SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Problems between city workers in Santa Fe that blew up, have the union saying their concerns are being blown off. Within just six months, AFSCME Local 3999 leaders said those problems led to a knockout punch in the employee parking lot and then five gunshots to the stomach ending the commute home. The union wants the city of Santa Fe to address these violent acts and what it considers an ongoing problem in the workplace.
“We’ve filed a lot of bullying complaints and harassment complaints. We never had gotten an answer from the HR director on any of ’em,” said Union President Gilbert Baca.
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The punch was thrown on September 22, 2021, in the City of Santa Fe’s employee parking lot. Leroy Griego, seen on video throwing the punch, called the police to report the fight. The Santa Fe Police Officer’s lapel video captures his recount of what happened, “He said something and then like spit at me.”
Griego, the Environmental Services Supervisor, was talking about Parks and Recreation’s George Miller. Now off the clock, Griego drove his personal vehicle across the parking lot to confront Miller. Griego told the officer, “I drove over there just to find out who he was, like what was going on. Wasn’t trying to start a fight man. I’m too old for that stuff.”
They traded insults. “He said your son is a b**** and your son is talking s*** to my wife,” Griego said. Then, the report notes Miller made the fight physical. The two shoved each other for about a minute before Griego delivered the knockout blow. “He came through and I came through, too, at the same time,” Griego told the officer.
“All I remember is that I’m on the floor,” Miller told officers who arrived to his home to get his side of the story. Miller explained there are issues between the two workers’ adult children. He showed police where the punch landed on his chin and complained of a headache.
“You know, a supervisor’s not supposed to touch you,” Miller said to the officer. He responded, “I don’t think anyone should touch you.” “Of course not,” Miller said, “but on the City yard, the way I was taught is the Supervisor threatens you, you walk away from it. But he hit me and I’m kind of irritated really bad.” The Officer asked if he wanted to press charges. Miller responded. “Yes, I would.”
The Santa Fe Police investigation led to a criminal charge against both men – public affray, a misdemeanor.
“Supervisors are supposed to be trained to deescalate a situation, you know,” Baca said of the fight. “I mean, all of us are supposed to know how to do that. You know, sometimes the best thing to do just — walk away.” Court records state Supervisor Griego had “multiple opportunities” to walk away, but it appears he “wanted to fight.” The Officer also mentioned in the report that the video showed Griego walking back to his car and then re-engaging.
The case did not go far in the courts. It was dismissed after the officer got a new job and did not show up to the hearings.
Baca said he is not aware of any discipline doled out when it happened or in the seven months since. “To me, I can go punch another city employee and nothing’s going to happen to me now. ‘Cause I mean nothing happened to this guy,” Baca said.
When asked about Baca’s comment, City Manager John Blair responded, “We are working through our processes internally with regard to any of the things that are reported to us. And I will be clear that there is no green light for employees to feel like they can be violent towards other employees or towards the public.” Blair said he has not seen the video, confirmed the two are still on the job and explained the City is still determining if they will be disciplined. “Unfortunately, sometimes just disciplinary matters do take longer than people who are involved would like,” Blair said.
A few weeks after interviewing Blair, KRQE obtained a memo stating the City just recently reviewed the police report for the September incident. The memo says Miller could face a 10-day suspension. KRQE asked the City if any action is being taken against the Supervisor. The City issued this statement: “Details of disciplinary actions are confidential, so the City has not commented other than to say that appropriate action has been taken,”
Baca said there were complaints to management about Leroy Griego before the punch was thrown in September 2021. And in the months since it was thrown, he has had to protect other union members from their Supervisor, even getting one worker transferred to a new department. “And there was another couple of people that were being bullied that are afraid to come forward because of retaliation,” Baca explained. “You know, they need their job.”
KRQE News 13 obtained Griego’s personnel file to see if he’s been the target of complaints. Ten pages are blacked out. The City will not say why.
The Union said the lack of concern over workplace conflicts fueled a deadly shooting in the middle of St. Michael’s Road in March 2022. City worker Karl Rougemont is charged with 2nd-degree murder for shooting and killing his coworker, Christopher Vigil.
“I know both families, you know, and so oh my God, I can imagine how they feel. I mean an employee is dead now ‘cause there was an issue between two of ‘em that never got addressed,” Baca said. He explained Rougemont and Vigil worked in Santa Fe’s Public Utilities Department, and it was well-known the two had been feuding for about a year.
“Chris Vigil had brought it to my attention, and I told him to go — I advised him to go chain of command ‘cause that’s what he’s supposed to do. And all he would hear was that oh it’s – we’re taking care of it. We’re taking care of it and,” Baca shook his head. His comment was confirmed in court by the New Mexico State Police Officer investigating Vigil’s Death. On the stand, Agent Allan Benitez told the judge, “It was just told to me they didn’t like each other during, you know, in their work environment.”
KRQE News 13 asked the City about those comments. Blair responded, “What I can confirm for you is that there was nothing in Mr. Rougemont’s personnel file that indicated any sort of trouble with Mr. Vigil and equally there was nothing in Mr. Vigil’s personnel file that indicated anything about any trouble with Mr. Rougemont.”
For its part, the Union said it urged its members to go to management about problems but doesn’t have any documentation to show which workers follow through and file a complaint. The City maintains the shooting was not work-related. “The accident itself happened after hours, outside of the workplace, between two people who live in Santa Fe who happened to work for the city,” Blair said.
He believes the shooting was likely the result of the whole country being on edge because of what’s happening in our world. “Two-plus years of COVID frustrations with being isolated — are we quarantining, are we not? There’s a war in Ukraine, there’s been a lot of chaos going on,” Blair said. “But I don’t know that City employees are at any more of a heightened state, of – or agitation or anxiety than anyone else is in our in our community.”
“Whatever they’ve done to this point hasn’t worked,” Baca said. “So, it’s time they better circle the troops and come up with a new plan.”
Blair has been on the job since the start of the New Year. He said since then, he’s met monthly with the Union. And to help employees deal with increased stress, Blair said the City’s held “mental health and wellness events.”
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