Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell confirmed Thursday that he has initiated inquiries into internal police issues involving the department’s top civilian employee.
Rodbell ordered the Internal Affairs Office to investigate top police officials concerning the notification of Helen Gandara-Zavala that her husband was under investigation for possibly associating with drug dealers sometime between 1998 and 2002. The investigation was dropped for lack of evidence.
The police chief also said he has asked for recommendations on how to verify there was no misconduct in the Scottsdale crime lab in association with a DUI investigation of Gandara-Zavala’s husband in 1999.
As administrative services director, Gandara-Zavala, 41, has authority over about 275 nonuniformed employees in six divisions, including forensic services, which encompasses the crime lab.
Rodbell said he already is satisfied no misconduct took place with either the drug or DUI investigations, but he feels it is important to have his findings independently verified.
"A number of times I have said everything is on the upand-up, but people still don’t want to believe that, so then perhaps I’m not the best person to be the one looking into it," he said.
Rodbell said he has not set deadlines for the completions of the investigations.
Rodbell said he will not revisit the circumstances under which his predecessor Doug Bartosh hired Gandara-Zavala. But, Rodbell said he has asked Internal Affairs to investigate how the Tribune obtained a copy of a signed statement by Gandara-Zavala that she had used cocaine and marijuana numerous times before being hired in 1998.
Generally, more than one "experimental" use of cocaine would have been an automatic disqualifier for a civilian police department job, according to city policy. But, the policy also allows the chief to waive the standards in "extraordinary" cases.
Retired police Capt. Don Keenom discussed the issues involving Gandara-Zavala and her husband, Mario Zavala, in a 13-page letter to the mayor, the City Council and other officials in February.
The matters also are included in court documents associated with a race discrimination case filed by police fingerprint technician Steven Anderson, who is white.
The issues have created a rift among l owe r- l eve l police employees who believe policies are being selectively enforced, said Chet Anderson, president of Lodge 35 of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Steven Anderson and Chet Anderson are not related.
Rodbell said it is important for the entire force to determine how Gandara-Zavala’s drug-use admission became public.
"If I allow that without looking into it for this case or any case, then I’m not doing my job, which is protecting people’s confidential rights. And so, I’ve got to look into our process and how to make sure we safeguard against people receiving things . . . they shouldn’t have received," Rodbell said.
In the statement, Gandara-Zavala admitted using illegal drugs in her early 20s, during which time she worked for El Paso, Texas, and for an El Paso law firm.
Chet Anderson said he agrees with the decision to investigate how the admission became public.
"The content in that note is of great importance to the public, I believe. However, the information contained on that note, and that note itself, if it was obtained either illegally or immorally or however it was obtained and distributed, that is of concern to me and the FOP," he said.
Defense attorney Lawrence Kazan, who is involved in the DUI case, raised questions about the crime lab in January.
He represented former Scottsdale resident Wendy MacDonald, who was involved in an auto accident with Mario Zavala.
DUI charges against Mario Zavala were dismissed after a blood test showed he was well under the legal blood alcohol limit in 1999. DUI charges against Mac-Donald were lowered to reckless driving in January 2003, after Kazan said he received an anonymous note that questioned the test results. The results indicated Mac-Donald was above the legal limit.
The drug investigation involving Mario Zavala was dropped for lack of evidence around the same time executive assistant chief of police Dee Taylor informed Gandara-Zavala about the probe.
A spokesman for City Manager Jan Dolan said she declined comment for this article and referred questions to Rodbell.