Community members on Friday delivered 100 letters to Bernalillo County Sheriff Dan Houston’s Downtown headquarters, demanding that he resign and publicly apologize for “demeaning” and “offensive” comments he made about Hispanic women in his department.
Jennifer Vega-Brown, Houston’s former spokeswoman and attorney, filed a lawsuit this week claiming the sheriff retaliated against her and eventually fired her after she raised concerns of discrimination and sexual harassment against Hispanic women at BCSO.
Among the claims in the lawsuit are that Houston referred to a Hispanic woman in the department as a “fat slob,” expressed doubt that a woman who accused Bernalillo County Commissioner Michael Wiener of sexual harassment last year could have “that kind of comment being made towards her,” and referred to Vega-Brown and another woman as a “couple of whores.”
In an interview this week, Houston denied some of the remarks attributed to him in the suit but acknowledged making the “fat slob” comment. He said he used the word “whores” only in “repeating an allegation made by a third party.”
“Sheriff Dan Houston, women are not whores,” Micaela Cadena of Young Women United said at a news conference Friday. “How can we as women, mothers, students, business owners and members of this community feel safe calling your office in a time of need or in a crisis? Words translate into behaviors and actions.”
Houston’s attorney said Vega-Brown was fired for financial reasons. She also said Vega-Brown was not doing the job she was hired to do, but she was welcome to apply for other jobs with the county. Vega-Brown was offered $25,000 to resign voluntarily, provided she not pursue any claims against the county, according to a copy of her termination letter.
“I would remind Sheriff Houston that repeating an ethnic or gender slur, even if it supposedly was said by a third party, perpetuates the remark every bit as much as if one had said it himself,” Martha Burk, a longtime women’s rights activist and co-founder of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, said at the news conference.
“I would remind the sheriff that if the third party is a co-worker, subordinate or even a friend or acquaintance, the obligation is to stop it, to call the person to account and not to repeat and perpetuate a demeaning remark,” she said.
Houston has conceded that the “fat slob” comment was “inappropriate.” He has not apologized.
Houston was unavailable to accept the letters demanding his resignation Friday, according to his spokesman, Sgt. Sam White. A deputy took the letters from Burk and said he would deliver them to Houston.
The sheriff did not return telephone calls seeking comment Friday.