FARMINGTON —Four out of five deputies who recently applied to work at the Farmington Police Department said retaliation they experienced or witnessed at San Juan County's Sheriff's Office is one of the reasons they want to leave.
Those four deputies told The Daily Times about their experiences in interviews. The Daily Times is not releasing their names as the police department is still processing the applications, and the sheriff's office may be unaware they have applied.
Sheriff Ken Christesen did not return a call placed on Wednesday to his cell phone, but he responded in text message, "I wish them well in their new careers."
Efforts to reach Undersheriff Ron Anderson were unsuccessful. Capt. Brice Current decline to comment.
Christesen, Anderson and Current have been accused in a federal complaint filed in April of unjust demotions, work-place harassment and demands to support Christesen's re-election campaign. The complaint details several personal experiences the plaintiffs described as "retaliation."
The plaintiffs are Capt. Shane Utley, Public Information Officer Beth Utley, Lt. Lisa Haws and Sgt. Matt Wilcox, all employees of the sheriff's office.
Sheriff's office attorneys filed a response late last month denying all charges of retaliation.
"People have opinions about what's going on," Farmington Police Department Lt. Taft Tracy said, "but I think we need to take this with a grain of salt."
Sometimes, he said, officers just want a change.
"During the interview process, we really didn't get any real negative comments about the sheriff's office," said Farmington Police Department Cpl. Nate Lacey, who interviewed the deputies. "Most of them were pretty disappointed to be leaving the organization."
He said the county's wage freezes were also reasons the deputies gave for wanting to leave the sheriff's office. They told him they think the Farmington Police Department is "moving forward" with its newly hired police chief, Steve Hebbe, Lacey said. And they told him they disagree with the "direction" of the sheriff's office current administration, he said.
Officers apply from Aztec's and Bloomfield's police departments to work for Farmington's, but often they apply in groups of two or three, Tracy said, not five.
Part of the reason so many applicants are applying now from the sheriff's office is because of the recent election, he said, declining to elaborate.
The Farmington Police Department has recently increased its efforts to recruit new officers, he said. And officers transferring from other in-state law enforcement agencies are given a $15,000 sign-on bonus, he said.
Lacey said Farmington Police Department has 117 sworn officers now, which includes three who will graduate from the police academy in August. But the department is authorized to hire 131 officers, he said.
The Farmington Police Department isn't focusing its recruiting efforts on the sheriff's office, he said. The department is recruiting just as hard from the other two police departments in the county, as well as from the state and nation, he said.
"We need people, and we want good applicants," he said.