A former Santa Fe Police Department (SFPD) field lieutenant has filed a lawsuit alleging that the city of Santa Fe and the mayor engaged in whistleblower retaliation.
Michele Williams worked for the SFPD from 2001 until 2019: in 2018, the complaint alleges that Williams “submitted a complaint regarding Robert Vasquez, a SFPD Deputy Chief of Police.” According to the lawsuit, Williams’ 2018 “complaint against Mr. Vasquez alleged improper, if not unlawful, acts of misconduct” including “claiming time worked when he was not at work” and “failing to submit leave requests whereby he was paid regular time as if he was at work.” She also conveyed these concerns to the City of Santa Fe’s city manager.
Vasquez filed a discrimination charge against Williams in July of 2019 alleging that Williams had discriminated against him, but the charge did not result in any findings, according to the lawsuit. Vasquez retired in August of 2019, and in the same month, “SFPD issued to Ms. Williams a determination concerning her previously filed complaint and did not sustain any of her allegations,” according to the complaint.
Along with the decision that there were no findings against Vasquez, SFPD “transferred Ms. Williams from her position as a field lieutenant to an administrative position” without giving any specific reasoning, the complaint claims. The new administrative position removed Williams from the SFPD roster and was accompanied by “a variety of financial losses including a five-percent (5%) shift differential in additional pay and the loss of over-time activities,” according to the complaint. The new position also shifted Williams’ responsibilities, “as she no longer supervised any persons and was no longer engaged in active law enforcement activities.” The complaint alleges that this kind of transfer is “unusual and reserved for the most serious allegations of misconduct against SFPD personnel.”
In her new administrative position, Williams was charged to oversee a program by an organization called New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence where citizens would exchange guns for gift cards/vouchers. Williams and an event organizer noted that after the event, “there were at least two (2) firearms missing from SFPD evidence unit,” After discrepancies regarding the missing firearms allegedly continued, Williams conducted a review of the event and in November of 2019, she “submitted a memo to SFPD Deputy Chief of Police Ben Valdez concerning the SFPD evidence unit discrepancies” in relation to the program. A day after she submitted her memo, the complaint alleged that she was “issued another target letter informing her that she was the target of yet another internal affairs investigation.”
The lawsuit counts this second letter as the second act of whistleblower retaliation and alleged that the city of Santa Fe “subjected Ms. Williams to emotional distress, economic harm, and loss, including but not limited to past and future wages and benefits, attorney fees and costs, for which she now sues under the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act.”
Williams told the Santa Fe Reporter in a December 21 article that “she does not know whether she was targeted for personal reasons or simply because she raised an alarm.” Williams told the Reporter: “I don’t know if it was because of me or something that I did or whether it was just their adverse to criticism.” She continued, “It’s part of a larger cultural issue in law enforcement in Santa Fe and in New Mexico…and nationally, that law enforcement is not open to cultural readjusting of the ways in which they are deficient.”
The Santa Fe city spokesman Dave Herndon told the Reporter that “the city typically declines to answer questions about pending litigation and noted the city attorney’s office had not been served with the filings as of Monday afternoon.” Williams “has requested a jury trial” and has already had a few victories in this case. In May, “state District Judge Bryan Biedscheid ruled that Santa Fe officials had violated the state Inspection of Public Records Act by withholding records Williams sough related to rape cases,” according to the article. That case is still pending, “along with a second records case in which Williams is seeking documents about complaints made to the department,” the article states.