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City settles APD officer’s sexual harassment lawsuit

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The city is paying $150,000 to an Albuquerque Police Department lieutenant to compensate her for the sexual harassment she suffered as the only woman on a special unit more than a decade ago, concluding her lawsuit against the city.

Terysa Welch, now with the department’s aviation division, filed her sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit in 2011.

Although most of her claims against individuals were dismissed, her two claims against the city went before a federal jury in May.

The jurors ultimately agreed that Welch had been harassed and discriminated against, but they couldn’t decide if that treatment was targeting her as a woman or targeting her because she strictly followed rules.

The jury deadlocked after three days of deliberation.

On Wednesday, the city and Welch reached a settlement agreement, according to federal court records.

“It demonstrates Terysa’s getting compensated for the damage she suffered as a result of the city’s actions, and that was the ultimate goal,” said her attorney, Ryan Villa.

Welch said that from the first day in 2002 that she joined the ROP – Repeat Offenders Project – team, which was an exclusive group of detectives who went after the most violent offenders, she endured repeated inappropriate sexual comments and behavior, including unwanted physical contact, personal calls, and propositions that she participate in group sex with a team member and his wife. She said she was asked to call her lieutenant “Daddy.” In addition to those claims, she said she was disciplined for behavior her male teammates were not disciplined for and was set up for embarrassment and failure. Ultimately, she was forced by supervisors to move to another department.

Everyone targeted by the lawsuit no longer works for the city, and the ROP team was disbanded as part of an agreement with the federal Department of Justice, which is monitoring the department after finding it had engaged in a “pattern and practice” of unconstitutional use of force and deadly force. The ROP team had been involved in a number of controversial shootings.

“Mayor (Tim) Keller has worked to strengthen the city’s sexual harassment policy and institute sexual harassment training for all city employees. In this case, which was brought under a previous administration, the claims review board recommended a no-fault settlement agreement after a jury verdict was not possible without a retrial in Las Cruces. This decision was made after it was determined to be more cost-effective and in the best interest of all parties to settle,” city spokeswoman Felicia Salazar said in a statement Thursday.