Denver - An Arapahoe county sheriff’s deputy filed a complaint about what she believed were racist and anti-immigrant comments by fellow deputies against Hispanic inmates. But instead of investigating the complaint, department officials investigated her work status, a CALL7 investigation found.
Teresa Garcia has worked for Arapahoe County for almost 14 years, but in 2010 she became fed up with some of the behavior she says she witnessed in the jail.
“Co-workers, including civilian staff, they were making inappropriate comments about Mexicans and illegals,” Garcia told CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia. “They would say I wanna drive the next bus load across the border.”
Garcia went to internal affairs, complaining that some of the staff was making inappropriate comments. She also said that some of inmates who were getting harassed may be in the United States legally.
As an example of problems faced by many U.S. citizens of Mexican decent, she used her own trouble getting a passport. Garcia was born in Mexico but her mother, born in the United States, was a U.S. citizen. Garcia is also a U.S. citizen. But the passport office was requesting additional documentation to get her a passport.
“”The reason I gave them this information was basically to show empathy for the people that they’re making jokes about,” she said.
When she was hired, Garcia provided a driver’s license, Social Security number and passed a background check -- everything required of a new employee. Despite that, Arapahoe County sheriff's officials started investigating whether Garcia was in the country legally.
“I was basically walked out of the building, had my locker cleaned out and had my ammunition collected,” she said. “They collected all of my credentials and they followed me home. They waited outside of my house and waited for the uniform I had on as well.”
About a week later, Garcia, who was never told why she was being investigated, was called in and told she was being terminated because she could not prove she was legal to work in the United States.
She had submitted her Social Security information that indicated she is a U.S. citizen, her mother’s Colorado birth certificate, her parents’ marriage license and her own marriage license. She had sent in her birth certificate to get the passport so she could not provide it. Despite the documentation Garcia provided, Arapahoe County officials refused to re-hire Garcia.
“I cried a lot,” she said. “I didn’t know how to fix this. All of sudden you don't have medical benefits, all of a sudden you have to pull out your retirement and I had to do that.”
It was around Christmas of 2010, and she could not buy gifts for her children.
“I made a big tree out of paper,” she said. “I asked what gifts they wanted, and that's how many empty gifts I wrapped up. They knew not to ask for anything. I wished I could change that, I wished they were going to have something nice for Christmas.”
Two weeks later, Garcia received her new passport, which she provided to Arapahoe County. It took the county an additional two weeks before she rehired with back pay.
But Arapahoe County sheriff’s never investigated Garcia’s original complaint about inappropriate behavior in the jail, records show.
“As a result of the internal affairs investigation, I became the person they were investigating instead of my actual complaint,” she said. “I feel like they were looking for a reason to get rid of me and they did.”
Garcia has had a previous problem at work and was suspended several years ago over a dispute with a supervisor. But that was not cited in the investigation of her work status.
Garcia is suing, and the sheriff’s department declined comment, citing on-going litigation in the case.
An attorney for the county told Ferrugia that we "making a mountain out of a molehill."