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State Police chief sued for sex bias, ‘mooning’

New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A lawsuit filed in state District Court this week accuses State Police Chief Pete Kassetas of “blatant, ongoing and systematic discrimination” against officers based on gender and sexual orientation.

He is accused of “mooning” employees, describing two staff members as “dumb (expletive) bitches” and sending an image of a man’s testicles blocking out the sun to a deputy Cabinet secretary, Amy Orlando, in the Department of Public Safety, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs allege that “Kassetas’s behavior has gone unchecked by DPS, because the office of Governor Susana Martinez has protected Kassetas from adverse employment action, making him untouchable and above the law he is commissioned to enforce.”

A spokesman for the Governor’s Office, in turn, said the lawsuit contains “many ridiculous allegations that are completely removed from the truth.”

Ben Cloutier, the spokesman, said the state hasn’t been served with the lawsuit.

But 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 said. “We take seriously all allegations of misconduct – including those against the State Police Chief – and they are thoroughly investigated and handled appropriately.”

Cloutier added that there already was an investigation under way into “allegations brought forward at DPS.” He wouldn’t say who is conducting the investigation or what the allegations are.

The suit was filed late Tuesday in 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe by Sgt. Monica Martinez-Jones, retired Lt. Julia Armendariz and retired Deputy Chief Michael Ryan Suggs. It seeks damages based on gender and sexual orientation discrimination and retaliation.

The defendants are Kassetas and the Department of Public Safety.

The 36-page suit accuses Kassetas of tolerating homophobic treatment of gay officers and promoting a male officer who had slept with female recruits and once chained an African-American officer to a telephone pole.

It also says more than half a dozen women besides the plaintiffs “have come forward to make complaints about Kassetas’s discriminatory treatment of women.”

Reached by phone, Kassetas said Thursday that he couldn’t comment on pending litigation “no matter how much I’d like to.”

The suit touches on allegations outside the Department of Public Safety. It says the state allegedly paid $690,000 to settle claims by three women who say they were sexually harassed on the governor’s tour bus during her 2014 re-election campaign – an allegation the Governor’s Office said appears to have been “invented out of whole cloth.”

There were no sexual harassment allegations on the campaign bus, much less a settlement, Cloutier said.

Among the specific allegations outlined in the suit, Kassetas is accused of:

⋄  Referring to two women in the department as “dumb (expletive) bitches” and of disrespecting women in general “unless he found them attractive.”

⋄  Sending Orlando, the deputy cabinet secretary, a “picture of a man’s testicles blocking out the sun” around the time of a solar eclipse. The Journal wasn’t able to reach Orlando on Thursday.

⋄  Pulling down his pants and “mooning” staff members after a meeting in Ruidoso. He had been drinking, the suit said, and was in a State Police vehicle.

⋄  Using his position to promote or protect female officers “with whom he was interested in having a personal relationship.”

The Martinez administration appointed Kassetas, a 20-year State Police veteran, as State Police chief in 2013. He had previously served stints in the Narcotics and Investigations bureaus and worked as deputy State Police chief.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys include Diane Garrity and Linda Hemphill, both of Santa Fe.

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