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Third discriminiation case involving former NMSP chief dropped

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

After the departing administration of Gov. Susana Martinez paid out nearly $2 million to settle discrimination lawsuits against the state Department of Public Safety and its former top police chief, a third related case has been dropped.

Former New Mexico State Police officer Jessica Turner and her attorney ended their two-year legal fight without collecting a dime from the state.

The lawsuit, which alleged discrimination and retaliation, was dismissed by all parties on Oct. 30.

Thom Cole, spokesman for the state General Services Department, confirmed “there was no settlement or agreement and that no monies were paid.”

Turner, who had been a probationary State Police officer with less than a year on the job, was charged with driving while intoxicated Feb. 26, 2018, after she was found slumped over in a truck pulled off U.S. 82 near Alamogordo.

She contended she had a medical issue and needed to pull out of traffic, and was later charged by the 12th Judicial District Attorney’s office with driving under the influence and tampering with evidence.

The criminal case led to an internal State Police investigation in which then-State Police Chief Pete Kassetas planned to terminate Turner, who is a former Otero County Sheriff’s deputy.

Ex-State Police Chief Pete Kassetas

Instead, she quit the State Police on April 11, 2018. A jury trial on her criminal charges ended in a mistrial on July 8 of this year.

In September 2018, Turner filed a lawsuit against Kassetas and DPS alleging she was discriminated against because she is female and Native American. She also contended she was retaliated against by Kassetas because her fiance, former State Police Deputy Chief Michael Ryan Suggs, had had multiple run-ins with Kassetas. Suggs retired from the agency and was appointed a magistrate in Otero County in March 2018.

Court records show Suggs and former governor Martinez were listed as prospective witnesses in her civil case.

Turner’s lawsuit in 2018 came several months after Suggs and two other State Police officials filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination and retaliation for whistleblowing activities, alleging Martinez was protecting Kassetas. By year’s end, three other women who worked for DPS also had filed discrimination claims against Kassetas and DPS.

Kassetas and DPS denied the allegations, as did Martinez through a spokesman.

The six claims were settled for a total of $2 million just before she left office Dec. 31, 2018, and the payouts were to be kept confidential until at least 2022.

But Kassetas went public to object to the settlements in 2019 and the incoming administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declined to enforce the extended secrecy agreement.

Turner’s civil case remained pending in the courts. Turner told the Journal on Tuesday that she dropped the civil case for health reasons. She said she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis this year and said, “This case was causing me too much stress.”

She said it had nothing to do with the merits of the case, but Kassetas had a different view.

“The fact that they dropped their suit validates that my decision was based on facts and DPS policy,” said Kassetas, who retired as State Police chief on Dec. 31, 2018. “Unlike the two prior lawsuits, which were settled without deposing anyone, this lawsuit took a different course, thanks to the Lujan Grisham administration.”

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