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FARMINGTON — The San Juan County Sheriff said he doesn't agree with the city of Farmington's decision to fire one of its detectives and hired that detective to work for the sheriff's office.

Former Farmington police Detective Sgt. Robert Perez was dismissed late last week after 19 years with the department.

San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said Perez accepted a position and began working as a detective for the sheriff's office on Tuesday.

"I think Robert Perez is a good man and he did a good job for the city of Farmington," Christesen said. "We're proud to have him at the sheriff's office."

Farmington police Chief Kyle Westall filed a formal complaint against Perez on Jan. 8 and Perez was placed on paid administrative leave the next day. The chief's complaint said the embezzlement investigation Perez conducted into problems at the Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau wasn't satisfactory or truthful and it said Perez violated the police department's code of conduct.

"As the chief executive officer of his agency, the sheriff sets the standards for ethics, performance and conduct. In the past it was standard practice for the Sheriff's Office to complete a thorough background investigation before hiring," Westall said Tuesday in a written statement. "It would be incorrect to assume our actions are based on one issue. Beyond that, I feel it would be unprofessional for me to comment on another agencies personnel practices.



Christesen said the sheriff's office has worked closely with Perez on many of his investigations.

"The Sheriff's Office has completed a thorough background check by working with Mr. Perez for the past 20 years," he said. "He's fully qualified to work for the sheriff's office."

Christesen said he read the Farmington police report on the embezzlement investigation and found no fault with Perez.

"I read the report from top to bottom and I thought he did a good job," Christesen said.

Westall said he and the city of Farmington are barred from speaking publicly about Perez's dismissal because of a gag order that was issued in a lawsuit Perez and another detective filed against the police department and the city.

Perez and Cpl. Russ Bradford, another Farmington detective, filed a lawsuit in June 2011 against the Farmington Police Department, the city of Farmington and Jim Runnels, the former police chief. The detectives are seeking promotions and an apology for mistreatment, which included retaliation, according to the lawsuit.

Farmington City Councilor Dan Darnell said the gag order also prohibits Farmington's elected officials from speaking about Perez's dismissal.

The Sheriff "has a right to do what he feels he needs to do," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm not going to get involved in a personnel issue."

City Councilor Jason Sandel spoke well of Perez and commended Christesen for offering him a job.

"I've always found Det. Perez to be a very standup person and a fine detective," he said. "As it relates to the sheriff offering Perez employment, I think that's wholly appropriate and well within his jurisdiction and is a good move. ... I applaud the Sheriff's Office for the decision they are making."

Circumstances surrounding the embezzlement investigation and other incidents are cited in Perez's and Bradford's lawsuits.

Perez started investigating the Convention and Visitors Bureau in early 2012 when employees reported that money was missing.

After a week of investigating, the bureau's former director, Debbie Dusenbery, allegedly admitted in emails to Perez that she stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. Police believe she stole more than $500,000.

Dusenbery's body was found in an Arizona desert on Jan. 31. Cause of death was determined to be a self-inflicted gun shot to the head.

Farmington police Lt. Darin Hardy wrote a report that closed the embezzlement investigation about a year after Dusenbery's death.

Hardy's report accuses Perez of knowing Dusenbery was struggling emotionally because Farmington Police Capt. Keith McPheeters told Perez that Dusenbery had contacted his sister and seemed unstable.

That information didn't appear in any of Perez's reports, Hardy wrote.

Perez and Bradford's lawsuits also accuse Westall and McPheeters of conducting a liability investigation into the death of Tamara Gallegos that interfered with their criminal investigation.

Gallegos died in March 2010, days after she participated in a "wet lab," where she drank alcohol so officers could conduct field sobriety tests as part of a training program. Her death was ultimately ruled a suicide.

Perez's lawsuit also states he was isolated and defamed after a disposition he gave in a federal lawsuit filed against the city by former Farmington Police Sgt. Ron Anderson who said he had been unfairly passed over for numerous promotions. Perez says he spoke highly of Anderson who is now the San Juan County Undersheriff.

Perez could not be reached for comment. Farmington's Human Resources Department did not provide information on exactly when Perez was dismissed Tuesday after a Daily Times request.