A Pinal County employee commission has tentatively rehired a sheriff's deputy fired in 2007 for illegally using a police database and amid allegations of domestic violence.
The Employee Merit Commission, which is made up of volunteers of county residents and hears discipline appeals, voted Feb. 17 to reinstate Sgt. David Cathie-Atkins. Some steps in the rehiring process still need to take place, including deciding on whether he gets back pay, said Heather Murphy, Pinal County spokeswoman.
"The county has not made a decision whether to appeal," Murphy said.
Sheriff Paul Babeu said the merit commission found county and sheriff's office policy violations pertaining to the internal affairs investigation of Cathie-Atkins and disparate treatment in his punishment.
Babeu said he has "some very severe concerns" about reinstating Cathie-Atkins and he is discussing his options with the County Attorney's Office.
"We may not have done a good job in documenting and presenting the case," Babeu said. "However, my obligation to put somebody in a uniform with a badge and a gun is a higher threshold and I have to answer to that as well."
Cathie-Atkins, who has been working for the Coolidge Police Department since January 2008, could not be reached for comment.
His attorney, Denis Fitzgibbons, wrote in a June 15, 2007, letter to the county that the sheriff's office improperly used domestic violence allegations against Cathie-Atkins to support the termination because former Sheriff Chris Vasquez had exonerated him of the charges.
Exonerated under the sheriff's office policy means the "act occurred but was justified, lawful, and proper."
Vasquez sustained allegations that Cathie-Atkins used a police database to gather information on his wife's friends, which he admitted, but the punishment of termination on those charges was inappropriate, Fitzgibbons wrote.
Besides, the sheriff's office gave another deputy "who engaged in the exact same conduct" as Cathie-Atkins only a two-day unpaid suspension.
Fitzgibbons said Friday that other deputy testified at the merit commission hearing that he got a more severe punishment for wrecking his patrol car than for using a police database for personal use.
Fitzgibbons said about eight veteran Pinal County Sheriff’s Office employees testified that the firing was too severe and not consistent with discipline meted out to other deputies.
The county also didn’t present one witness who said the discipline for Cathie-Atkins was reasonable, Fitzgibbons said.
"Sgt. Cathie-Atkins is prepared to accept reasonable discipline for his mistake, but under the circumstances, termination is not reasonable," Fitzgibbons wrote.
The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, which certifies police officers in the state, suspended Cathie-Atkins' certification for six months after his firing, according to POST records.
All of the allegations stem from what his wife called a "troubled, argumentative and violent relationship," county documents state.
Casa Grande police investigated two incidents involving the couple.
Diana Atkins accused her husband in December 2006 of trying to run her off the road, an allegation he denied and investigators couldn't prove either way.
Investigators found the husband to be the victim in a physical fight between them in November 2006.
Documents in Cathie-Atkins' personnel file say that his wife was charged in that case, but the Tribune could find no criminal court cases under Diana Atkins' name in a database that includes most courts in the state.
During the sheriff's office internal affairs investigation in which he was compelled to answer all questions, Cathie-Atkins admitted that he used police databases to look up names, addresses and the types of reports taken on his wife's friends.
He had dispatchers obtain mug shots of the people he was looking up from the Motor Vehicle Department.
"He stated that he knew it was wrong to obtain the records for his personal use, but had done it anyway," an IA investigator wrote.
Cathie-Atkins also said he monitored his wife's phone with a GPS tracking system, installed a computer program that logged her keystrokes, made 100 calls to her in one night while on duty and broke into their house after he moved out.
In an April 2007 memo to Vasquez from Capt. J.B. Karns, the captain described how a disciplinary review panel came to the conclusion that Cathie-Atkins should be fired.
"After discussion of the totality of the circumstances and the apparent 'stalking' type behavior, the history of the relationship, along with the sustained charges, the panel came to a unified recommendation," Karns wrote. "Unanimously, the panel recommends TERMINATION."
Fitzgibbons argued that the panel violated policy by looking at the "totality of the circumstances" and should have only considered the sustained charges.