September 6, s004
Prosecuting cops can cost taxpayers more than the average criminal defendant.
Adding to the cost of criminal prosecutions and investigations of police officers is placing them on paid leave while their cases inch through the criminal justice system.
The Mesa Police Department has been hit particularly hard of late as six officers accused of crimes have been on paid leave since October 2002. The cost in salaries alone has reached roughly $260,000, most of it coming for a retired Mesa lieutenant who collected his $83,000 annual salary for 15 months during a criminal investigation and indictment.
Randall Lineberger, who retired Aug. 31 and who is accused of reporting a fake burglary to collect on a fraudulent insurance claim, is scheduled to enter a plea of either guilty or no contest Tuesday in Maricopa County Superior Court.
So why not just fire officers suspected of crimes? Most police departments, including those in Mesa, Tempe, Gilbert and Scottsdale, typically wait until a criminal investigation is complete before conducting the related administrative investigation. The internal inquiry is used to determine whether someone violated department policy and should be fired.
"Our employees go through the same type of criminal justice system as any other citizen on the street, so we want that to run its course before we make any decisions," said Mesa police Sgt. Chuck Trapani, a department spokesman.
The department may act administratively if there is an obvious violation of department policy, Trapani said.
At the heart of that practice is a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says a police officer can be compelled to answer questions in an administrative investigation but the answers can’t be used against him in the criminal investigation, police officials said.
But in the case of former Chandler police officer Daniel Lovelace, who was acquitted in July of charges of seconddegree murder and endangerment stemming from an onduty shooting, the Chandler Police Department conducted both investigations simultaneously. Lovelace shot and killed Dawn Rae Nelson, 35, on Oct. 11, 2002, and was fired a month later. He has asked for his job back, and reinstatement proceedings are scheduled to be held in October.
Chandler usually runs its criminal and administrative investigations simultaneously, said detective George Arias, Chandler police spokesman.
"There’s no reason not to have them run together," Arias said.
Bill FitzGerald, spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, the agency that prosecutes most of the felony cases in the county, said his office takes no position on the order of the investigations, just that they be kept separate.
In Lineberger’s case, he was sent home on March 14, 2003, a day after Chandler police began investigating.
He is scheduled for a "change of plea" hearing Tuesday in front of Superior Court Judge Michael Wilkinson.
"It’s reasonable that the police department doesn’t just fire somebody based on an allegation," said Marc Victor, Lineberger’s defense attorney.
Three other Mesa officers who were convicted of crimes racked up $106,000 in salary as their cases went through the judicial system. Guy Adams was placed on paid leave Oct. 10, 2002, and was fired Aug. 19, 2003, six days after a jury convicted him of theft.
Merle Davis was placed on leave Nov. 11, 2002, and resigned April 11, 2003, six weeks after pleading guilty to aggravated harassment. He earned an early release from probation, according to court records.
Marc Therre has been on leave since Oct. 9, 2003. He pleaded guilty Feb. 11 to a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence/disorderly conduct.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Mesa officers Rigoberto Ramirez and Eric Zimmerman on misconduct allegations. Both resigned, and their paid leave amounted to more than $43,000.
Trapani said that reassignment, such as desk duty, often isn’t an option instead of paid leave, but that is up to the police chief.
Administrative leave isn’t a paid vacation, either.
Trapani said officers are required to stay at home eight hours a day, five days a week, are given a pager and are told to be available.
"Our chief actually checks up on people who are on administrative suspension," Trapani said.