December 12, 2018

Labor union: Jail firings were unjustified, retaliation

Joe Gratz


Three Bernalillo County detention officers, one former officer and a local public sector labor union filed suit against the county, half a dozen jail supervisors, the Bernalillo County Sheriff and two other county law enforcement officers.  

The suit alleges top officials at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) along with the county Sheriff’s office and upper county administrators actively prevented union members from associating with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), New Mexico Council 18, Local 2499.

According to the lawsuit, in 2015 county officials were “caught red-handed” trying to “engage in an actual conspiracy” to hire staff who would work against union leaders. Then, the lawsuit says, county jail leaders continued to retaliate against vocal union leaders like Eric Allen, a corrections officer who was fired from MDC for two instances of use of force, and Stephen Perkins, an MDC corrections officer who is currently on administrative leave and is currently facing false imprisonment charges.

Both Allen and Perkins were already in the news this year. Allen was cleared by a jury of a battery charge in September. Prosecutors accused Allen of using excessive force against an inmate. Perkins is currently facing criminal charges of falsifying an inmate’s booking records and keeping that inmate locked up beyond the time specified by a judge. But, the lawsuit claims the “absurd” charges against Perkins were in retaliation. According the lawsuit, Perkins followed protocol by reentering the inmate’s booking information into the jail’s computer system.

The lawsuit claims that in January, an inmate who was scheduled to be released from MDC and transported downtown said he was injured by another MDC officer in the process. So, the lawsuit claims, Perkins kept the inmate detained until another transport vehicle could take him downtown.

Further, the lawsuit claims the disciplinary actions against Allen and Perkins, along with current corrections officer Patrick Garcia and former MDC corrections officer Alexa Cavis, were an attempt at thwarting union leaders who were also vocal critics of jail management. Allen is the vice president of AFSCME Local 2499 and Perkins is president.

The new lawsuit also claims MDC leadership disciplined Garcia and Cavis for years-old use of force incidents after siding with the union over jail management. Garcia received his first verbal reprimand in 18 years as a corrections officer and Cavis was terminated, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that county officials violated the First Amendment by hindering the plaintiffs’ right to free speech and that they violated the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act by retaliating against employees who spoke out against management.

A Bernalillo County spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit.