The City of Las Cruces has agreed, in principal, to settle a federal civil suit filed in 2014 by a young woman who was sexually assaulted by a police detective during a ride-along five years ago.
Pending City Council approval, the City has agreed to settle the lawsuit for $3 million. City Council is expected to meet March 28 to finalize the agreement.
Former detective Michael Garcia, who was fired from the Las Cruces Police Department the week following his arrest, was charged on Aug. 23, 2013, with one count of criminal sexual penetration of a minor and one count of criminal sexual contact of a minor. Garcia was subsequently convicted in 2014 and sentenced to nine years in federal prison.
“I am proud and appreciate that our employees will not put up with this behavior and took steps immediately to investigate this crime and arrest former detective Michael Garcia,” said Chief Jaime Montoya. “Nothing upsets us more than a bad cop as it makes all of us look bad. Sexual harassment in any form and mistreatment of the public is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. I am confident that what we are doing in our training and mentoring of our employees is a step in the right direction, and is in line with the core values of our department.
“It is my hope that this settlement will give closure to the victim and our department, and allow all parties to move on.”
Garcia was a 15 year veteran of the Las Cruces Police Department and was arrested Aug. 23, 2013, following a week-long investigation into the allegations. The investigation and arrest were both conducted by Las Cruces Police Department detectives.
The victim, a high school student at the time, was part of a semester-long Excel program in 2011 that allows participating students to learn about various aspects of government.
She was assigned to the police department and was on a ride-along with the detective when the crime was committed. In 2013, she reported the incident to another LCPD detective who immediately began the investigation.
LCPD has since updated its policy concerning student interns to require more supervision within the program and more accountability from employees. The student intern program now provides more control over the officers and the interns. Each intern now meets with the Chief of Police who explains their rights and all aspects of the student intern program.
Under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, a government entity such as the City of Las Cruces is required to pay all damages caused by its employee even through the City was not responsible for the incident. In this case, it was clear that this act warranted payment to the victim. After two mediations before a federal magistrate judge, the City and the victim agreed to a settlement of $3 million. The victim agreed to dismiss all claims against the City as part of the settlement. The City did not admit to any liability on its part.
No further information was available from the city.
Information from city of Las Cruces