BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County has responded to a motion by a former Los Alamos Police officer to add a violation of the New Mexico Whistleblower’s Act to a law suit she filed last July against the County Council and LAPD.
Monica Salazar-Casias was an 11-year veteran of LAPD prior to her termination in April 2018 and had risen to the rank of sergeant.
Salazar-Casias filed a complaint with the state Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 2018 alleging discrimination based on sex. According to documents filed in the First Judicial District Court, she complained that she was subjected to different terms and conditions and disciplined by LAPD for providing test answers to another officer when a male officer had done the same thing had not been disciplined. She also alleged that she was terminated for releasing confidential information to media while another male LAPD employee did the same thing but was not terminated.
In July 2018, Salazar-Casias filed suit against the County and LAPD. See story https://losalamosreporter.com/2018/10/31/scheduling-conference-set-in-sex-discrimination-suit-against-county-lapd/.
In October 2018, a three-day arbitration proceeding was held with sworn testimony pursuant to the International Union of Police Association, Local 14 collective bargaining agreement with the County. The specific question to be addressed by the arbitrator was whether Salazar-Casias was terminated for cause and if not, what the remedy would be. The arbitrator released his decision Feb. 5 and found in favor of the County and LAPD.
Details of the arbitrator’s findings included in the County’s response are comprehensive. He states that Salazar-Casias admitted she used a fake email address to send confidential information to the press and the Office of the Attorney General, that she knew the information was confidential and not accurate and that the information also falsely implicated a juvenile in the commission of a crime.
The arbitrator’s report says Salazar-Casias argued in arbitration that she was terminated for “exposing corruption in the highest ranks of the Los Alamos Police Department” and asked that the arbitrator find no just cause for her termination.
The arbitrator found that there was just cause for the termination.
“Release of confidential information pertaining to an active criminal investigation and release of confidential information she knew was inaccurate fell squarely within the scope of misconduct that warrants termination,” the report states. The arbitrator also found that “there is no pervasive evidence that any other officers or supervisors committed a comparably serious offence and received less discipline” than Salazar-Casias did.
The original counts in the District Court case were violation of the New Mexico Human Rights Act and violation of the Peace Officers Employer-Employee Relations Act. After being unsuccessful in the arbitration proceeding, Salazar-Casias is now seeking to add a violation of the Whistleblower Act to the District Court case alleging that she was exposing fraud in her department by communicating confidential information to the media. The County’s response states that the arbitrator’s decision clearly says Salazar-Casias was terminated for just cause and found no retaliatory motives for termination.
The County also maintains that collateral estoppal bars Salazar-Casias from re-litigating the issue so the Court should not allow the complaint to be amended.
Court documents indicate that when LAPD administration found out that an unknown person, likely a police officer had revealed details of an ongoing investigation, an independent outside investigation was initiated. The outside investigator found that Salazar-Casias’s conduct “compromised and irreparably damaged her ability to be a law enforcement officer for LAPD” and that her “untruthfulness and dishonesty would damage her credibility in any criminal investigation or trial”.
The arbitrator’s report indicates that the union argued that the investigation was defective, anything but objective and tainted by a supervisor’s bias. The union also argued that prior to the termination the County undertook a year-long campaign of petty discipline designed to paint Salazar-Casias as a troublesome employee. The report says the union’s view is that LAPD command staff and the County Manager “merely disagreed with her characterization of an investigation that she considered to be suspect and corrupt”. The union also maintained Salazar-Casias had been frustrated in trying to combat “perceived abuses of command staff” and had complained to Human Resources, the County Council, the County Manager and the Chief of Police.
Documents filed by Salazar-Casias in the District Court case allege that LAPD reported her law enforcement certification for review with the New Mexico Department of Public Safety whereas such a request was not made when a supervisor pleaded guilty to criminal charges in District Court. The arbitrator’s report indicates that the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board “substantiated” Salazar-Casias’s conduct. The arbitrator said the union maintained the County distorted the significance of the stipulated order between Salazar-Casias and the board that “suspended her law enforcement certification for six months”.
The arbitrator noted that the record contains “troubling evidence of animos” towards Salazar-Casias by some LAPD supervisors and said this may have contributed to her frustration but did not justify her release of confidential information she knew to be false”.
The arbitrator determined that despite having the correct facts immediately in front of her regarding the active investigation of a robbery, Salazar-Casias incorrectly identified a juvenile as being a suspect. He determined that even though she had “an outstanding record of police work for 11 years, her record does not mitigate her serious misconduct and breach of trust”.
No date has yet been set for a hearing on the motion.