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State paid $900,000 to settle claims against police chief

By MORGAN LEEAugust 27, 2019
FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2018 file photo New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas speaks to reporters in Albuquerque, N.M. The state of New Mexico is acknowledging it paid out $900,000 to settle a lawsuit accusing Kassetas of discriminatory and lewd behavior along with retaliation against those who complained. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras,File)
FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2018 file photo New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas speaks to reporters in Albuquerque, N.M. The state of New Mexico is acknowledging it paid out $900,000 to settle a lawsuit accusing Kassetas of discriminatory and lewd behavior along with retaliation against those who complained. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras,File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The state of New Mexico acknowledged Monday that it paid out $900,000 to three State Police officials who complained of workplace discrimination and retaliation by the state’s former police chief.

The payout is the latest revelation about settlements of lawsuits against state officials under the administration of then-Gov. Susana Martinez — many of them sealed until after her departure from office at the end of 2018.

It resolves a lawsuit alleging discriminatory and lewd behavior by former State Police Chief Pete Kassetas, along with retaliation against those who complained. Kassetas previously has criticized the state’s handling of the settlement and could not be reached Monday for comment.

The suit was brought by former Deputy Chief Michael Ryan Suggs, Lt. Julia Armendariz and Sgt. Monica Martinez-Jones. It described distress and mental anguish from a hostile work environment.

The Office of the State Auditor will review a series of recent state financial settlements that resolved workplace complaints by state personnel including members of the former governor’s security detail.

Allegations against Kassetas include instances in which he pulled down his pants and showed his behind to staff after drinking on the job and sending a deputy Cabinet secretary a “picture of a man’s testicles.”

The settlement was arranged in December 2018, though financial terms were withheld by the General Services Department for six months after the February close of the court case — a delay period outlined in state statute.

An additional $100,000 state payout was disclosed Monday in a separate lawsuit brought by an attorney who accused the administration of denying requests for public records related to whistleblower complaints against Kassetas.

Earlier this month, the state released terms of additional settlement payouts of $1 million to three former state employees at the Public Safety Department that oversees State Police.

Amy Orlando, former deputy secretary of public safety, and agency employee Dianna DeJarnette each received a $300,000 settlement. Terri Thornberry, another agency employee, received a $400,000 settlement.

The Office of the State Auditor is reviewing a series of recent state financial settlements that resolved workplace complaints by state personnel including members of the former governor’s security detail.

The state plans to begin posting all new settlement agreements on a public website by the end month, said Thom Cole, a spokesman for the General Services Department that oversees settlements though its risk management division.

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