AZTEC — A jury on Friday ordered the city of Farmington, its police department and former Farmington Police Chief Kyle Westall to pay $204,000 to a former detective of the department for claims of retaliation.
"They realize something needs to be done, something needs to be fixed," said the plaintiff, Frank Dart, who hugged his mother and cried into her shoulder after the jury announced its decision.
Eleven of the 12 jurors reached the decision in Dart's favor. The verdict allows others to now step forward when they see something wrong in the police department, said Dart's Albuquerque-based attorney, Shannon Kennedy.
In February 2012, Dart filed a complaint under the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act, claiming he was retaliated against while working for Farmington's police department. He retired early in December 2013.
The defendants' attorney, Virginia Anderman, also from Albuquerque, said she will review her clients' options.
"We think that the city still has a good defense to this case," she said, adding there were procedural errors as the jury deliberated.
In court documents, Dart details at least five claims of retaliation. In his complaint, Dart alleges the police department deprived him of the means to develop a full-time cyber crimes against children taskforce, arrested a man without probable cause, violated an agreement with the FBI and failed to devote enough resources to protect children.
When Dart addressed many of these issues, the complaint states, the police department pulled him off an FBI task force and denied him what he needed to do his job, including time, a dependable vehicle and access to a computer lab.
In 2002, Dart began investigating crimes against children as a detective with Farmington police. He was exclusively responsible for all child abuse cases and local referrals from the state's Children, Youth and Families Department, according to the complaint. In 2003, he began investigating cyber crimes against children.
Dart asked for more resources numerous times between 2001 and 2010 but wasn't given any until a few years after that, preventing him from investigating many CYFD reports and documenting many of the department's referrals, according to the complaint.
Despite that, Dart still got "excellent" reviews on his annual evaluations and participated in high-profile arrests, his complaint states.
In January 2011, Dart learned of details that led to the arrest of Robert Messenger, who was arrested on suspicion of trying to solicit sex from a 10-year-old girl. In his complaint, Dart notes he knew the case lacked probable cause. A response filed by the defendants denies this.
Dart wrote a memo to then-Chief Westall in January 2011, sharing his concerns about the arrest. He wrote another memo to Westall five days later, more clearly explaining his worries.
Westall responded only once, refusing to speak with the San Juan County District Attorney's Office about collecting more evidence, according to the complaint. The response also denies this.
Messenger pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, and because he was already in jail awaiting trial, he was released to six months of unsupervised probation, according to the complaint.
Dart says in his complaint that after his memos, the department became hostile against him.
Almost a year earlier, the police department entered an agreement with the FBI to open a taskforce investigation cyber crimes against children in the Farmington area, and Dart and another detective were selected to join it, according to the complaint. The position was full-time, demanding Dart work a minimum of three days a week.
In January 2011, Dart told Farmington police officials he could not continue to investigate CYFD claims and the taskforce's cyber crimes, according to the complaint.
About two months later, Sgt. Robert Perez assigned Dart numerous CYFD investigations, according to the complaint. Days later, Perez told Dart he was being removed from the taskforce, according to the complaint. In September of that year, Dart's work evaluation rated his abilities much lower than in past years, according to the complaint.
About five months earlier, after Dart was ordered to return an FBI truck he had used at the taskforce, he was told he could not park his personal vehicle in the detective parking lot, although other officers could, according to the complaint.
Weeks later, Perez took away Dart's forensic computer lab key, "finalizing his removal from any child abuse cyber-crime investigations," according to the complaint. A month later, Dart was directed to return to the patrol division without any known replacement, according to the complaint.