By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
A civil lawsuit has been filed against the city of Tucumcari by the owner of a hotel burned in 2014 by former Tucumcari police officer Dustin Lopez.
Lawrence and Martha Phillip, Maggie Ventures, LLC, filed the lawsuit on Aug. 31 in the Quay County District Court.
The Phillips are seeking damages for negligence, negligent hiring and supervision, deliberate interference and civil rights violations in connection with the burning of the Payless Inn hotel on Route 66.
The Phillips are represented by attorney Rick Queener of Clovis.
Queener could not be reached for comment.
In the lawsuit, Phillip alleges, the city of Tucumcari knowingly hired Lopez despite a conflict with the city’s policies. The Tucumcari Police Department neglected to investigate Lopez for alleged criminal activities while on duty, the suit claims.
“The city of Tucumcari was informed about the suit and has begun consulting with the city’s attorney,” City Manager Jared Langenegger said.
Langenegger declined additional comment.
Lopez and co-defendant Robert Sandoval pleaded guilty on July 24, 2015, to charges related to fires at the Payless Inn on East Route 66 and an abandoned home on Fourth Street.
Lopez was sentenced on Sept. 25, 2015, to 4 1/2 years in prison and Sandoval was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.
Phillip said the three buildings on the Payless Inn property, all of which were destroyed in the blaze, were valued at $155,155.
During Lopez’s sentencing hearing, Phillip said he and his wife bought the Payless Inn and Apache Hotel with the intention of moving to Tucumcari because they saw potential in the city. He said he spoke with Lopez about keeping the property safe.
“Lopez told me that he would personally make sure nothing would happen to our property,” Phillip said. “It blew my mind when I later found out that Lopez was involved in the fire that destroyed the very building he promised to look after.”
Lopez resigned from the Tucumcari Police Department on Oct. 2, 2014, the day after New Mexico State Police searched his home. Lopez did not give a reason for his decision to resign, Police Chief Jason Braziel said.
On Oct. 6, 2015, Lopez and Sandoval surrendered themselves to the Quay County Detention Center. They are serving their sentences in the New Mexico Department of Corrections.