Police chief draws union support over officers’ complaint

n a twist on typical workplace relationships, the president of the Santa Fe police union on Tuesday publicly defended Chief Eric Garcia against allegations by some lieutenants that Garcia has allowed unethical and criminal behavior at the department.

The union president, Sgt. Matt Martinez, described the allegations by lieutenants as “workplace bullying” and said they have to be stopped because “we finally have a chief that’s doing good for this community.”

Martinez made his comments at City Hall, during a meeting of the city Public Safety Committee.

“It’s midlevel management that continue to disrupt the public safety of this community,” Martinez told the committee.

He accused this group of lieutenants of having a long history of attacking police chiefs.

“It started with Chief Eric Johnson [who retired in 2009] when he was there, continued with Chief Aric Wheeler, continued with Chief [Ray] Rael. These are the same people that are now in midlevel management positions that were trying to disrupt those chiefs as well.”

The lieutenants last week signed an 11-page memo criticizing Garcia and sent it to City Manager Brian Snyder. The memo says Garcia and the leaders of the Santa Fe police union have created an environment that has disrupted police operations and jeopardized the safety of the community.

The lieutenants’ criticism of Garcia escalated after the chief rehired someone of their own rank, Lt. Jason Wagner. Wagner is scheduled to stand trial on four felony charges that he falsified his time card.

During the committee meeting, Martinez described the complaining lieutenants as malcontents and said the majority of police officers support the changes Garcia has made since he became chief in June 2014.

City Councilor Bill Dimas, the committee’s chairman, grilled the union president about comments he made to the Albuquerque Journal last week. The newspaper quoted Martinez in a story about the memo.

Reading from the Journal, Dimas told Martinez he took issue with one statement: “There are several lieutenants and above that campaigned for certain candidates during the mayoral campaign [of 2014]. When those candidates didn’t get elected, they took a grudge with Mayor [Javier] Gonzales and Chief Garcia.”

Dimas, who ran for mayor in 2014, told Martinez he took those comments personally.

“Just to be clear, I never promised anything to anyone,” Dimas told Martinez. “I never promised anybody any jobs or anything else.”

Martinez said the Journal took the quote out of context. He said his comments were not directed at Dimas but at officers who were not happy about Gonzales winning the mayoral election.

Dimas told Martinez to be careful with what he says publicly.

“Yes, councilor,” Martinez responded.

Garcia, who was at the meeting, said he couldn’t comment because the issue is a personnel matter that can’t be discussed publicly.

Since Garcia became chief, Wagner is not the only police officer who been the target of allegations of wrongdoing.

More recently, a detective, who is also the union’s vice president, has come under investigation by New Mexico State Police. A confidential source said Sgt. Charles Lujan allegedly threatened a state witness against Wagner in his criminal case.