Former sheriff's deputy alleges age discrimination, racism and retaliation in lawsuit

Sep. 28—A former Santa Fe County sheriff's deputy alleges he was hassled on the job because of his age and faced retaliation when he complained about ageist and racist jokes posted in a group chat among deputies.

The result, Albert Davalos says in his lawsuit, is that he was left in dangerous situations without backup when he called for aid and eventually was terminated.

Davalos, who filed the complaint Friday in state District Court against Santa Fe County and its Board of Commissioners, says he was in his late 40s in 2021 when he was subjected to repeated ridicule and age-based discrimination. Other deputies posted disdainful remarks about him via text in a group chat, he says, such as calling him viejito — little old man — and wondering if he qualified for "the early bird special at Denny's."

In April 2021, the lawsuit alleges, fellow Deputy Valentino Baca posted a photograph in the group chat of a police officer holding a ball on a basketball court, with a caption that read: "When you gotta shoot hoops at 3:00 and black kids at 4:30."

According to the complaint, Baca followed up with the comment, "Too soon?"

The document, which calls the meme "a gross, disgusting and callous statement about police officers shooting, murdering, African American children," includes what appear to be screenshots of Baca's posts.

Davalos is "Hispanic and/or Mexican American" and was "grievously offended" by the meme, the suit says.

Attempts to reach Baca for comment were unsuccessful.

The former deputy's complaint accuses the county of wrongful termination based on age discrimination, retaliation and violations of the New Mexico Whistleblower Act. He seeks an unspecified amount of actual and punitive damages.

Sheriff Adan Mendoza declined to comment on the allegations in Davalos' suit but wrote in an email "an investigation was completed into the complaint. And Valentino Baca is still employed with the Santa Fe County sheriff's office."

Davalos was employed by the sheriff's office from January 2021 until his resignation in June 2021, the sheriff said.

After Davalos complained about the racial meme, his suit says, the sheriff's department did nothing, "except to delete the group chat in an attempt to destroy evidence."

Davalos also complained about the demeaning comments regarding his age, but supervisors did nothing to stop or correct the behavior and instead condoned it by "adding to the discriminatory comments," according to his lawsuit.

The same day he reported the racist text, Davalos alleges, the sheriff's office began investigating him over "an alleged citizen complaint" accusing him of being "rude."

Between April 2021 and June 2021, Davalos' complaint says, he was dispatched in response to reports of domestic violence and "time and time again" was denied backup needed to ensure his safety.

The sheriff's office also denied his repeated requests for a shift change that would have prevented him from having to rely on the people he'd complained about for backup, according to the lawsuit.

Based on his decades of law enforcement experience, Davalos says in his complaint, he knew he was "being retaliated against in such a way ... to force him to resign or be killed in the line of duty."

In June, the suit says, he was "constructively discharged because he feared daily for his life and safety" after being left without backup during various dangerous domestic violence calls.