A New Mexico city has agreed to a $3 million settlement in the case of a high school police intern who was sexually assaulted by an officer during a ride-along.
Attorneys for the city of Las Cruces and the victim confirmed Wednesday that the agreement was reached and the process of settling and dismissing the case were underway in state district court.
Michael Garcia of the Las Cruces Police Department was sentenced in 2014 to nine years in federal prison for the sexual assault. The victim, Diana Guerrero, sued the city saying the department allowed for a culture of sexism and inappropriate behavior and that Garcia was never disciplined for a history of misconduct.
“I am most happy and satisfied that this lawsuit brought to light a cesspool of sexual violence and harassment that exists in police departments across this country. I’m living proof that you can speak out against sexual violence and win justice,” said Guerrero, who is now 21. The Associated Press does not generally name the victims of sexual assault, but Guerrero agreed to her name being published.
Guerrero’s case was among many that reflected a betrayal of the badge that has been repeated across the country.
In a yearlong investigation of sexual misconduct by U.S. law enforcement, the AP uncovered about 1,000 officers who lost their badges in a six-year period for rape, sodomy and other sexual assault; sex crimes that included possession of child pornography; or sexual misconduct such as propositioning citizens or having consensual but prohibited on-duty intercourse.
The number is unquestionably an undercount because it represents only those officers whose licenses to work in law enforcement were revoked, and not all states take such action. California and New York — with several of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies — offered no records because they have no statewide system to decertify officers for misconduct. And even among states that provided records, some reported no officers removed for sexual misdeeds even though cases were identified via news stories or court records.
The settlement in New Mexico represents the largest of its kind in the state’s history, according to Guerrero’s attorney, Shannon Kennedy of Albuquerque.
Kennedy had argued that since male detectives on the force were allowed to degrade women within the department, Garcia felt free to assault her client.
Las Cruces Police Chief Jaime Montoya, who took over in December 2013, indicated earlier this year that the department had done training related to hostile work environments and reviewed and updated policies. A spokesman for the department did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday.
During the former officer’s trial, Guerrero told the court that the assault left her feeling “like a piece of trash,” dashed her dreams of becoming a police officer and triggered depression, nightmares and flashbacks.
“It had never occurred to me that a person who had earned a badge would do this to me or anybody else,” she said. “I lost my faith in everything, everyone, even in myself.”
Guerrero said it was the support of a female detective with the department that encouraged her to eventually speak up about the 2011 incident.