Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Former Glendale police officer won't face abuse charges

Two Glendale police officers resigned months after an internal investigation was launched by an anonymous call.

The unidentified caller reported in July that Glendale Sgt. Brent Thomas had abused his wife, according to documents released to The Republic after a public-records request.

Those allegations will not result in criminal charges, a Maricopa County Attorney's Office spokesman said on Tuesday.

However, by December, Thomas and another officer with whom he had a romantic relationship had resigned and a third officer was reprimanded.

Investigation starts

Last summer, when the allegations were reported, Thomas and his wife were in the midst of a divorce.

Thomas' wife told police Thomas had abused her for seven to 10 years. She also shared photos of injuries she said resulted from the abuse. Glendale police redacted details about the injuries and the abuse allegations in the documents released to The Republic.

Police recommended in October that Thomas, a 14-year officer, be charged with felony counts of aggravated domestic violence, aggravated assault, criminal damage and interference with a judicial proceeding, a misdemeanor.

A spokesman for the county attorney's office confirmed Tuesday that prosecutors will not file charges against Thomas.

"Our position after reviewing the information that was provided to us is that there is not enough to win a conviction," spokesman Jerry Cobb said.

An attorney representing Thomas said his client denies his wife's accusations. Another attorney, DeShon Pullen wrote, "The first report in the 14-year relationship was after the service of the divorce . . . (his wife) told him in her own words that she promised she would ruin him."

Thomas, who had no major previous disciplinary problems and good performance reviews, would not comment to The Republic.

Police officials relieved Thomas of his enforcement duties immediately upon learning of the abuse allegations and ordered him to return his department weapons, said Sgt. Brent Coombs, a Glendale police spokesman. Thomas was told he would be reassigned to administrative tasks during the investigation but he never returned to work, Coombs said. Thomas also chose not to speak to police investigators.

Investigation expands

Thomas and another officer, Heather Opp, worked the same shift and in the same patrol area, according to documents. Thomas also was Opp's supervisor, at times.

In interviews with investigators, Opp first described her relationship with Thomas and his wife as friendly. She later said she and Thomas had a romantic relationship and that she had moved in with Thomas, who no longer lived with his wife.

She denied being aware of the alleged abuse.

Police also learned that Thomas' wife told Glendale Officer Delores Baumann about the apparent abuse but she did not report it to supervisors. Thomas was Baumann's boss, according to police records.

Baumann told investigators she "felt she was caught in a predicament that had no beneficial outcome regardless of what she did."

The internal investigation was completed Sept. 30. Investigators accused Opp of lying about her relationship with Thomas during her review. They recommended termination of Thomas based on the allegations against him.

Police Chief Steve Conrad notified Thomas and Opp that they were going to be fired.

Both officers resigned.

Baumann was given a written reprimand.

Neither Baumann nor Opp could be reached for comment.

Opp, a two-year officer, agreed last month to voluntarily give up her right to serve as a police officer in Arizona after her case was forwarded to the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board for review.

Thomas's case has not yet gone before the board.


Peoria personnel board upholds police sergeant's termination

A Peoria personnel board last month upheld the firing of a sergeant.

Former Sgt. Tim Smith was terminated last February after an investigation found that the 13-year Peoria police officer had threatened to kill his former wife and used a department cellphone to send harassing text messages to her.

Investigators also found that Smith had attached a Peoria police tracking device to his wife's car and documented a 2008 incident in which Smith had thrown a drink in another man's face at a Peoria bar after learning the man had purchased a drink for his wife.

Smith's ex-wife said in a police interview that a friend encouraged her to contact officers about the threats.

The former police supervisor appealed his firing in a two-day hearing last September. A hearing officer issued a recommendation two months later. The personnel board met Jan. 27 to consider Smith's case and voted to uphold his firing.

The decision by the Peoria board, comprising residents, contrasted with a hearing officer's November recommendation.

Hearing Officer Douglas Grimwood said Smith should have been reinstated to the Peoria Police Department.

A 30-day suspension would have been sufficient, Grimwood wrote in the decision obtained by The Republic.

"The violations against "personal use" of the tracking device, the event at the Skye (restaurant) and the telephonic threat all arise out of Sgt. Smith's tumultuous relationship with his then-wifeand should be balanced against his previous 13½ years of unblemished and thoroughly satisfactory service," Grimwood wrote.

The hearing officer also recommended Smith be awarded back pay and that the sergeant agree to undergo counseling.

Smith did not return messages left by The Republic. He said in a statement released last year that the police investigation failed to take into account the "totality of circumstances" and didn't give him sufficient credit for his years of positive service to Peoria.

"Even an accusation or 'charge' is far from guilt," Smith wrote. "There is no, and never was, a victim willing to aid in or desiring prosecution, nor were the elements of a crime present even had there been a willing victim."

Smith was initially charged with two counts of misdemeanor domestic violence. He later pleaded guilty to one count of disorderly conduct.

Smith was sentenced to one year probation and ordered to complete a 10-week anger-management course.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Maricopa County deputy's personal finances investigated

A federal investigation into allegations of abuse of power by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, former County Attorney Andrew Thomas and their employees has expanded to an inquiry into the personal finances of sheriff's Chief Deputy David Hendershott.

Federal investigators had focused their inquiry on conflicts among county officials, but The Arizona Republic has learned FBI special agents also have questioned potential witnesses about Hendershott's business dealings.

Sources said the Internal Revenue Service has been intimately involved in the inquiry and confirmed that agents were looking into Hendershott's business ties with vendors who contract with the county. They are trying to answer numerous questions about his financial activities.

An attorney representing Hendershott declined to respond to a request for comment.

In some instances, IRS investigators have been present during FBI witness interviews or have led the questioning.

Loretta Barkell, Arpaio's chief financial officer, recently acknowledged the IRS had been present and asked questions during interviews related to federal and state inquiries involving Hendershott.

"Yes, the IRS was there," she said. "Questions were asked about his personal finances."

Hendershott has been on paid administrative leave since November pending an internal investigation into allegations of mismanagement, retaliatory behavior against those who disagreed with him, and claims that he used the agency for personal financial gain.

Questions about Hendershott's management of Sheriff's Office resources have arisen in recent years. For example, the Board of Supervisors and the county Office of Management and Budget have publicly alleged he may have directed the misuse of as much as $80 million in detention funds, abused county credit cards and misspent jail-enhancement funds.

Hendershott earns at least $267,000 annually, counting his salary and his pension from a previous job. He and his wife have experienced financial hardship. Last year, they joined thousands of other Valley residents whose homes were foreclosed upon.

Hendershott's 4,500-square-foot home in north Peoria is scheduled for a trustee's sale on March 14 to cover the balance of a $774,500 note taken out on the home. Tax records in the Maricopa County Treasurer's Office placed the home's 2010 value at $376,500.

Public records show the couple has long had financial woes:

- They filed for bankruptcy protection in 1986 and 1997, discharging tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

- Public records show the couple owed at least $69,766 in unpaid state and federal income taxes from 1986 to 1992. The state tax liens of $14,915 were released in 1995 and 1996, while federal IRS liens of $54,851 were released in 1998.

- Last August, Sheriff's Deputy Chief Frank Munnell accused Hendershott of abusing office resources to enrich himself.

Information obtained by The Republic through a public-records request to the Sheriff's Office indicate Hendershott frequently accessed online-shopping sites such as eBay, Craigslist and apparel companies during his last four months in office.

In a 63-page memo alleging a wide variety of misdeeds within the Sheriff's Office, Munnell asserted that Hendershott coordinated off-duty jobs for sheriff's deputies that resulted in monthly payments to Hendershott; that he used posse resources to benefit himself and his family, including a trip to Alaska for a baseball tournament; and that Hendershott coordinated the sale of sheriff's promotional items for personal benefit.

Those allegations and others are under investigation by the Pinal County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Former Goodyear police officer could face felony charges

A former Goodyear police officer could face felony theft, forgery and fraud charges after accusations arose that he falsified several months of pay sheets, bilking the city out of more than $13,000, police said.

David Bryant is accused of falsifying 10 months' worth of pay sheets in 2010, said Goodyear police Cmdr. Ralph McLaughlin, a department spokesman. He allegedly reported 433 hours that he didn't work, totaling about $13,000.

He was put on administrative leave Jan. 10 and resigned Feb. 2, McLaughlin said.

The Goodyear Police Department submitted its criminal investigation to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in January, McLaughlin said. It will launch an internal investigation after criminal court proceedings have begun.

The department also will submit Bryant's case to the Arizona Peace Officer's Standards and Training Board to review whether to revoke his certification to be a law-enforcement officer in the state, he said.

"It's a matter of public trust," McLaughlin said. "These are city funds that he's being paid with and they have to be used appropriately, and if he's not doing his job . . . then that's a problem."

Bryant, who was the street crimes sergeant, also is accused of telling the four police officers he supervised to falsely claim five hours on their time sheets during one week in November, McLaughlin said.

"These officers didn't feel comfortable with what he told them and they notified a lieutenant and the lieutenant took action," he said.

The Police Department opened an investigation and discovered the issues with Bryant's time sheets.

McLaughlin said the department is not investigating any of the officers in Bryant's unit.

"This is all on him," he said. "The officers acted appropriately. We did do a review of their time sheets, which were all accurate. This is just him and him alone and his time sheets."

Bryant joined the 130-officer department in 2001 and was promoted to sergeant in 2008.

He was awarded the Medal of Valor, the department's highest award, for his role in an officer-involved shooting in February 2008. Bryant was one of two officers who shot and killed a robbery suspect who shot a K-9 officer and his dog.

Last May, the department discovered former Detective Latroy Campbell mishandled several cases, including falsifying reports and closing cases with little or no investigation. Most were sex crimes. Campbell resigned in August.

The Police Department conducted an audit of its criminal investigations unit and launched a review of how caseloads are managed.

Police Chief Mark Brown said that Bryant's and Campbell's cases do not indicate a systematic problem within the department.

"We are held to the highest standards by our profession," Brown said in a statement released Wednesday. "These inquiries and resulting actions are examples of us holding ourselves accountable to the public we serve and people with whom we serve."


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ex-Tempe officer faces disciplinary hearing

A former Tempe police officer who smelled of alcohol at work and is wanted for fleeing from Surprise police has a hearing Wednesday before a disciplinary board, a report says.

Former Officer David French, who served in the military and was in the midst of a divorce, suffers post-traumatic stress disorder, his wife told investigators.

Police said he served in the military about 20 years but were uncertain if he fought in Iraq or Afghanistan.

French, 41, is scheduled for a first hearing before the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, which will decide whether to continue reviewing the case. The board has the power to deny certified status or suspend or revoke certification. This would prevent French from serving as a police officer elsewhere.

The report says that French had a heavy smell of alcohol on his breath on April 22. A civilian employee reported it, and Sgt. Mike Carleton also smelled the alcohol.

French told Carleton he had been "drinking heavily" after his previous shift ended. A breath test administered to French registered at .038, which is below the legal limit of .08, but any alcohol in an officer's system is prohibited.

He was relieved of duty that day and Carleton drove him home.

The report says that French also failed to report to duty Jan. 30, and did not notify his agency.

On April 24, French resigned in lieu of termination.

Three months later, on July 1, French fled from Surprise police after they tried to pull him over for erratic driving, the report says. French sped up and cut off numerous vehicles and drove into oncoming traffic, the report says.

A Surprise officer estimated French was traveling 60 miles per hour in a residential neighborhood.

Attempts to find French, whose estranged wife said was armed with a rifle and handgun, were not successful. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office charged him with Unlawful Flight from a Law Enforcement Vehicle, a felony.

French failed to show up for a Nov. 29 court appearance. An in-state warrant has been issued for the arrest of French, who is believed to be out of state.