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City of Farmington settles former detective's lawsuit

Steve Garrison
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The City of Farmington and several city officials have agreed to pay $290,000 to settle an employment discrimination lawsuit brought by former Farmington Police Department detective Sgt. Robert Perez.

The settlement was revealed in a statement released Monday by Jeremy Harrison, one of two attorneys who represented the city and its employees. Harrison further said in the statement that the city decided to settle the lawsuit to end the risks and costs of litigation, but the parties deny fault.

City Attorney Jay Burnham said the settlement agreement barred the parties involved in the lawsuit from saying anything beyond what is included in the statement.

Perez's attorney, Rachel Berenson, did not respond to a request for comment.

The settlement brings to an end the three-year-old lawsuit, first filed in district court in 2011 and later moved to federal court.

Perez claimed in the lawsuit that he was retaliated against by City Manager Rob Mayes and former police chiefs James Runnels and Kyle Westall after he provided a deposition in a former sergeants' age discrimination lawsuit.

He said the retaliation continued after he filed a discrimination complaint against the city.

He also accused police officials of hampering his investigation into the death of Tamara Gallegos in 2010 and the embezzlement of more than $500,000 from the Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2012.

Gallegos died in March 2010, days after she volunteered to drink alcohol as part of a training exercise organized by the Farmington Police Department. Her death was investigated, but ultimately ruled a suicide.

Perez said in his lawsuit that police officials tasked with conducting an internal investigation into Gallegos' death improperly interviewed witnesses and withheld documents from him.

Runnels told The Daily Times in September 2010 that Perez's investigation into Gallegos' death was "piss-poor and ineffective," "mishandled" and that Perez was not doing his job, statements that Perez said were defamatory.

Debbie Dusenbery was accused in January 2012 of embezzling more than $500,000 from the Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau while she served as the bureau's executive director. She committed suicide shortly after the investigation began.

Perez claimed in his lawsuit that Mayes publicly disclosed Dusenbery's death during a city meeting, despite his request that Mayes not disclose the death until the body was positively identified.

Perez then received a written reprimand after referring press inquiries regarding the death to Mayes.

Perez was fired in February 2013 by the Farmington Police Department.

The city has maintained that Perez was fired for violating multiple department policies and reprimanded appropriately prior to his firing.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and stgarrison@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.