Santa Fe Co pays more than $630,000 to end suits

November 28, 2011 • State News

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Santa Fe County has paid [auth] more than $630,000 to settle five lawsuits filed by former workers at its juvenile detention center.

The suits filed between 2004 and 2007 alleged problems ranging from sexual harassment to retaliation. Two more suits are pending, and one may be settled for $200,000.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports ( ) that the cases stem from when the detention center was run by a private firm. The county says it has cleaned up the mess.

The county retook control of the facility in 2004.

The county settled the suits without admitting wrongdoing.

The county’s bottom line isn’t affected by the payouts because of insurance policies, but County Attorney Stephen Ross said deductibles in the cases have cost the county about $60,000.

What’s more important, Ross says, is that a “boys club” that was running the show has been broken up.

“We inherited a culture from the private company that had been running the facility. We took over all the employees when we inherited the youth facility, and I think we took over all their problems — a lot of things that they couldn’t get a handle on that may have been tolerable in private industry but are completely intolerable in government,” Ross said.

The county has trained supervisors about issues like sexual harassment and risk mitigation, he said. In addition, a new management structure in the Corrections Department is “more vertical” than it was at the time.

“So, it would be harder and harder to have a little boys club like we had at the juvenile,” Ross said. “It would be harder for that to exist without somebody knowing about it now. I hate to say that it could never happen again, but I think it would be detected more quickly.”

County officials revealed the problems in 2006 when they announced the firings of several supervisors and other workers at the facility. The firings came after women who worked there made repeated claims that supervisors were misbehaving, including that they were looking at Internet porn in the offices, exchanging lewd emails and having sex at work.

Others said supervisors made unwanted sexual advances and touched them inappropriately. When they complained, the lower-level workers were forced out of their jobs, several alleged, including former employee Andrew Martinez.

Martinez, the only male to receive a payout from the county’s insurance policy over the ordeal, received the most money. His settlement was for $325,000.

The Board of County Commissioners discussed the proposed settlement for Stephanie Oshel behind closed doors on Nov. 9 and are scheduled to take it up again as soon as next month. She has claimed that her termination in 2009 was retaliation. She is in line to receive $200,000 after final approval of her settlement.

In recent years, the character of the county’s juvenile detention program has shifted. Instead of functioning as a three-tiered system with housing for federal detainees, local youth and those in residential treatment, the facility now just serves local youth in short-term detention. Kristine Mihelcic, county spokeswoman, said this week it averages about 30 residents.

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