Former detective with PTSD awarded $1.4M in lawsuit - Albuquerque Journal

Former detective with PTSD awarded $1.4M in lawsuit

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

A judge awarded a former sex crimes investigator more than $1.4 million after finding the city failed to accommodate her disability, but rejected her and her two coworkers’ claims that they were retaliated against under the Whistleblowers Protection Act.

Judge Nancy Franchini determined the three sex crime investigators failed to prove the city retaliated against them for raising concerns that their supervisor stymied their work clearing the rape kit backlog, implementing trauma-informed interview techniques and investigating serial rapists.

Franchini also determined that the Albuquerque Police Department failed to accommodate Teresa Caryn Romero’s post traumatic stress disorder – which she had developed from her work in the Violent Crimes Division and the Sex Crimes Unit.

Romero was awarded $1,087,000 for her emotional distress and $330,193 to make up for her economic losses. The combined $1.4 million is “a wonderful credit to the reality of the anguish of the loss of her ability to be a sex crimes detective and anguish about the betrayal of the department,” her attorney said.

The ruling comes after a five-day trial in 2nd Judicial District Court last month.

Franchini issued her findings and conclusions of law in writing on Thursday.

She found the claims made by Romero, Sally Dyer and Mandi Abernathy under the Whistleblower Protection Act were instead related to their private interests – such as “personal work conditions and personal disagreements with legitimate managerial decisions.”

The lawsuit had alleged that Sgt. Amanda Wild, who led the Sex Crimes Unit, was vindictive, quick to scream at and humiliate them, and told the investigators to “lower their expectations” for testing and investigating the thousands of rape kits that had been in a backlog.

Dyer alleged she had created a list of 22 serial offenders and Wild told her to take it off her cubby wall and out of an internal database system. Then, Dyer, a former APD officer who had returned as a civilian investigator, faced roadblocks when she wanted to be re-hired in a sworn capacity.

Abernathy contended that, when she tried to train detectives on forensic interview techniques, “she was shut down.” She said she had to choose between her mental health and her career, and decided to quit APD.

Romero said she told Internal Affairs that Wild was mismanaging the department and then was not able to take the steps necessary for her to return to work after bouts of PTSD triggered during training exercises.

In her closing arguments, city attorney Lauren Keefe argued that, although the women claimed APD failed to investigate and prosecute sex crimes from the rape kit backlog, “the facts do not bear out this claim.” She said the city had changed its process to investigate the backlog and “achieved unprecedented success.”

“The facts show that the City of Albuquerque made an unprecedented effort to investigate sex crimes through increased funding and resources, the development of new databases and policies, and the coordination of interagency efforts,” the attorneys wrote. “What plaintiffs actually assert is that the city’s reform effort created personal dissatisfaction in each.”

The city administration did not wish to comment on the judge’s ruling.

Attorney Shannon Kennedy, who represented the three former investigators, said she is glad they got a chance to speak out “against the mismanagement in the sex crimes unit.”

“They are all just ecstatic for (Romero) and this result, and so proud that they stood up and exposed the department’s mismanagement in the sex crimes unit,” Kennedy said. “But most importantly in terms of exposing the ways in which the city of Albuquerque discriminates against officers who suffer from PTSD and trauma while on the job.”

She said they plan to appeal the findings on the whistleblower claims because it’s a legal question about whether their speech is a personal dispute or of public concern.

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