CENTER — Following an incident that occurred last summer resulting in criminal charges, Ruben and Audrey Chavez have filed a notice of claim against the town of Center, naming “various town officials” as the defendants, including Mayor Herman Sisneros and Police Chief James Gowin.
The Chavezes appeared last Wednesday in Saguache County Court on charges of second degree burglary and criminal mischief involving an alleged failure to serve tenants in one of their rental units with the proper eviction notice before locking them out of their trailer.
According to the claim notice, the Chavezes allege Mayor Sisneros and Chief Gowin hid the fact from town trustees that Former Town Clerk and Treasurer Joan Mobley was awaiting sentence on fraud and identity theft charges committed while working for the IRS. She credits this to Mayor Sisneros’ confidence made to a mutual friend who shared the information with her.
However, the Chavezes did not object in 2006-2007 when Center Town Clerk Bill McClure, who served a prison term for tax fraud, was kept on as town clerk even during his imprisonment in Florence.
The couple also accuses Chief Gowin of violating policy by denying a police vehicle was being driven back and forth to another town where the Center officer lived. Ruben Chavez reported seeing the vehicle at the officer’s residence several times, the claim notice says.
In their version of the events leading up to the couple’s criminal charges, the Chavezes claim Center Police came to the rental property and determined the renters had already left the premises. They claim Chief Gowin did not investigate the relationship between the owner of the trailer (the Chavezes) and the renters before telling the renters they could stay.
The claim describes how the Chavezes ordered the town to turn off the electricity, began repairs on the trailer and cleaned out the mobile home.
The Chavezes are seeking upwards of $200,000 in damages from the town for physical pain, emotional distress, mental anguish and other compensatory damages. Actual claims listed include false arrest, malicious prosecution, retaliation for engaging in protected speech (whistleblowing) “and other appropriate claims supported by the evidence.”
A former town board member noted that the town will have to pay its insurance company $25,000 for legal representation in the suit. At one point the town’s current insurer, CIRSA, told town officials they would not be able to insure the town anymore if one more lawsuit was filed.
Several lawsuits were filed against the town during the election disputes that were ongoing between 2007 through 2013. Bill McClure also sued the town for wrongful firing.
Gowin comments on suit
Chief Gowin believes the animosity with the Chavezes began shortly after his arrival in Center, when he issued Theresa Chavez a speeding ticket. He says the claim regarding Joan Mobley is false and the issue with the police vehicle could never be verified.
He believes the board may be trying to force him out before his scheduled departure to accept another job in April. When he reported he would be accepting another position two weeks ago, the town held an executive session to accept his resignation even though he did not resign. Interestingly enough, he reported, Theresa Chavez knows what went on in the executive session.
Mayor Sisneros informed Gowin the Chavezes were suing the town shortly after criminal charges were filed against them last year. Gowin said he told the mayor that he did not bring the charges, the District Attorney brought them. He also informed the mayor that if Chavez sued him personally he would countersue.