Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Lovato: APS Videotapes Workers
By Scott Sandlin and Andrea Schoellkopf
Journal Staff Writers
Albuquerque Public Schools spent tens of thousands for a private investigative firm to secretly videotape employees, the former head of the APS police alleges in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Former APS Police Chief Gil Lovato contends his contract was terminated because he spoke out against the hiring of Caswell Investigations for "selective administrative investigations" into possible criminal activities.
Lovato says in the lawsuit that when he complained to his supervisors and legal counsel that the investigations were improper, he was told not to put it in writing.
Lovato, whose contract ran out Saturday, had been on paid leave since January.
Lovato filed the complaint against APS, all seven school board members and Superintendent Elizabeth Everitt alleging his rights to due process and free speech were violated. The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Also named as a defendant is APS police officer David West, who is alleged to have made defamatory statements, including that Lovato "made weekly visits to a motel while on duty."
Everitt, in a statement Tuesday, denied the allegations.
"If there's any truth to these allegations, why were they not brought up prior to Mr. Lovato's contract with the district ending last week?" Everitt asked. "Finally, I must emphasize that the district will not settle. We will not continue to be bullied by Mr. Lovato or his attorney."
Lovato, a former Albuquerque police captain, was chief of school police for 17 years.
Everitt opted not to renew his contract after an internal investigation and audit found that APS police resources and property had been mismanaged.
Lovato's attorney, Sam Bregman, said APS' placement of cameras in employees' offices is "at its most basic, spying and invasion of privacy."
"They had a teacher they thought was downloading music illegally, so instead of just checking her computer they put video in her office 24/7," Bregman said. "We have other instances where cameras were used to spy on janitors. These aren't for security; they're to catch people doing something."
District spokesman Rigo Chavez confirmed that videotaping employees is practiced in investigations of employee misconduct, but he could not specify how often this occurred. But he denied that employees' rights were violated.
Bregman said that in the course of the lawsuit he would be demanding copies of Caswell's billing records.
"We believe the total amount of money they're spending on secret police is a lot six figures, if not more. I understand they've done 45 private investigations of different individuals at APS," he said.
He said his client complained on numerous occasions to administrators that they should not be using a private firm for secret investigations because they lack police enforcement powers.
Bregman said that although criminal investigations were left unchecked, his client's name was smeared.