Police chief settles whistle-blower lawsuit
Los Alamos County agrees to pay $2 million in settlement
FARMINGTON – Bloomfield police Chief Randy Foster and two other former Los Alamos County police officers have reached a $2 million settlement with Los Alamos County to dismiss a whistle-blower lawsuit.
Foster was terminated from the Los Alamos County Police Department in May 2013 after the county paid $600,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by former police Cpl. Brian Schamber.
Schamber claimed in his lawsuit he was involuntarily and maliciously committed to a state mental hospital for 10 days in December 2012 by his superiors, including Foster, then the department's acting police chief.
Foster and two fellow officers, Scott Mills and Paige Early, filed their lawsuit against Los Alamos County two years ago, alleging officials at the Los Alamos County Police Department ignored warnings about Schamber's alleged mental instability for years, jeopardizing Schamber's fellow officers and the community at large.
The officers claimed the county broke its employment contract with them and violated the state's whistle-blower protection laws and the New Mexico Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.
Foster and his fellow officers dismissed their lawsuit Monday, according to court records, but the parties reached the settlement agreement on Feb. 4.
Los Alamos County officials declined to be interviewed about the settlement, but said in a statement the $2 million would be paid by the New Mexico Self-Insurer's Fund, an insurance pool of New Mexico municipalities and other political subdivisions maintained by the New Mexico Municipal League.
"This settlement specifically stated that there were no findings of fault nor admissions of liability by either party, but that the agreement was based solely on the consideration of the economic costs of proceeding with the case," county officials said in the statement.
Foster said Wednesday he felt vindicated.
"I know the dollar amount seems like a lot, but nothing in this was ever about money," he said. "It was about doing the right thing and taking care of what needed to be taken care of."
Foster said Los Alamos County rescinded his termination, expunged the disciplinary records of him and his fellow officers, and offered to rehire them at their former positions as part of the settlement.
"That is as important — to show that what we did was right, and we stood up for what was right when it was important," Foster said.
Foster said he will continue to serve as Bloomfield's police chief. He thanked the city and its mayor, Scott Eckstein, for hiring him in June 2014 despite the controversy.
"I know they took some grief when I was hired because of what was out there," he said.
Early and Mills could not be reached for comment, but Mills echoed Foster's statements in a press release.
"After taking the necessary steps to protect the children and citizens of our community, we were persecuted, harassed and run out of town by a deceitful and self-serving County Administration," Mills said in a statement.
Foster claimed in the lawsuit he was initially praised by his superiors for committing Schamber on Dec. 21, 2012, after Schamber told his partner, Early, that it would be "cool to know how it feels to run over a pedestrian."
Schamber's alleged statement was made a week after the shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that caused the deaths of 27 people, mostly children.
Early said Schamber began to exhibit bizarre and threatening behavior in the summer of 2011, at various times threatening to shoot civilians and ram his patrol car into pedestrians and other vehicles.
Early said she told police officials about her concerns regarding Schamber, but she was ignored until she spoke to Foster on Dec. 21, 2012. Foster was promoted to acting chief in June 2012 after the former chief suffered a stroke.
Schamber admitted in his lawsuit against Los Alamos County that he suffered from bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but denied he was a threat to the community.
Foster confirmed Mills is now employed as a sergeant with the Ouray Police Department in Ouray, Colo. Early is now employed as an investigator by the state of Alaska, according to the press release.
The plaintiffs were represented by the Hemphill Firm of Santa Fe.
Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.