County pays $500K to settle lawsuit

Lawsuit against San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen, the Sheriff's Office and others claimed retaliation

Dan Schwartz

FARMINGTON — Former San Juan County Sheriff’s Office employees who filed a lawsuit more than a year ago against Sheriff Ken Christesen and others alleging retaliation have settled for $500,000, according to court documents.

County Attorney Doug Echols said the county paid $25,000 in defense costs, but insurance covered the rest of the settlement for plaintiffs Lisa Haws, Matt Wilcox, and Beth and Shane Utley

“One hundred percent covered by insurance,” Echols said.

The four plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in April 2014 against Christesen, Sheriff’s Office Capt. Brice Current, then-Undersheriff Ron Anderson, the Sheriff’s Office, the county and its commissioners.

The complaint claimed unjust demotions, workplace harassment and demands to support Christesen’s 2014 re-election campaign. Documents filed in response deny the claims.

The plaintiffs’ attorney filed court documents Tuesday to dismiss and settle the case.

According to the documents, Wilcox and Haws each will receive $140,000 from the total settlement, Beth Utley will be paid $170,000 and Shane Utley will get $50,000. The plaintiffs were represented by Albuquerque attorney Michael Mozes.

In August, a New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy hearing officer determined Shane Utley lied about allegedly trading department-issued ammunition for an off-road motorcycle and allegedly cutting down two separate shotgun barrels to make a sawed-off shotgun for use on the SWAT team. According to court documents, the sheriff’s office investigated the former captain on the charges.

Those accusations are “bogus” and “nothing more than retaliation,” according to court documents filed by the plaintiffs’ attorney.

Numerous telephone calls placed Wednesday seeking comment from attorneys representing both parties were unsuccessful. Efforts to reach Christesen and Shane Utley also were unsuccessful.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.