Bernalillo Co. sheriff may have misled media

Posted at: 10/12/2012 6:25 PM
Updated at: 11/02/2012 3:12 PM
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Photo: Dan Houston
Photo: Dan Houston

An attorney with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office misled the Albuquerque media, and the Albuquerque Journal released audio recordings to prove it.

Sheriff Dan Houston is accused in a lawsuit of making sexist and discriminatory remarks. Jonlyn Martinez, the sheriff's legal advisor, held a press conference accusing the state’s largest newspaper of getting their story wrong and misquoting Houston.

The Journal, however, Friday morning released the reporter’s audio recording upholding the facts of the Journal’s original article.

Former sheriff's office public information officer and legal advisor Jennifer Vega Brown is suing Houston on grounds that the elected leader violated the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act and retaliated against her by wrongfully terminating her employment.

Specifically, Vega Brown alleges that Houston created a hostile work environment for women by calling a female employee a “fat slob” and calling Vega Brown and a legal assistant “a couple of whores.”

Martinez denied the claims Thursday stating in the press conference, “the sheriff never told Jennifer Vega Brown that she was a whore."

But in the Journal’s audio recording of an interview between Journal reporter Jeff Proctor and Houston, the sheriff concedes that he used those words.

“You did make the comment, but you attributed it to someone else?” Proctor is heard asking.

“Absolutely. I made inference of that being alleged by a third party. And it was acting...acting inappropriately like...,” Houston is heard saying.

“Oh, so what you said was 'I've heard from others that she was...'" Proctor states in the recording.

“There is a particular third party that made an allegation that they were acting...” Houston is heard saying.

“Like a couple of whores?” Proctor asks in the recording.

“Like you know what," Houston is heard replying.

Regarding the allegation that Houston referred to one of his employees as a fat slob, Martinez said, "the sheriff never told any employee that they were an overweight slob or a fat slob."

But the audio recording indicates otherwise.

“I did, in a private conversation with my executive assistant, come in and at one point advise her that the employee at the front desk did look like a fat slob the way she was out there at the time," Houston is heard telling Proctor. "I did make that statement. I considered it to be a private statement alone with my executive assistant. Even at that I can see that it was inappropriate. I should have just said she looked unprofessional."

Furthermore, the lawsuit states Houston said another female employee couldn’t have breast cancer because her breasts were so small.

The lawsuit also alleges that Houston implied a Bernalillo County employee couldn’t be sexually harassed because she was too ugly.

Martinez denied those accusations on behalf of Houston.

Also Friday, a group of women held a press conference calling on Houston to resign his position. The women said with statements like those alleged by the sheriff, it may make some women in the community fearful to report a crime.