New unrest, rifts rattle Apache Junction cops - East Valley Tribune: News

New unrest, rifts rattle Apache Junction cops

Print
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Sunday, August 20, 2006 6:08 am | Updated: 3:30 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Jay Swart had a reputation as a tyrannical boss who ruled through fear and retaliation when he became second-in-command at the Apache Junction Police Department in March. It is a reputation that sounded all-too-familiar to employees of the long-troubled agency.

In the last five years, the city has spent nearly $100,000 to scrub the police department of its aura of animosity, lack of trust, cliques and vindictiveness of management against rank-andfile employees.

The charges of bullying and retaliation that dogged the department in the past are nearly identical to those leveled against Swart while he was a captain at the state Capitol Police Department, a small agency that protects state buildings.

Swart has lived up to his reputation since becoming commander of the Apache Junction department, according to current and former employees. They fear that under its new management, the department is reverting to a climate of cronyism and retribution that brought disrepute to the agency and cost so much time and money to clean up.

And they’re not alone.

Some City Council members say they are concerned the department is slipping back toward the style of management that caused so many problems in the past.

“It’s not as bad, but we are seeing some of the problems,” Councilman John Insalaco said. “I feel that we could be losing a lot of good officers, whether they leave on their own or are forced out. To me, it doesn’t seem all rosy.”

Swart retired as a captain of the Capitol Police in October, drawing a disability pension after claiming a nine-year-old back injury had grown so bad he could no longer work as a police officer.

Five months later, he was hired by Apache Junction Police Chief Glenn Walp as the civilian commander. Swart was given a two-year contract with an $86,000 annual salary. The Phoenix resident also has the full-time use of a city car.

Swart had been making about $59,000 at the Capitol Police and still receives about half that from his disability pension.

Though he no longer qualifies for certification as a police officer, Swart oversees every division within the Apache Junction department, including patrol and investigations. State law and policies require those law-enforcement functions to be supervised by a certified police officer, not a civilian.

Several current and former Apache Junction police employees say they experienced retaliation after raising concerns about Swart’s background at the Capitol and his actions since becoming a police commander with the city.

Some say they were forced out of the agency. Others who remain said in written complaints that Walp and Swart have brought fear and favoritism back to the department.

“Everybody is so terrified because of the air that was put in the department that you didn’t know who you could trust,” said Karen Gwaltney, a former police employee who took concerns about Swart to the city attorney and says she was pressured into quitting as a result. “You have people operating out of fear.”

Both Walp and Swart deny any employee has faced retaliation for complaining to city officials outside the agency.

“I wouldn’t do that and I wouldn’t allow anybody else to do it,” said Walp, who has been chief since late January.

He and Swart dismissed the complaints as the grumblings of disgruntled employees.

“I’m disappointed that people try to take shots at me, that there is this level of jealousy and vindictiveness,” Swart said. “It’s shameful, but it’s part of what exists in society.”

RUTHLESS REPUTATION

Swart’s reputation for protecting his friends and ruthlessly dealing with his enemies is documented in a series of investigative reports related to the Capitol Police Department done while he was a top commander there. Swart gave favored treatment to those he considered “team players,” and subjected those who landed on his bad side to harassment and retaliation, according to the reports done five years apart.

Swart’s career as a fulltime police officer was spent at the Capitol Police, which is controlled by the Arizona Department of Administration. He joined the agency in 1986 and eventually rose to captain, making him secondin-command under a series of chiefs who generally served only short stints. One of those was Walp.

A 1998 review of the agency by an outside investigator documented numerous allegations that Swart routinely humiliated officers and other employees, retaliated against those who crossed him, and spent too much time away from the Capitol complex rousting homeless people he suspected of using drugs.

Five years later, the Arizona Department of Public Safety reported similar allegations against Swart in two separate administrative investigations. Both reported complaints about Swart’s “dictatorial” style of management and history of retaliating against those he deemed disloyal.

Among the harshest rebukes of Swart was one from Andrew Staubitz, then chief of Capitol Police and Swart’s boss.

“He’d slit your throat with a smile on his face,” Staubitz said of Swart.

Elliott Hibbs, who was director of administration when the Capitol Police audits were conducted, said it was clear Swart was a problem manager. Hibbs said he told Swart on several occasions to stop his abusive treatment of employees, and changed Swart’s duties to limit his authority over rank-and-file officers.

Since the complaints against Swart related to his management style and not misconduct, Hibbs said there was little else he could do.

“I always felt that there were concerns about his style and approach to things,” Hibbs said. “If there had been more solid evidence of something I probably would have taken more egregious steps.”

Walp said he looked into the allegations made against Swart in 1998 when he was chief of the Capitol Police for two months in late 2001. Walp said he found no merit to the accusations, and that he and Swart have been friends since.

Walp said he was not aware of the two DPS investigations from 2003.

‘DYSFUNCTIONAL’ AGENCY

By 2001, police in Apache Junction also were grumbling that their top commanders gave special treatment to those officers who curried favor, and engaged in harassment and retaliation against those who did not.

Those complaints boiled over after an April 2001 shooting of a suicidal 16-year-old by an Apache Junction police sergeant, and a subsequent $1.64 million settlement the city paid to the boy’s survivors.

The City Council hired Carroll Buracker, an expert in police management, to root out department problems.

Buracker’s report, released in November 2003, documented a history of unequal treatment of employees, harassment, retaliation and “vindictiveness for labor opinions which are inconsistent with those of management.”

Buracker’s bottom line: The Apache Junction Police Department was “dysfunctional.”

“The safety of police officers and residents in an agency with so much friction is a major concern,” Buracker said in his report.

For the next two years, the council made a public show of cleaning out the agency, ridding it of the problems identified in the Buracker report and a subsequent investigation by the Tempe-based Sereno Group. The old police chief was forced out. Steve Campbell, a commander in the Phoenix Police Department, was temporarily loaned to the city to serve as chief, repair the damaged agency and restore its credibility.

Campbell hired a retired lieutenant from the Phoenix Police Department, Terry McDonald, who became interim chief when Campbell returned to Phoenix last year.

Both said they found an agency so battered by fear and years of bad management that it was difficult to gain the trust of rank-and-file employees.

“The trust and confidence we had to earn over a period of time,” Campbell said in describing how he coaxed employees to come forward with what they knew about wrongdoing in the department.

In the end, five police supervisors and two officers resigned or retired amid investigations by Campbell and McDonald.

In December, City Manager George Hoffman picked Walp as the new chief. Walp was one of four finalists, including McDonald. His first day on the job was Jan. 24.

Walp retired as commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police in 1995. He applied for jobs as police chief throughout the Southwest, and was eventually hired in Bullhead City and then at the Capitol Police.

Walp gained fame in 2002 when he exposed rampant thefts and fraud at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He turned whistle-blower after lab administrators fired him, eventually winning vindication in congressional hearings, a legal settlement of almost $1 million and a deal to write a book about his experiences that will be published next year.

When Apache Junction officials were checking Walp’s background during the selection process, Swart was the person they talked with at the Capitol Police. Swart gave Walp a glowing recommendation.

Walp is “by far the smartest and greatest leader I have ever worked for or known,” was Swart’s assessment.

Walp hired Swart a month after he took over in Apache Junction.

IN CONTROL

Because of his back injury, Swart no longer qualifies for certification as a police officer, referred to as “sworn” personnel. Walp hired Swart as a civilian administrator.

A civilian can legally perform administrative duties in a police department, said Robert Forry, compliance manager for the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, known as POST, which certifies police officers. Administrative duties typically include things like overseeing dispatch, preparing budgets, public relations and personnel functions.

If a civilian administrator is put in charge of operational aspects of the department, such as patrol or narcotics divisions, they should be POST certified, Forry said.

Forry acknowledged making those distinctions is not always easy. POST probably would not get involved unless someone complained, he said.

“If he’s doing it on a regular basis, like over the patrol function or the investigative function, then we would probably let that agency know they should consider that person going after certification,” Forry said. “It gets a little cloudy. If you have somebody that’s doing both, they’re out maybe supervising or managing sworn officers, then we would notify that agency to give us some explanation of that. Then, on a case-by-case basis, we would look at those.”

Swart said he has never crossed the line by getting involved in Apache Junction’s law-enforcement operations. Although he drives an unmarked police car, Swart said he does not carry a badge or a gun, and only responds to incidents in the field when he is needed as the department’s public information officer.

However, the organizational chart for the department put out by Walp shows all of the agency’s divisions — including patrol, narcotics and investigations — are under Swart’s command. In addition, internal memos show Swart directly oversees the department’s narcotics officers, and is in charge of the entire department when Walp is out of town.

Swart’s contract with the city also requires that he perform the duties of a police commander, as defined in the personnel department’s job description. That description requires the commander to have “direct supervision over sworn and non-sworn police staff,” and requires POST certification.

Walp said Swart is doing nothing that runs afoul of POST rules, adding the duties outlined in city documents and e-mails are “a matter of semantics.”

“In my opinion he administrates,” Walp said. “If you want to say he supervises, that’s fine. But he does not perform the duties of a police officer. Absolutely not. Never has. Never will. I wouldn’t allow him to.”

CUTTING TIES

Word of Swart’s reputation at Capitol Police spread quickly through the Apache Junction Police Department soon after he was hired. Joe Martinez was among the first to hear about it.

Martinez had spent 20 years in Pinal County law enforcement, including three years as an Apache Junction police officer. He had gone to reserve status in 2004 after being hired as police chief in Kearny. As a reserve, Martinez volunteered to help the department through troubled times when it was chronically short-staffed because of the investigations that followed the Buracker report.

Martinez heard about Swart from a friend who had worked at the Capitol Police. He spread the word to others, including Sgt. Dan Schultz, a 22-year veteran of the Apache Junction police.

Schultz was getting ready to retire and was out on medical leave when Swart was hired. After talking to Martinez, Schultz researched Swart’s background on the Internet and found a newspaper article about the 1998 audit of the Capitol Police. Concerned the council was not aware of the information, Schultz took a copy of the article to City Attorney Joel Stern.

The reaction was almost immediate.

Martinez said he received a call from Swart about mid-March telling him his status as a reserve officer was being revoked and that he needed to turn in his equipment.

Schultz said he was using up his remaining sick and vacation time, and was to retire at the end of April. Shortly after talking to Stern in mid-March, Schultz received a notice from the city’s personnel office that he would be paid up-front for his unused time, and that his connections with the city would be severed at the end of the month.

Martinez and Schultz had already cut most of their ties to the Apache Junction Police Department by the time Schultz spoke with Stern.

Karen Gwaltney had no such plan to leave.

‘NO FIGHT LEFT’

Gwaltney ran the department’s property and evidence room. She also was the department’s crime scene technician, responsible for gathering evidence and testifying about it in court.

Gwaltney earned praise both from Buracker and the supervisors she worked for throughout her nearly 21 years with the city.

“Her devotion to her job and the people it affects is unquestionable,” Gwaltney’s supervisor, Sgt. Teresa Rodgers, wrote in her annual review last October. “She is conscientious and will not tolerate anything but perfection from herself.”

In late March, Gwaltney happened to see Stern in the parking lot of City Hall. She told him about the newspaper article she had found on the Internet detailing the 1998 report about Swart. She asked if anyone had bothered to check Swart’s background before he was hired.

Stern was noncommittal, saying only that he’d look into it, she said.

By the end of the month, Gwaltney was called into a meeting with Sgt. Troy Mullender, who had been her supervisor for less than a week. Mullender laid out a long list of “issues” he had with her job performance. They included such items as “treating people with courtesy and respect,” time management, and overall job performance.

“At the conclusion of the meeting I asked you to evaluate your commitment to this agency and improve your performance in these areas,” Mullender wrote in the one-page letter.

Gwaltney was shocked that after 20 years of stellar evaluations, she would be reprimanded by a person who had been her supervisor for less than a week. She quit the next day, March 31.

“I felt bad when I left, but I had no fight left in me,” Gwaltney said, adding it is clear to her the reprimand was punishment for going to the city attorney. “The truth is the truth. It was an integrity issue for me. That’s all I have is my integrity. These people have none.”

Mullender acknowledged he had only been Gwaltney’s supervisor for a few days prior to the March meeting. But he had been her supervisor in the late 1990s and the problems he raised in his letter were evident even then, he said.

Past performance evaluations of Gwaltney signed by Mullender do not reflect those concerns. In fact, Mullender repeatedly praised Gwaltney as a “valuable member of the Apache Junction Police Department,” in the evaluations he did as her supervisor.

Mullender said neither Walp nor Swart directed him to reprimand Gwaltney, and that he made the decision to give her the letter because she was not getting her work done.

Following the recommendations of the Buracker report, Gwaltney’s duties as property custodian and crime scene technician are being split, and two people are being hired to fill those positions.

LINGERING FEAR

Stern confirmed he was approached by several police department employees concerned about Swart last March. He took their complaints to the council, which concluded the allegations were unfounded, Stern said.

“It wasn’t seen as pertinent, truthfully,” Stern said. “It just seemed like a lot of disgruntled employees.”

Stern insists he never told anyone the names of the employees who approached him with concerns about Swart.

However, Walp said Stern told him who they were shortly after they complained.

After hearing the complaints that were channeled through Stern, Walp said he assured Hoffman, the city manager, and the council there was no truth to the allegations made against Swart.

Vice Mayor R.E. Eck said the council relied on those assurances, adding Walp will ultimately be held responsible if there are problems in the department. Eck said he was never told about the DPS investigations from 2003.

“The chief has enough confidence in him (Swart) that he’s risking his own personal position by saying ‘I have all the confidence in this individual,’ “ Eck said. “That’s what was conveyed to us.”

Hoffman did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Two officers filed formal grievances against Walp and Swart in April, only to see them dismissed by city administrators.

Detective Randy Eckert alleged he was moved out of a coveted investigative assignment after telling another detective that Swart improperly ordered a subordinate to access information on a computer database that is only supposed to be used for law enforcement purposes.

Eckert also asked for protection from retaliation by Swart “as his reputation for doing such is a matter of public record.”

After the personnel office dismissed his allegations as unfounded, and suggested he discuss his assignment with Walp or Swart, Eckert withdrew his grievance without explanation. He would not comment to the Tribune.

Officer Chad Suniga filed a series of grievances against Walp and Swart with the city’s personnel office. Suniga alleged Walp berated officers at a staff meeting and that Swart routinely gave special treatment to city officials and council members who had personal matters that required police involvement.

Suniga said he took his complaint directly to the personnel office because of “a fear of retaliation from the persons involved.”

Less than a week later, Suniga sent another message alleging he suffered retaliation by being frozen out of overtime shifts that were handed to other patrol officers. After Liz Riley, the city’s personnel director, concluded neither Walp nor Swart had violated city rules, and that there was no policy covering overtime assignments, Suniga appealed to Hoffman.

“I maintain that other employees do feel similar to me, but they have not filed complaints based upon a fear of retaliation and a lack of confidence that H.R. (Human Resources) will investigate and correct the behavior,” Suniga wrote.

Three weeks later, Hoffman rejected Suniga’s appeal, suggesting he take any further complaints directly to Walp.

Suniga would not discuss his complaint when contacted by the Tribune.

“I’d probably better decline answering that for fear of retaliation and refer you to our public information officer, who is Jay Swart,” Suniga said.

  • Discuss

Video: Live Country Music at Bourbon Jacks in Chandler

If you enjoy live country music five nights a week, Bourbon Jacks in Chandler is the place for...

Facebook

EastValleyTribune.com on Facebook

Twitter

EastValleyTribune.com on Twitter

Google+

EastValleyTribune.com on Google+

RSS

Subscribe to EastValleyTribune.com via RSS

RSS Feeds

Spacer4px
Your Az Jobs