Four veteran Mesa police officers were put on desk duties for nearly half a year — and their sergeant remains on paid suspension — after a lieutenant complained to the department in January that the officers had inappropriate materials displayed on their office walls.
Despite Mesa’s growing officer shortage, the highly decorated Street Crimes Unit 1 was taken off the streets for six months and then put back on patrol in August without being told if they violated any policies.
The Tribune has requested records of the investigation on multiple occasions both verbally and in writing, but the department has not provided the documents.
The unit, which was formerly a bike squad, was commended multiple times for solving a “sophisticated fraud scheme,” recovering thousands of dollars in stolen property, finding a shooting suspect, arresting a serial burglary suspect and pulling a bleeding gunshot victim to safety while the gunman was still in the area, personnel records show. And the group was supposed to be up for another award in April.
But an internal affairs investigation was launched after supervisor Lt. Andy Alonzo was assigned in fall 2006 to oversee the unit and complained a few months later about the materials on display in their office near Alma School Road and Southern Avenue.
The materials on the wall — some of which had been there for years — included a series of pictures of mullet haircuts, panhandling signs collected from homeless people, photos of officers holding seized guns, photos from drug busts and other material, said an officer who saw the wall.
The officer asked to remain unnamed for fear of retaliation.
The source said the material on the wall was intended to be funny.
Alonzo could not be reached for comment on why he was offended by the material.
Chief George Gascón would not say what was on the wall, but he called the material “highly inappropriate things that should have never been in the workplace.”
The unnamed Tribune source said the material was not displayed in an area exposed to the public and was not racist or sexist. Gascón disagreed.
Although the chief said the material was enough to take five officers off the streets, he still returned them to patrol after only a sensitivity class and some firearms training, police said.
The officers, who have been with the department for eight to 12 years, were returned to patrol and placed on shifts generally held by newer officers.
Their supervisor, Sgt. Audrey Glemba, remains on paid suspension. Her personnel file shows she taught in the police academy and earned half a dozen commendations.
Gascón would not say when Glemba will return to duty or why after six months the case is still not completed, other than the fact that the department has “limited staff into internal affairs.”
“We cannot compromise the integrity of the department because (we’re) short of personnel,” Gascón said. “We have completed the investigation as it pertains to (the officers), but we have to go through the process to find out what the level of involvement is.”