BELEN—The city of Belen will pay a former Belen police chief nearly $200,000 after settling a lawsuit he filed in December.
According to the settlement agreement, which was signed on April 16, the city will pay Victor Rodriguez the total sum of $187,500, and he will not be considered to be the “prevailing party.” The city, according to the agreement, does not admit any wrongdoing, and the settlement is a “compromised agreement” to avoid expense of further litigation.”
While the city is settling with the former police chief, he will only receive $89,320 for non-economic damages, $29,773 for earnings constituting any back and front pay, and $68,405 for attorney’s fees, all which has to be reported to the IRS.
The lawsuit, which was filed on Dec. 9 in the 13th Judicial District Court in Los Lunas by Rodriguez, claimed he was retaliated against for reporting violations of use of excessive force by Belen police officers.
Rodriguez claimed there were “many acts of retaliation” inflicted on him, including a “groundless investigation and humiliating leave of absence imposed by the City of Belen.” When the investigation was complete, the chief was cleared of any wrongdoing.
The former chief, who was not reappointed to the position in January, said he refused Mayor Jerah Cordova’s directive to “look the other way,” and reported two separate incidents of excessive force allegedly committed by BPD officers. He claimed city officials continued to “smear” the chief, and wanted him to resign.
Rodriguez alleged officers within the department were not in favor of his appointment, “as he was considered an outsider,” and many wanted someone inside the department to be appointed as chief of police.
After reporting several alleged use of force incidents to city leaders, the chief met with the former city manager and the mayor in late June 2019, when he was told complaints had been filed against him by various officers. He claims the former city manager, Leona Vigil, gave him the option of resigning. He refused, and Rodriguez was then placed on leave pending an investigation.
Rodriguez claims it was the mayor’s idea to place him on leave, and alleged Cordova was retaliating against him for not looking the other way.
Cordova said he couldn’t speak specifically about the settlement agreement or Rodriguez.
“Since I wasn’t really involved in the settle(ment) process and it was mostly handled by our insurance company, I don’t feel comfortable commenting,” Cordova said. “I’m glad we can move on.”
In addition to the monetary settlement, the city provided Rodriguez with a letter of reference, and the summary results of the investigation.
Another term of the settlement is that the city and Rodriguez agree not to disparage one another in any way — orally, in writing or on social media. While the city agrees to enforcement of its social media policy, the former chief “understands that this obligation does not extends to former employees over which Belen has no control.”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.