NM cops claim mistreatment over whistle-blowing, file suit
Officers claim they were retaliated against after reporting concerns over a fellow officer's mental health
By Staci Matlock
The Santa Fe New Mexican
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — Two former Los Alamos County police officers and one current officer filed a whistle-blower lawsuit Wednesday in District Court claiming they were retaliated against after reporting concerns over a fellow officer's mental health.
Brian K. Schamber was sent involuntarily to a mental health facility for 10 days in 2012 after then commanders Scott Mills and Randy Foster and Detective Paige Early expressed concern that he was homicidal and suicidal, according to the lawsuit.
Schamber sued the county in 2013 after he was released and returned to duty, claiming he was wrongfully held at the state mental health hospital in Las Vegas, N.M. The county settled with him in December for $600,000 on the condition he resign from the department.
Wednesday's whistle-blower lawsuit claims that after the incident with Schamber, Foster was fired, Mills felt forced to resign, and Early, who is still with the department, has been harassed at work.
The lawsuit claims Early was "injured and systematically discriminated against" because the county administrator, Harry Burgess, and former chief of police Wayne Torpy failed to address her earlier concerns about Schamber.
County officials issued a statement Wednesday evening saying they had yet to see the lawsuit and would not comment on it.
Foster, who served 14 years with the department, was a commander when he was fired on May 29, 2013.
Mills had been with the Los Alamos County Police Department for 13 years and was a commander when he was "constructively discharged" in September. Early has been a detective for six years with the department. She also has filed a discrimination complaint with the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.
Schamber was hired by the department in 2010 and diagnosed with bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorders in 2012. Neither disorder would prevent Schamber from serving as an officer, but he would be prevented under federal law from carrying a firearm if he was committed to a mental health facility.
Wednesday's lawsuit dates to 2011, when Schamber and Early were assigned to work together as investigators. Schamber allegedly told Early he suffered from anger-management problems and sometimes wanted to "physically harm others." Early said that Schamber several times demonstrated road rage, talked about shooting people and about hurting himself.
When Schamber's behavior became increasingly erratic, she said she told then police chief Torpy that she was worried her partner was both homicidal and suicidal. The lawsuit claims Torpy did nothing to intervene or investigate Early's concerns.
In June 2012, Schamber allegedly told Early he was going to kill himself. On Early's urging, Schamber turned in his gun, and Torpy placed him on administrative leave for 90 days, according to the lawsuit.
Two doctors cleared him to return to work in early October 2012.
Schamber later told Early he had stopped taking the lithium medication prescribed for his bipolar disorder and talked about wanting to run over a pedestrian, according to the lawsuit. He told Early he would stop bringing his gun to work.
Early became increasingly concerned because Schamber lived on the grounds of an elementary school, according to the lawsuit.
Foster was made acting police chief after Torpy suffered a stroke. Mills was deputy police chief.
Early finally told Foster and Mills about what had been happening with Schamber. Foster found evidence in Schamber's file to support Early's reports and called Schamber's doctors, who had cleared him to return to law enforcement duty, according to the lawsuit. One of those doctors, Dr. Gregory Baca, allegedly called Schamber's wife, and after speaking with her, told Foster and Mills that "there was a medical emergency and he did not feel safe with Schamber being in the community."
Baca allegedly said Schamber needed to immediately be "hospitalized, committed and sedated" because he was "homicidal and suicidal."
Foster and Mills went to Schamber's home in December 2012 and persauded him to go to the hospital. He allegedly told them, "I have demons in my head that tell me to hurt and kill all the time, and I have to fight the demons all the time."
Schamber later said he was ordered to go to the hospital by his commanding officers.
Schamber went to Los Alamos Medical Center, but then left the emergency room saying he didn't want to be hospitalized. A doctor issued a certificate to have Schamber admitted involuntarily after discussing the situation with Baca. Foster, Mills and Early allegedly text-messaged Schamber for the next five hours, urging him to commit himself to treatment.
Schamber was later pulled over while in his car with his wife and taken back to the hospital. He was then sent involuntarily to the New Mexico Behavioral Health Center for observation.
After Schamber was released and returned to duty, Los Alamos County sought a ruling from a federal judge in May allowing him to return to work as an armed police officer. "He was cleared," Jamie Sullivan, a lawyer representing Los Alamos County, said at the time. "We think he is a very good law enforcement officer."
Schamber and his wife filed a counter lawsuit asking for punitive damages and compensatory damages, because a federal law prohibited him from carrying a firearm after his stay at the mental institution.
Foster, Mills and Early are asking for punitive and compensatory damages.
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