4.17.2024 Press Release: Whistleblowers Protection Lawsuit by APD Academy Officers Accuses APD Command Staff of Nepotism and Retaliation

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Seven members of the APD Academy training staff – Steve Martinez, Tillery Stahr, Lisa Neil, Shane Treadaway, Alix Emrich, James Jacoby, and Kelsey Lueckenhoff – have filed a lawsuit in
the Second Judicial District Court, alleging violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act in the form of retaliation motivated by nepotism.

The lawsuit originates from a series of events at the APD Academy in August 2023, when the seven plaintiffs reported a “Class One Violation” of “Lying/Dishonesty” by a cadet named Joshua
Vega – the son of APD Commander George Vega. Plaintiffs’ allegations were investigated and substantiated by APD internal affairs investigators, and Academy Commander Joe Viers subsequently made the decision to terminate Cadet Vega from the Academy on August 17, 2023.

The decision to terminate Cadet Vega was abruptly reversed on August 18, 2023, following unusual intervention from APD Deputy Chief Michael Smathers. The lawsuit alleges that this reversal was set in motion following a call between Commander Viers and Commander Vega on the evening of August 17, 2023. On August 18, 2023, Cadet Vega was reinstated to the Academy, and the plaintiffs were removed without explanation from their tested positions at the Academy.

“Our clients’ logical deduction is that Commander Viers was pressured by the APD chain of command to reverse his disciplinary decision,” said Levi Monagle, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “They cannot think of another terminated cadet receiving direct intervention from a Deputy Chief, but they also cannot think of another instance where a terminated cadet was the son of an APD Commander.”

Following their removal from the Academy, the plaintiffs sent a letter to APD Chief of Police Harold Medina on August 24, 2024. The letter (which is attached as an exhibit to the lawsuit) detailed the plaintiffs’ serious concerns with the special treatment of Cadet Vega, and expressed additional concerns that the lack of an experienced staff would compromise the training of an entire cadet class.

“The August 24 letter characterizes the handling of Cadet Vega’s misconduct as an ‘abuse of authority,” Monagle said. “Our clients did their jobs. They reported misconduct by the son of an APD commander, and they were punished for it. These sorts of situations severely erode the confidence of rank-and-file law enforcement in their chain of command, and deserve special scrutiny and criticism.”

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs received no response to their letter to Chief Medina – but were subsequently subjected to a lengthy third-party investigation for “hazing.” The lawsuit alleges that no evidence of “hazing” was discovered through this investigation, but notes that the findings of the investigation have been withheld by the City of Albuquerque.

“The City should release its investigative report to the public,” said Monagle. “Our clients have nothing to hide – the concern is that APD has something to hide, and the release of the report would quell those concerns.”

View the official complaint here.

For further context or comment, please contact:

Levi A. Monagle – 505.255.6300 or [email protected]

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