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Two former commanders of the Los Alamos Police Department and a current detective filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Los Alamos County in district court Wednesday, alleging wrongful discharge, retaliation and gender discrimination.
The suit was filed by Santa Fe attorneys George Geran and Linda Hemphill, who represent Randy Foster, Scott Mills and Paige Early. The suit contends that the county failed to address a “real and imminent threat caused by a fellow police officer Brian Schamber.
“After bringing the matter of Schamber’s erratic and alarming behavior to the attention of county officials including county administrator Harry Burgess and former police chief Wayne Torpy, plaintiffs Foster and Mills lost their jobs and Plaintiff Early was injured and systematically discriminated against as a result of the county’s failure to address Schamber’s threats to her and retaliated against when she complained about Schamber.”
Schamber, meanwhile, also filed suit against the county and settled for $600,000.
Schamber contended in his suit that then-commanders Mills and Foster allegedly harassed him and tried to sabotage his law enforcement career in an attempt to eliminate him as a possible candidate to replace Torpy.
The Schambers’ suit alleged a laundry list of violations of civil and constitutional rights as well as state tort law. The various counts included unreasonable seizure, search of person, deprivation of liberty without due process, conspiracy to interfere with civil rights, false imprisonment, assault and battery, defamation, and negligent training and supervision.
Schamber’s attorney John Day said, “any claim regarding Brian Schamber in this complaint is fiction. The county has resolved Brian’s claims satisfactorily and he is living in a new state and he is moving on with his life.”
The county had not received the suit Wednesday afternoon and it was uncertain at press time as to whether it had received a copy, according county public information officer Julie Habiger.
In a press release, Hemphill and Geren said “in what plaintiffs contend is a grave misuse of public funds, the county recently settled claims brought by Schamber for the sum of $600,000.”
The 37-page suit tells Foster’s, Mills’ and Early’s version of events.
The plaintiff’s attorneys went on to write, “former Commander Foster, former Commander Mills and Detective Early put the interests and safety of their community, including Schamber, above their own in addressing Schamber’s problems.
“They did what was necessary to protect all the children and citizens of Los Alamos County. For that behavior, they have been scapegoated, forced to endure violent working conditions (Early), terminated (Foster), forced to resign (Mills) and disgraced. The complaint finally tells their side of a very compelling story.”
The Los Alamos Monitor will break down the complaint in a series of articles. The first part will address Early, who was assigned to work with Schamber as her patrol partner in 2011.
After a few months of being partners, according to the complaint, Schamber began to confide in Early that he had problems with anger management. As time wore on, he divulged to Early that he desired to physically harm others, sometimes at random and sometimes in vengeance for perceived slights, and that he had to fight to keep complete control of himself, so that he did not act out against people he knew and people he did not know.
During the summer of 2011, Schamber began driving erratically and there were incidents of road rage, including tailgating cars, according to the complaint. The complaint also said that Schamber would accelerate toward pedestrians and repeatedly drift into oncoming traffic.
The complaint referred to one instance where Schamber jerked the steering wheel so hard it caused Early to hit her head on the window.
Early brought her concerns to Torpy, and according to the complaint, no action was taken. During that first meeting, Torpy told Early that any concerns she had about Schamber should only be discussed with him or then-deputy chief Kevin Purtymun and instructed her not to discuss the matter with anyone else, particularly Foster.
According to the complaint, Torpy also told Early that he did not intend to inform the Human Resources Department, as required by county policy, because they are “a bunch of idiots and he was concerned about protecting Schamber’s reputation.”
The complaint said that Schamber’s behavior began to escalate, including him telling Early that he wanted to “shoot people in the face.”
When Early suggested to Schamber that he didn’t really mean what he was saying, Schamber replied, “No really, I really want to…can you believe that they let me carry a gun?”
Schamber also told Early that he had been able to pass the initial psychological test given to police officers on hiring, by being careful to provide “normal” answers and how he would never have hired himself.
He also began to talk not only about hurting others, but hurting himself.
The complaint said that Early went back to Torpy and told him that Schamber was both suicidal and homicidal and unfit for police work.
According to the complaint, Torpy dismissed her concerns, saying, “We are cops. We all talk like that but we don’t mean it.”
Early said she continued to express her concerns about Schamber regularly from 2011 to 2012. The complaint said that LAPD never conducted an Internal Affairs investigation on Schamber’s behavior, never disciplined him and took no action to protect Early, other officers or the general public from the threat presented by Schamber. The complaint went on to say that Torpy made no effort to document the specific number or nature of the disciplinary infractions by Schamber, specifically instructing Early not to write down her complaints and not to file a grievance with Human Resources.
The complaint said in June 2012, Schamber told Early that he was going to kill himself and she encouraged him to go to Sergeant Oliver Morris for help and to turn in his weapon. Schamber was placed on 90 days administrative leave with pay.
Torpy permitted Schamber to “work from home” so he would not be required to use his accrued leave, contrary to county and LAPD practices.
Schamber underwent a psychological evaluation, although Early was never contacted by anyone to discuss what she knew about Schamber’s behavior and tendencies during the process, according to the complaint.
On Friday, the story continues as Schamber comes back to work, Torpy suffers a stroke and goes on leave and Mills and Foster take charge of the police department.