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Suit: APD officer retaliated against over COVID concerns

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

A former Albuquerque Police Department lieutenant has filed a lawsuit against the city of Albuquerque alleging he was retaliated against for seeking personal protective equipment for himself and a crew that was preparing to clean a police building after a COVID-19 exposure in the early days of the pandemic.

An APD official said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on the specific allegations, but he added that the department made accommodations for officers who raised concerns about COVID.

David Jaramillo, the former lieutenant, said in the complaint that a law enforcement officer who had been exposed to COVID was inside APD’s Special Investigation Division building on April 15, 2020, prompting police to temporarily close the building. The division’s commander, Mizel Garcia, and another lieutenant, quarantined at the DoubleTree Hotel and tasked Jaramillo with overseeing a cleaning crew that would respond to the building.

Jaramillo, who has asthma and carries an inhaler, said he didn’t defy the orders. But, in telephone calls and an email, he raised concerns about a lack of adequate PPE for himself and the cleaning crew. He requested that the cleaning be delayed for days, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit says Jaramillo was then accused of insubordination and investigated by the Internal Affairs Division, which resulted in him being given a 40-hour unpaid suspension. He said he remained on administrative leave for six months, during which time he was required to work in a civilian capacity at the 911 Dispatch Center – a degrading assignment for an officer of his rank, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit states that, after Jaramillo filed a complaint with the city’s Human Resources Department, the city hired YLAW firm to investigate Jaramillo’s accusations of retaliation and discrimination.

Police Chief Harold Medina gave Jaramillo the firm’s findings letter, which substantiated Jaramillo’s complaint, according to the suit. Jaramillo contends that APD said it would reimburse Jaramillo for his unpaid suspension, but never did.

Jaramillo suffered from depression and anxiety, and ended his career with APD in January 2021, according to the lawsuit.

“Our client stood up for safety and suffered severe retaliation as a result,” said Shayne C. Huffman, one of Jaramillo’s attorneys. “Whether it was his own safety, the safety of his cleaning team, or the safety of the broader public, our client’s primary goal was preventing the spread of COVID-19 throughout the city and the state.”

APD Deputy Chief Mike Smathers said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on it. But he said the city tried to take all precautions possible to keep its officers and employees safe. He said workplaces were cleaned after a possible exposure to COVID dozens of times.

“If (officers) requested an accommodation … we have city protocols in place to request that and we would honor that,” he said. “We did a lot of things to accommodate those folks.”

Jaramillo’s lawsuit was filed Tuesday in 2nd Judicial District Court and is seeking compensatory and special damages.

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