The officer's attorney said the action by the administration amounted to political retaliation
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
Mayor Richard Berry’s office injected itself into the Albuquerque Police Department’s promotional process by ordering department brass to deny an officer a sergeant’s promotion even though the officer had been told that he was in line to be promoted, a lawsuit against the city and Police Chief Gorden Eden is alleging.
The officer’s attorney said the action by the administration amounted to political retaliation because the officer’s brother is involved with the union that represents Albuquerque firefighters and supported Berry’s mayoral opponent in 2013.
The officer, Jude Lujuan, had taken the sergeant’s exam on March 23 and was 14th in line out of 20 candidates to be promoted, according to the suit that was filed in Bernalillo County District Court on Nov. 30. The first 10 officers were promoted and Lujan was waiting his turn when he was suddenly called by a superior and told that he would not be made a sergeant, the lawsuit said.
“On Nov. 10, 2015, APD Major Timothy Gonterman, acting on behalf of defendants [city and Eden] and without any written or other notice, called Plaintiff and verbally informed him that he would not be getting promoted to the rank of sergeant or words to that effect,” the lawsuit said. “When Plaintiff asked Maj. Gonterman why such action was being taken both in the instant occasion and perpetuity, Maj. Gonterman stated to Plaintiff, ‘it was coming from the head of the city’ or words to that effect.”
Lujan wrote Eden on Nov. 12 to ask why he wasn’t being promoted. The following day, Eden issued a department-wide memo saying the remaining candidates on the sergeant’s list were being promoted, the lawsuit said. “Excluded from this list was Plaintiff, yet six personnel with inferior promotional process scores were included,” the lawsuit added. As of Nov. 30, Lujan had not gotten a response from Eden.
Lujan’s attorney, Tom Grover, said he thinks the decision to take his client off the promotion list was a political decision by Berry’s office. “My client’s brother is highly active in the AFD union and supported Pete Dinelli [in the 2013 mayoral election],” Grover said. “It’s nothing short of politics. It couldn’t get anymore black and white and clear as day that these guys are doing whatever they want whenever they want without any authority.”
ABQ Free Press emailed Berry’s spokesperson, Rhiannon Schroeder, a synopsis of the lawsuit and Grover’s comments but Schroder did not respond.
The lawsuit asks a judge to order the city to promote Lujan to sergeant. It seeks a restraining order against the city “from taking any actions which prevents Plaintiff from being promoted to the rank of Sergeant.”
APD’s decision to take Lujan off the promotion list was arbitrary, capricious and illegal, and it undermines the legitimacy of the promotional process, the lawsuit said. Lujan spent thousands of dollars to buy study materials for the test and he took more than two months of accrued vacation time to prepare for it, the lawsuit said. More than 150 officers took the exam, and only 20 made the promotion list.
The lawsuit provided another glimpse into APD’s staffing problems. It said that as of Nov. 20, APD had 826 officers on duty, a 25 percent reduction from the 1,097 it had in December 2009 when Berry took office.
“APD’s 25 percent reduction in size is a direct result of unconscionable and irresponsible leadership by Defendants,” the lawsuit said. “Further reduction is the department’s size inflicts irreparable harm upon the citizens by their deceased protection from criminal elements.”
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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