New Mexico settles suit over state police chief

Pete Kassetas. Associated Press file photo

The state of New Mexico has settled a lawsuit in which several law enforcement officials accused the former state police chief of discrimination and retaliation.

Both sides this month asked to dismiss the case against ex-Chief Pete Kassetas and the Department of Public Safety. But it remains unclear what the state paid in the settlement.

New Mexico law allows state officials to keep the terms of legal settlements secret for months, a timeline that lawyers can stretch even further to cover up the details of such agreements.

Still, while Kassetas left the state police when Gov. Susana Martinez left office at the end of last year, questions raised in the lawsuit are bound to linger.

The lawsuit accused Kassetas of using 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.

The lawsuit was filed by former state police Deputy Chief Ryan Suggs, former Lt. Julia Armendariz and Sgt. Monica Martinez-Jones.

The officials depicted a chauvinist attitude within the highest ranks of the agency, accusing Kassetas of mooning staff members, referring to some women in the department as “bitches” and sending a photo of a man’s testicles to a deputy Cabinet secretary.

But perhaps the most politically explosive lines in the lawsuit pointed to the New Mexico government’s $200,000 out-of-court settlement with a state police officer who had been one of the governor’s bodyguards and at one point seemed poised to sue her as well as the department for harassment and retaliation.

The lawsuit alleged it was Kassetas’ “knowledge of the governor’s secrets, in general, and the [bodyguard’s] situation, in particular, that has kept the governor from allowing [the department] to take disciplinary actions against him.”

Probing further into the outgoing administration, lawyers for the law enforcement officials also who filed the suit sought records from the Department of Finance and Administration as well as the office of the governor regarding other allegations of harassment. In turn, the Martinez administration sought to quash those subpoenas, leading to a small flurry of motions in court before this month’s settlement.

Diane Garrity, a Santa Fe-based lawyer for the law enforcement officials who filed the suit, confirmed they had settled but declined to comment further, citing confidentiality provisions included in the agreement.

The state also settled a lawsuit with Garrity, who alleged the state had violated the Inspection of Public Records Act by withholding records involving allegations of harassment.

Lawyers representing the state Department of Public Safety in the lawsuit against Kassetas did not respond to a voicemail or emails seeking comment.

A spokesman for Martinez confirmed after the lawsuit was filed that there was an ongoing investigation into allegations brought forward at the Department of Public Safety. But Kassetas rode out the remainder of the Martinez administration.