Lawsuit against San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen amended

Dan Schwartz The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Four former employees who are suing San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen for alleged unjust demotions, work-place harassment and demands to support his re-election campaign last year have amended their complaint to include more claims of retaliation.

The amended complaint states that Christesen accused then-Capt. Shane Utley of embezzling ammunition, which was a "bogus" charge and "nothing more than retaliation" for filing the lawsuit months earlier in April 2014.

Christesen said he cannot comment on the lawsuit and expressed frustration.

"All they're trying to do is put bad light on a good organization and good people," he said.

A response to the complaint filed by attorneys representing Christesen and other defendants denies all charges of retaliation. Capt. Brice Current, Undersheriff Ron Anderson, the sheriff's office, the county and its board of commissioners are also defendants.

Lisa Haws, Matt Wilcox, Utley and his wife, Beth Utley, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Haws was a lieutenant in the office until she quit. Wilcox was a sergeant in the office when he quit. Beth Utley was the office's public information officer and quit on the same day as her husband in August 2014.

Shane Utley and his Albuquerque attorney, Michael Mozes, declined to comment.

Efforts on Wednesday to reach the defendants' attorneys were unsuccessful.

According to the complaint amended on Friday, Utley learned in July 2014 that Christesen suspected he'd embezzled ammunition, the same day the sheriff's office opened an internal affairs investigation of him.

The sheriff's office then placed Shane Utley on administrative leave while it conducted the investigation, and Anderson, the undersheriff, told him to start his retirement paperwork, according to the complaint. Shane Utley considered that a threat, the complaint states.

During the investigation, Christesen, Current and Anderson "dug up a stale claim" that Shane Utley had illegally modified a shotgun he'd used for years in the sheriff's office, according to the complaint.

Shane Utley began to have panic attacks, lose sleep and feel hopeless, according to the complaint. He started seeing a doctor for his medical problems, the complaint states.

Then he retired. Days later, in a meeting with all the office's employees Christesen said Shane Utley had stolen "'thousands of rounds of ammo,'" according to the complaint.

The New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy is currently investigating the embezzlement claims, and could revoke Utley's law enforcement certification if it finds them credible.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.