A Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office deputy sent a formal complaint to the County’s Human Resources director alleging she is being retaliated against by Sheriff’s Office employees and Sheriff James Lujan for reporting sexual harassment by her fellow deputies.
Deputy Dorothy Onikute’s letter, addressed to Human Resources Director Annabelle Almager Sept. 10, states she is “being retaliated against and subjected to harassment” in a series of events dating back to March.
Onikute, a certified law enforcement officer with her training up to date, declined to comment for this story. Lujan and Maj. Randy Sanches did not return messages by press time inquiring about Onikute’s allegations.
Onikute wrote that on June 15, she reported an incident that was “sexual in nature” to Lt. Lorenzo Aguilar, who said he would look into the allegations.
Three days later on June 18, Onikute reported a text exchange between Sgt. Robert Salazar and former deputy Jeremy Barnes that included a sexual innuendo about her.
“Can one of you 87 (meet me at) my house when I get back from Santa Fe to unload a bed,” Barnes wrote in the text message. “I’d appreciate it.”
Salazar responded that he would “send Dorothy.”
Two days later, she was put on paid leave related to a March incident, in which she reported her concerns about former deputy Joseph Aquino’s behavior to Salazar, she alleges in the letter. Onikute alleges Salazar later said she never reported the issue.
Salazar did not return a message by press time inquiring about the allegations.
In her response, Almager wrote Sept. 18 to Onikute that she had been the target of a Sheriff’s Office internal affairs investigation for the “March 2019 incident.”
A previous Rio Grande SUN story states the County received a tort claim notice from the Sandoval Law Firm alleging Aquino used excessive force March 2 at the Family Dollar in Chimayó. Security camera and Aquino’s lapel camera footage captured the incident, in which Aquino brought an employee to his knees, threatened to tase him and handcuffed him. Aquino and Salazar released the employee at the scene.
As a result of the internal affairs investigation, Capt. Billy Merrifield recommended Onikute be placed on four days of unpaid leave, which she wrote she did not accept.
“I felt that Sheriff Lujan attempted to intimidate me into avoiding the grievance hearing and take what he offered, lest things get worse,” she wrote. “Things did get worse the very next day.”
Onikute wrote she received a sealed letter Aug. 7 from Salazar stating she was the target of a second internal affairs investigation.
“I was informed that (Aquino) accused me of sexual behavior towards him,” she wrote.
Onikute alleges she was told Aquino’s accusations against her arose during the investigation into the text messages between Barnes and Salazar.
“These allegations were disturbing and so unsettling I was (forced) to leave work for the day,” she wrote. “Prior to this incident, I have previously complained to Sgt. Salazar, Sgt. Matthew Gallegos in a meeting with (Aquino) about his unprofessional, inappropriate, demeaning sexual behavior. I informed them and (Aquino) I would like him to stop the touching and unwanted commenting about my body and butt.”
Almager wrote that she confirmed with Lujan that Onikute is the target of a third internal affairs investigations for allegedly leaving town while she was on leave.
“I know that this will probably not make you feel better, but it does sound to me like there are a number of (internal affairs investigations) that are either currently taking place at the Sheriff’s or that have recently taken place,” she wrote. “This does not take away from your allegations, and I do take them seriously.”
Almager also wrote that Lujan has not yet disciplined Onikute in the second internal affairs investigation because he was not yet held a pre-determination hearing because of scheduling conflicts.
“I honestly cannot remember a time when an employee was ever disciplined with a pre-determination hearing that happened first, but I will of course make sure that pre-determination hearings take place for any disciplinary actions that are proposed,” Almager wrote.
Onikute wrote that her letter is only a quick rundown of events.
“I deserve a swift resolution to these issues, for my person (sic) health and well-being, and the well-being of the department,” she wrote. “While I realize I am a deputy under the Sheriff’s Office the policy set for to protect us are being disregarded in favor of the command chain’s desired outcomes.”