Saturday, April 03, 2010
Police Chief Removed From Lawsuit Judgment
By Scott Sandlin
Journal Staff Writer
A jury returned a $662,000 verdict in November against Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz and the city for retaliating against an officer who spoke out about perceived misconduct by sheriff's deputies.
The city planned an appeal, but the parties settled after trial.
This week, the federal judge who conducted the trial set aside the verdict at the request of the parties.
City officials did not respond to Journal requests for the settlement amount, but previous estimates put it at close to $1 million because the prevailing party in civil rights actions also gets to recover legal costs.
Chief U.S. District Judge Martha Vázquez's order eliminates the judgment against Schultz individually in the 2007 lawsuit filed by Officer Samson "Sam" Costales against Schultz and APD.
Costales claimed he was hounded off the police force after 23 years when he reported what he believed was unprofessional and rude conduct by Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department deputies during the 2006 arrest of Al Unser Sr.
Costales was one of the APD officers responding to a call out stemming from an armed suspect in a motor vehicle accident in an area on the West Side that is patrolled by both agencies. He testified he saw deputies throw Unser to the ground and twist his arm.
Unser, who lived near where a roadblock was set up, was acquitted at trial of charges of resisting arrest and later filed his own civil lawsuit against the Sheriff's Department.
Costales claimed he was held up to humiliation by APD brass and was shunned by many of the rank and file because of public comments Schultz had made. Costales said a "blue wall of silence" at APD allowed misconduct to be winked at. Schultz and others said the "blue wall of silence" was a fiction.
The jury, however, found it credible enough to answer "Yes" when asked whether Schultz and APD had violated Costales' First Amendment rights. The jury said Schultz had not acted with evil motive or reckless disregard, but nevertheless awarded $662,000 in damages.
Because the case was filed under federal civil rights law, Costales was entitled to collect legal fees and costs of litigation, estimated at more than $200,000.
The city filed a notice of appeal, but settled the case before it was briefed.
Costales' lawyer Randi McGinn said Costales, who testified about depression and stress from his treatment by APD, is now doing well. She said he viewed the jury verdict as vindication of his actions, and that was more important to him, and more therapeutic, than the financial recovery.