Friday, March 5, 2010

Phoenix officer fights for job after steroids test

A Phoenix police patrolman who tested positive for steroids could lose his appeal to get his job back after a city hearing officer ruled that his firing should be sustained.

Carl Ramirez said he was victimized by a false-positive test triggered by a legal supplement he purchased legally over the counter. He tested one-tenth of a nanogram - or one 10-billionth of a gram - over the Police Department's allowable threshold for nandrolone, a common form of anabolic steroids popular with athletes.

The Phoenix Civil Service Board will make a final decision Thursday on whether Ramirez should get his job back. The board is also preparing to hear a separate appeal of another officer, a former Arizona Rattlers football player fired after he tested positive for a significantly higher level of steroids.

Both officers claimed steroidlike supplements played into their positive tests.

Ramirez, 39, lost his job on a Cactus Park Precinct neighborhood enforcement team after his positive test in March 2009. He was fired in October and has been unemployed since.

Some officers questioned the effectiveness of the zero-tolerance Phoenix police steroids policy in educating officers about supplements. Police leaders said the department has always warned officers about strength-building compounds sold in nutrition stores or over the Internet.

In a Feb. 28 recommendation to the board, a Phoenix hearing officer said Ramirez violated police policy. The review found the random test was valid and suggested Ramirez was at fault for not paying attention to the drugs he put in his body. The review capped months of appeals and discussion about police steroid testing.

"(Ramirez) did not exercise enough due diligence to determine what compounds were in the supplements which he consumed nor did he attempt to learn or understand what is in the compounds which he had added to his protein drinks while at the fitness centers," hearing officer Cecil B. Patterson Jr. wrote in his recommendation to the city's Civil Service Board, which reviews appeals of police terminations.

Patterson, like other hearing officers, is contracted through Phoenix to provide legal recommendations in Civil Service Board appeals.

Ramirez appealed his termination through the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which has also raised concerns about the lack of detail about supplements in the department's steroid-prevention materials.

Ramirez disagreed with the details of his test and said he hoped the city would view his case as a simple error in judgment.

"Now no other department in the state will touch me," said Ramirez, who joined Phoenix police four years ago after working for years as a civilian investigator.

Phoenix police Cmdr. Kim Humphrey said officers have had access for about three years to an educational video about steroids and "written material from the DEA which very clearly covers supplements." Humphrey added that the department would consider partnering with other organizations to continue to enhance its steroid policy.

Ramirez's positive test was followed by Officer Cedric Tillman, a Squaw Peak Precinct officer who played in the Arena Football League prior to joining the Police Department. Tillman tested positive for a banned steroid substance at a level nearly 100 times Ramirez's, police said.

Tillman's appeal is set for April 28, according to Phoenix personnel staff.

Will Buividas, a Phoenix Law Enforcement Association board member, said that many officers go to the gym and build muscle with supplements they believe are legal.

While pro sports leagues list their banned substances, police departments provide more general warnings.

"When members call me up to ask what to take, what not to take, I tell them to look at the NFL's list," Buividas said. "You should be reading the labels, but if it lists a hundred different things, how are you supposed to know?"