NM settles State Police officer's whistleblower suit - Albuquerque Journal

NM settles State Police officer’s whistleblower suit

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The state Department of Public Safety has reached a $175,000 settlement resolving a whistleblower lawsuit filed by an officer who had been assigned to the security detail of then-Gov. Susana Martinez.

In the suit, plaintiff Tony Fetty had leveled a series of allegations about a fellow agent’s gambling debt, a personal relationship between the governor and the agent, and an emotional episode involving another member of the security detail who had threatened to drink bleach.

Fetty also accused the state of retaliating against him after he reported his concerns and of discriminating against him – allegations the Department of Public Safety denied.

As part of the settlement signed last month, the state agreed to pay Fetty $175,000 and provide a neutral job reference for him.

In return, he dropped the lawsuit and acknowledged that he would be barred from future employment at the Department of Public Safety.

The settlement was disclosed on New Mexico’s transparency website.

The Journal wasn’t able to reach a spokeswoman for Martinez on Friday. But in response to similar allegations in another legal claim, a spokesperson for her called the allegations “ridiculous” and “completely removed from the truth.”

The eye-opening suit filed by Fetty in 2019 made a series of allegations about the inner-workings of the security protection detail assigned to then-Gov. Martinez and the first gentleman, Chuck Franco.

The unit usually had about 10 plain clothes agents, Fetty’s suit said, and it provided around-the-clock coverage for Martinez at the Governor’s Residence in Santa Fe, the Capitol and other locations.

Martinez, a Republican, served eight years as governor, ending in 2018.

Fetty, already a State Police officer, joined the detail in 2012 and served there for about six years before returning to uniformed patrol. Among the allegations in his suit:

• An agent in the detail, Ruben Maynes, borrowed about $16,500 from Fetty after confiding that he had amassed debt due to gambling, hunting permits, business ventures and other activity.

Susana Martinez

The lawsuit also accuses Maynes of gambling while on duty and says Gov. Martinez had loaned him money to help with his debts.

Maynes received special treatment from the state, the suit says. In 2015, he secured a state settlement of $200,000, according to the lawsuit, after which he was to repay Fetty, Martinez and others.

The settlement came after Maynes had made his own legal claims of discrimination and retaliation. The Journal wasn’t able to reach Maynes’ attorney Friday.

• Franco, the first gentleman, told officers in the security detail that he suspected the governor was having a relationship with Maynes. Franco said he was moving out of the Governor’s Residence and going back to his home in Las Cruces.

The state specifically denied these allegations in its response to the suit.

• Another agent in the security detail had an emotional or mental health episode in Washington, D.C., that resulted in police there reaching out to New Mexico State Police.

The suit alleges the incident involved the officer threatening self-harm and saying “maybe I should just drink this bottle of bleach or cut my wrist.”

Fetty said the matter was a potential safety issue for the detail but that he was ordered not to discuss it.

In its response, the state denied that the officer had a mental health episode or that Fetty was ordered not to discuss it.

Settlement of the Fetty lawsuit comes after the state in 2019 disclosed a series of other settlements involving claims against the Department of Public Safety. The agreements included a $1 million settlement reached in the final days of the Martinez administration to resolve claims against DPS for gender discrimination, harassment and whistleblowing.

Public debate over the settlements – one of which had a provision calling for it to remain confidential for years – helped prompt a change in state policy. In 2019, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration began publishing settlements online automatically rather than disclosing them only in response to specific requests.

Bipartisan legislation adopted in 2020 also eliminated a 180-day waiting period for the disclosure of settlements.

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