept with female recruits and chained an African-American officer to a telephone pole.

• Refused to deal with an agent on the governor’s security detail who had an inappropriate sexual relationship with the daughter of the agent’s girlfriend.

Orlando was the top deputy to Martinez when the governor was the state district attorney in Las Cruces. After her election as governor in 2010, Martinez appointed Orlando to succeed her as district attorney. Orlando joined the administration after failing to win election to the job.

The lawsuit says Suggs retired from state police after more than two decades and accepted the judge appointment because Kassetas had retaliated against him for speaking against the chief’s treatment of officers and his violations of state police policies.

The lawsuit says Kassetas concealed improper investigations of child rape cases and ostracized Suggs when he pressed for changes to the way such cases are handled.

Armendariz, then a sergeant, was put in charge of the governor’s security detail in 2013, the lawsuit says.

Another sergeant on the detail told her in 2016 that detail members didn’t like her, didn’t trust her and had issues with her relationship with her girlfriend, the lawsuit says.

After complaining to Kassetas and the governor about the lack of action against a detail member having sex with his girlfriend’s daughter, Armendariz was pulled off the governor’s detail and given a “made up position” in training and recruiting, the lawsuit says. It alleges Kassetas later reluctantly promoted her to lieutenant.

Armendariz, who had been with the state police since 1997, retired in December.

Martinez-Jones has been denied a promotion and was retaliated against in part for reporting a lieutenant who had falsely claimed that he had worked on 10 investigations and collected illegal overtime payments from a federal grant, the lawsuit says.

Martinez-Jones had filed an internal complaint in 2017 concerning gender discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation, the lawsuit says, adding the complaint was never acted on by state police.

The Department of Public Safety has said that her failure to be promoted to lieutenant was due to “personal behaviors that have impeded her progress,” the lawsuit says. Martinez-Jones was disciplined in 2014 for calling three officers “fags,” but she has consistently received positive annual performance evaluations, the lawsuit says.

Martinez-Jones has been with state police since 2001.

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