Voyeurism victim sues county, LAFD

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Courts > Former LAFD firefighter seeks damages

By John Severance

Former Los Alamos Fire Department employee Jessie Noah filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico June 5, according to court documents obtained by the Los Alamos Monitor this week.

Defendants listed in the suit include LAFD, the Los Alamos County Council, Aaron Adair, Jerry Adair and LAFD Captain Jeff Wetteland.In the suit, Noah claims she was the victim of extreme sexual exploitation while employed at LAFD and suffered additional acts of gender discrimination.

The complaint lists one of the defendants as Aaron Adair, a former LAFD captain. Adair pleaded no contest back in 2010 to charges of voyeurism and tampering with evidence. Magistrate Court Judge Pat Casados sentenced Adair to 364 days of supervised probation and he was given a conditional discharge from the LAFD.

The suit lists close to 90 different allegations against the defendants.

Noah is seeking a trial by jury, compensatory damages, including back pay, front pay, loss of earnings, loss of benefits, loss of promotional opportunities, loss of career opportunities, lost earning capacity, emotional distress, and other consequential, incidental and special damages. Noah also is seeking punitive and exemplary damages, prejudgment and post judgment interest and reasonable attorney fees.

County Administrator Harry Burgess said the county will not comment on pending litigation.

One of Noah’s attorneys, John Day of Santa Fe, said his client was a dedicated firefighter.

“She was treated with a level of degradation that was hard to understand,” Day said. “She was the subject of ridicule by the county. They tried to revictimize her.

“What’s tragic is she was the most dedicated public servant you could find. All she wanted to do was serve the citizens of Los Alamos as a firefighter and the county treated her with an astonishing level of disrespect.”

The case dates back to October 2010 when former LAFD Captain Aaron Adair secretly planted a video recorder in the bathroom at the fire station to videotape Noah undressing and using the shower and toilet. The incidents occurred at Fire Station No. 3 in White Rock.

In a letter to Judge Casados during Adair’s hearing, Noah wrote, “As a professional firefighter, I trusted my life to Mr. Adair and other firefighters I worked with. I am disappointed and saddened by their actions.”

The complaint said that Noah found the hidden camera in a paper towel dispenser on Oct. 17,2010.

She took the device out of the dispenser and showed it to other firefighters on duty. Noah took the camera and put it in her pocket and the Los Alamos Police Department was called.

Before Noah met with LAPD officers, the complaint said that Adair confronted her and told her to give him the memory chip from the camera. The complaint said that Adair admitted to Noah that the camera was his and told Noah not to do anything because it would hurt his career.

The court document states that Noah gave Adair the camera’s memory chip because Adair was above Noah in the chain of command. She said she did not want to give Adair the camera but “failure to do so would have subjected her to a charge of insubordination.”

Noah then talked with LAPD officers and handed over the camera. She then left the station.

The complaint said Noah regretted giving Adair the memory chip and she asked for it back but Adair said he destroyed it.

The complaint also said, “if anyone asked him about the camera, he would say that he was not the one who had put it in the bathroom, that he never confessed to Ms. Noah and that Ms. Noah was a liar.”

Adair resigned from the LAFD on Nov. 17 and was later charged criminally.

The complaint listed Los Alamos County in the suit because the “response to the voyeurism incident was inadequate to correct the abusive and harassing work environment that it failed to prevent.

“The county and LAFD took no action whatsoever against Jerry Adair even though he had confessed to police that he put the camera in Ms. Noah’s bathroom.

“Despite the fact that Jerry Adair obviously had something to do with the camera, Los Alamos County and LAFD accepted the retraction of his confession at face value. They also took no action against him for having claimed to have lied to the police during the investigation. The county and LAFD tacitly condoned Jerry Adair’s admitted involvement in spying on Ms. Noah.”

The suit also claims that Noah was sexually harassed by Wetteland. LAFD punished Wetteland by suspending him five shifts and Noah remained under his supervisory authority.

In December 2010, the suit said the county informed Noah that it was going to report her absence from work to the Department of Energy, which would result in the suspension of her “Q” clearance security badge from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The suit claims “the working conditions at LAFD were so intolerable that viewed objectively, a reasonable person in Ms. Noah’s shoes would have felt compelled to resign.”

Noah did just that, resigning Jan. 11, 2011.

Noah filed a claim with the EEOC, which ruled in her favor by issuing a Notice of Right to Sue.

The lawsuit claims, “Ms. Noah has been unable to find comparable employment because her story is well-known in other fire departments and because she has lost the ability to trust that is necessary to work alongside male firefighters.”

Day said that Noah has been able to find work as a firefighter in another jurisdiction.