A relationship between Española Police Department Lt. Richard Trujillo and now-former officer Yvonne De La O almost led to his demotion, records show.
Trujillo’s position was saved by De La O’s resignation, a letter from now-former interim police chief David Osuna shows.
“As you are aware of our conversation last week concerning your relationship with a female patrol officer, your position is permanent upon the receipt of the resignation of the female officer,” Osuna wrote.
Trujillo and De La O began a relationship, eventually leading to an engagement, sometime following her September 2018 hire.
Former Department chief Louis Carlos said in a January 2019 interview that there was nothing he could do about fraternization within the Department and said he had no evidence the two were in a relationship.
There was evidence of the relationship as far back as October 2018, when Trujillo was issued a ticket for careless driving in Chama. De La O was with him in his personal truck, on a Saturday, when he got the ticket, Carlos said.
When Carlos was asked why the two were together, he initially said he had given Trujillo permission to take De La O to Chama with him for a court summons. Later asked why the officers were at court on a Saturday, Carlos said he did not know what they did in their free time, and it was none of his business.
The issue was ongoing throughout the beginning of the year, as the two responded to various calls for service from the public, together.
During an April 2019 arrest, Criselia Vigil, whom Department Officer Jerome Broyles arrested for an outstanding warrant, was seen on body camera footage telling Trujillo that he was going to get into trouble. In the footage, De La O told Vigil that nothing was going to happen to him.
Vigil asked De La O why she said that and then asked if Trujillo was De La O’s boyfriend.
“No,” De La O said, “He’s my fiancé.”
During a high-speed pursuit initiated by De La O in May, Trujillo was seen driving at high speeds in an unmarked police unit to get to the scene.
Other police departments have policies that govern the relationship between officers, but the city of Española relies solely on its nepotism policy to address issues that arise from fraternization between employees.
The policy states that employees’ relatives will not be employed under any circumstance where one of the parties would have authority or practical power to supervise, appoint, remove, or discipline the other or where one would be responsible for auditing the work of the other.
Trujillo, as one of two Department lieutenants, was in a supervisory position over De La O.
Osuna could not be reached for comment and Department Spokesman Sgt. Jeremy Apodaca referred all questions to the city government’s Human Resources Department.
The nepotism policy also states that if two employees marry or become related by marriage or through a domestic partnership, reasonable efforts will be made to ensure that the working relationship is not in conflict with the other parts of the policy.
“If such conflict exists, the affected employees must decide which one will transfer or seek other employment,” the policy states.
City Attorney A.J. Salazar said the city government adheres to its nepotism policy, but declined to comment on individual personnel issues.
“I did discuss this situation with Human Resources Director Sally Baxter and she confirmed your permanent status as Lieutenant upon the resignation of the female patrol officer,” Osuna wrote. “If you have any further questions, please contact Deputy Chief Roger Jimenez or Human Resources Director Sally Baxter.”
Both Baxter and Jimenez declined to comment on the letter.
Following the 2017 #MeToo movement, discussion in legal circles surrounding relationships and sexual harassment in the workplace has shifted, the American Bar Association states in a November 2018 article.
Romantic relationships with co-workers are not considered sexual harassment, as long as both employees enter into the relationship willingly and neither acts under fear or threats from the other. There have been multiple lawsuits where after a consensual relationship ended and one or more employees faced discrimination, harassment or other abuse at work.
A survey of 3,000 business by the American Bar Association Journal in July 2018 found 68 percent of women had experienced sexual harassment at work, but only 30 percent of them reported it. An additional 47 percent of the female respondents believed sexual harassment was tolerated within their organization and 45 percent had no confidence at all that company leaders were addressing the situation.
Salazar said in a July 26 email the city government does not tolerate any form of sexual harassment and issues prompt disciplinary action against any employee who commits or participates in any form of sexual harassment.
“The City conducts training on this issue,” Salazar said. “The most recent trainings were conducted on June 13, 2019 and June 18, 2019.”
Salazar did not provide the training materials issued to employees, and a public records request has been pending for the documents since Monday.
Mayor Javier Sanchez declined to comment on personnel matters but said the city government is working to update some of its more “archaic” policies.
He could not provide a timeline for the update, but said it is one of his priorities.