FIRED OVPD SERGEANT WANTS JOB BACK: CLAIMS TOWN RETALIATED AGAINST HIM FOR HIS POLICE UNION ACTIVITIES - Tucson Local Media: Import

FIRED OVPD SERGEANT WANTS JOB BACK: CLAIMS TOWN RETALIATED AGAINST HIM FOR HIS POLICE UNION ACTIVITIES

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Posted: Thursday, October 31, 2002 12:00 am | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

A veteran Oro Valley police sergeant is fighting to get his job back after he was fired Sept. 30 amid allegations he falsely accused another veteran OVPD officer of threatening him during a confrontation over an extramarital affair.

Sgt. James Bloomfield, 40, has filed an appeal with the town's Grievance Review Board seeking reinstatement to his position as patrol sergeant, claiming the town has blown the issue out of proportion simply to retaliate against him for his high profile involvement in labor actions taken by the Fraternal Order of Police, one of two Oro Valley police unions, against the town.

The firing of Bloomfield, who is a past president of the Oro Valley FOP lodge, its current treasurer, and a 14 year veteran of the department, appears to be further driving a wedge between Oro Valley's rank and file officers and the OVPD and town administrations.

Just a day before the incident occurred between Bloomfield and the other officer, 38 members of the FOP lodge filed an intent-to-sue letter with the town seeking almost $1 million in back pay and damages because the town hasn't been paying officers to carry town-issued pagers. Bloomfield led the list of officers' names who signed the letter. The FOP filed the lawsuit for the back pay last week.

An Oro Valley officer and FOP official who requested to remain anonymous said the organization's members are deeply concerned about the way Bloomfield's investigation was conducted by the town and have asked its lawyers to send a letter to the town expressing those concerns. The letter was expected to be sent this week.

Another officer representing the Oro Valley Police Officers Association, who also requested anonymity, said his organization "wholeheartedly supports (Bloomfield) in his efforts to get his job back." The officer added that he "has never seen morale so low or people so on edge" as a result of Bloomfield's firing.

But there also appears to be divisions within the rank and file over what stance to take on Bloomfield's investigation and firing.

Oro Valley FOP President Det. Herb Williams said that, as far as he was concerned, the organization should be neutral on Bloomfield's firing for the time being, but said the group may want to address how the investigation was handled by the department after "it's all over with."

There are 65 OVPD officers (including the command staff) of which almost 50 belong to the Oro Valley FOP. Some of the department's officers and command staff, including Police Chief Danny Sharp, belong to the Tucson Police Department's FOP lodge.

Bloomfield was the leader of the FOP four years ago when the nascent union sued the town seeking collective bargaining rights and binding arbitration. The FOP eventually lost that suit on appeal, however the suit resulted in the town agreeing to recognize the FOP and to negotiate with its leadership on pay, benefits and personnel issues. Bloomfield has been among the more vocal FOP members pushing for more pay and benefits from the town, especially recently over the pager-pay demand.

Sharp, however, said Bloomfield's FOP involvement played no role in the decision to fire him. Rather, he said, it had to do with Bloomfield falsely accusing a fellow officer and then lying about it when faced with an internal affairs investigation.

Sharp said Bloomfield's claim of retaliation is "without merit."

"This is an issue of integrity. … Just tell the truth. I have to be able to trust police officers who are out there relatively unsupervised with incredible, enormous powers," Sharp said. "I have to be able to trust what they report is going to be accurate, it's going to be honest, and if they find themselves in a jam they aren't going to somehow victimize someone else in order to get out of a jam. I have to know they're going to step up and say 'I made a mistake,' no matter how uncomfortable it is to accept that responsibility."

Additionally, he said a tactic by Bloomfield to get officers on his side by showing them his internal affairs investigation file has been backfiring as officers have been coming to Sharp, or writing him notes, after reading the file and "thanking" Sharp "for firing Bloomfield."

Sharp, though, admitted the pager-pay lawsuit has caused officers to think he was mad at them and said he has taken steps to allay those fears.

"I went to a supervisors meeting and I said, 'I know people are talking about this' and I said 'I'm not angry. You have an absolute right to do it,'" Sharp said.

Bloomfield said he was surprised to hear officers were thanking Sharp in lieu of the expected letter to the town from the FOP membership supporting him and questioning the investigation.

According to public records reviewed by the Northwest EXPLORER, Bloomfield became the subject of a police department "administrative inspection" Aug. 9 after Det. Buddy Novak called him and accused him of having an affair with Novak's ex-girlfriend. Bloomfield, who is married, denied the affair to Novak.

Novak, 55, who secretly recorded the phone call, ended the conversation by saying, "But if you wanta take this attitude, is gonna (sic) take me through the department and hookin' your ass to a lie detector, then that's what I'll do!" according to a transcript of the call.

Minutes after Novak's call, Bloomfield called his supervisor, Cmdr. Charlie Lentner. What Bloomfield told Lentner during that phone call is the crux of the town's charges of dishonesty that led to Bloomfield's firing, according to written statements made by Lentner, Sharp and a rebuttal filed by the town of Bloomfield's grievance appeal.

According to the town, Bloomfield purposefully misled Lentner about the nature of Novak's call and caused Lentner to think "Sgt. Bloomfield was being falsely accused by Det. Novak of something he didn't do and that Sgt. Bloomfield was greatly concerned for his safety." Bloomfield's intent, the town says, was to cast suspicion upon Novak in case Novak did try to involve the department.

Sharp, in a Sept. 16 memo to Bloomfield's internal affairs investigation file, wrote, "After a review of the tape of the conversation between Sgt. Bloomfield and Det. Novak, it is apparent that Sgt. Bloomfield intentionally misled Cmdr. Lentner in an attempt to avoid the discomfort of accepting responsibility for his actions."

Bloomfield has since admitted to the town his affair with Novak's girlfriend Stephanie Bruce.

According to Bloomfield and Bruce, the affair amounted to between six and 10 meetings over the course of a year. Novak and Bloomfield, in recorded statements, said the affair started sometime in 1999 and lasted into 2000. Bruce, in a transcript of a recorded statement taken by internal affairs investigator Sgt. Chuck Trujillo, also said the affair lasted a year, but said it started in 1997 or 1998 and then gave times of meetings with Bloomfield in 2000. Most of the meetings between Bloomfield and Bruce occurred in Bloomfield's SUV parked along the side of rural dirt roads or in vacant lots. One meeting was at Bloomfield's house, another at a midtown hotel. Not every meeting involved intercourse, according to both Bruce and Bloomfield.

Bruce, 32, moved out of state in July and could not be located for comment.

Novak told Trujillo that Bruce told him of the affair at the end of June and that the knowledge was "eating on me and eating on me." He said his fear that he might die during his operation for prostate cancer scheduled for Aug. 13, and that Bloomfield might "get away with it," led him to call and confront Bloomfield. Despite his threat to involve the department, Novak told Trujillo his intent was to get Bloomfield to admit to the affair on tape and then give the tape to Bloomfield's wife.

Novak was not disciplined for his role in the events of Aug. 9, Sharp said, saying "Buddy didn't do anything wrong."

Bloomfield steadfastly denies he ever lied to Lentner or to Trujillo during the investigation, and that he did not call Lentner Aug. 9 with the intent to get Novak into trouble to protect himself.

He said he made the call to Lentner because he was on duty when Novak called him and had missed some training exercises due to the call and because Novak seemed so upset he was worried that Novak might hurt him, or himself, or become sick. According to Bloomfield, Novak has high blood pressure in addition to cancer.

"My thought process was, I was afraid he could do something to himself; I didn't know whether he was going to have a stroke … obviously you start thinking, and I'm a cop, and I think like a cop, so I started thinking 'what could happen.' It wasn't a year ago that that (Tucson Police Department) cop in the same type of situation went and popped that guy and then popped himself," Bloomfield said.

Bloomfield was referring to Tucson police Det. Kenneth Dillard who burst into the home of his estranged wife June 29, 2001 and killed Carter Wertheim and then killed himself. Investigators said Dillard believed Wertheim was having an affair with his wife.

Despite Bloomfield's call to Lentner being at the center of the town's allegations of dishonesty against Bloomfield, Lentner still played a role in the decision to fire Bloomfield. Lentner, in a Sept. 13 memo to Sharp, said "It is my opinion based on the totality of the entire sequence of events that Sgt. Bloomfield failed to report honestly and accurately all the facts pertaining to a matter of concern to the department." He goes on to recommend Bloomfield be fired.

Yet in the same memo Lentner said he did "not recall the exact words used during our short phone conversation in any detail," but said he was "absolutely convinced by the end of the call that Sgt. Bloomfield was being falsely accused by Det. Novak … and that Sgt. Bloomfield was greatly concerned for his safety."

In fact, Lentner actually changed his story in the investigation as to what Bloomfield told him Aug. 9.

In a recorded statement to Trujillo Aug. 21 Lentner said, "… that's another thing Bloomfield said when I was talking to him, he said 'I think, you know, Buddy says he's gonna kill me,' so that certainly got my attention."

But on Sept. 10, after having read the taped transcripts of the interviews of Bruce, Novak, himself and Bloomfield that were conducted by Trujillo, and a memo from Trujillo of his conclusions, Lentner asked for a re-interview.

In the second interview, Lentner said, "… there were a couple of spots in my (Aug. 21) interview that … did not come out clearly, or the way I intended them." He then says in reference to the statement about Bloomfield telling him Novak threatened to kill him, "I didn't mean to say exactly that. What I meant to say was that Buddy might kill him … not that he said that he would kill him. That was the impression that I got from Sgt. Bloomfield … that he was concerned for his safety."

Further complicating Lentner's inconsistent statements is the fact that during the various phone calls that occurred the night of Aug. 9 between Bloomfield and Lentner, and Lentner and other commanding officers in the department as well as Novak, Lentner learned his mother had just died. In fact, several of the phone calls took place while Lentner was on the way to, or returning from, an adult care home where he dealt with his mother's death.

Sharp, though, said he was unconcerned about Lentner's inconsistencies.

"I know Charlie and Charlie struggles to make sure he's absolutely fair in every aspect and wanted to make sure that if there was anything that could have been changed or mischaracterized, he wanted to make sure that he had it absolutely to the Nth degree accurate," Sharp said. "But when you get down to the things that he was certain about -- the characterization (of Novak by Bloomfield), and the some of the specifics that were said that he was certain about -- there was little doubt about what had occurred and what (Bloomfield's) intent was."

Sharp said he allowed Lentner to play a role in Bloomfield's firing because he trusted Lentner's judgment.

"We don't have the luxury of excluding people, we're not big enough (of a police department)," Sharp said. "I asked Charlie and he said he was comfortable with it … he said he thought he could be objective."

Sharp added that it wasn't just Lentner's statements about what Bloomfield may have told him the night of Aug. 9 that led to the town's action against Bloomfield. He said inconsistencies in Bloomfield's recorded statements with Trujillo Aug. 27 and Sept. 9 reinforced the town's belief that Bloomfield was acting with malice toward Novak when he called Lentner.

In his recorded statements, Bloomfield said Novak was "screaming" at him during the phone call. Novak's recording of the call (reviewed by the EXPLORER) shows that, while Novak raised his voice several times during the call, his voice could not be characterized as screaming.

Bloomfield said in his Aug. 27 interview that Bruce always brought liquor to their meetings. In his Sept. 9 interview he admits to bringing liquor for some of the meetings.

Sharp said he began to suspect Bloomfield's motives for calling Lentner after speaking with Novak Aug. 10, the morning after the confrontation call.

Sharp, who said Novak had worked for him when they were both at the Tucson Police Department, said Novak called to tell him he "wasn't going to do anything to anybody, he wasn't going to make any threats and that he was OK."

Sharp said Novak went on to tell him everything about how he learned of the affair from Bruce and why he called Bloomfield to confront him.

At the time, based on the phone calls Sharp had received the night before from Lentner and Cmdr. Larry Stevens, Sharp said he suspected Novak of having done something wrong. But after speaking with Novak, suspicion shifted to Bloomfield, he said.

"The light bulb went on for me, because this sounds to me like we possibly have a supervisor subscribing to the best defense is a good offense," Sharp said.

Sharp also said he knew Novak well enough to know he wasn't "prone to making threats and going off the deep end."

His estimation of Bloomfield, though, was that he "tends to overreact and embellish."

Bloomfield explains his inconsistent statements about the liquor by saying he was being asked to remember exact details of events that had occurred two years prior. He said he didn't remember he had brought liquor to some of the meetings with Bruce until after his Aug. 27 interview. He said that is why when asked about it again Sept. 9, he gave a different answer.

As for saying Novak was screaming during the confrontation call, he said that's just the way he remembered it.

"That's exactly how I remember it. It was loud enough to me that I walked out of the hallway into the courtyard so people wouldn't hear," Bloomfield said. "I was caught off guard, and in that state of mind, that to me, while it was going on, he was shouting at me."

Bloomfield added that according to the transcript of Lentner's Aug. 21 interview, Lentner said Novak told him the night of Aug. 9 that "he probably was yelling" at Bloomfield.

"So, though it's not on the tape, even Novak had that impression," Bloomfield said.

As for the FOP retaliation claim, Bloomfield said he began to suspect there was more to the investigation than just getting to the bottom of what was said between him and Lentner when, two weeks after talking to Lentner and then not hearing anything more about it, he found himself called into an internal affairs interview and then suspended from duty the next day.

"If this was such a problem, why didn't we sit down and talk about this?" Bloomfield said. "I've been there 14 years. I couldn't understand if they had issues like this why they didn't sit me down and pick my brain a little bit and see what my train of thought was rather than (going) right for my jugular right from the beginning. This investigation had one purpose and one purpose only, to nail me to the cross."

Bloomfield has never had a bad performance review at OVPD. Twelve of his 13 reviews were "exceeds standards" and one was meets standards. He had three letters of reprimand early in his career for minor infractions, and was suspended for a day early in his career for his role in a traffic accident. He has received two letters of commendation from the town. He has several qualifications including those as a firearms and driving instructor. He maintained the department's Web site as well as the FOP's.

Bloomfield's struggle for reinstatement appears to becoming quite personal and nasty. In his appeal to the grievance board, Bloomfield's attorney raises the specter of Sharp's judgment being clouded because of an incident involving Sharp's wife while he was a commander in the Tucson Police Department.

The town, in response, as part of its four-page rebuttal to Bloomfield's grievance appeal, casts the veteran officer as a liar, using a variation of the word 15 times, saying, because he is a liar, the town had no choice but to fire him.

"Police officers may not lie, mischaracterize, omit information, exaggerate or anything of that nature, as they are police officers," the town's attorneys wrote. "It is hard, if not impossible, to convict anyone if the key piece of information or testimony has to be presented by an officer known to lie, omit facts or exaggerate. … By his actions, Mr. Bloomfield has made himself useless as an officer and a witness for the state."

Despite the nasty tone, Bloomfield said he wants his job back and will gladly resume his duties if reinstated.

"It was a dumb thing to do. It was stupid. I am ashamed of it. It was wrong," Bloomfield said of the affair.

He said he wishes he had taken a few minutes to calm down before calling Lentner that night, but insists he didn't do or say anything that warrants being fired.

"Obviously, I think I've been mistreated but I would hope that I've got a fair shot at getting my job back.

"I still wake up and think this didn't happen. … Oro Valley has been my life. I've dedicated myself to this town and this community," Bloomfield said.

The town's grievance board can take action without a hearing, but if it chooses to set a hearing date, both sides will have 10 days to compile a witness list and prepare for the hearing. The hearing will be public by town rule.

The board has 30 days from the time it received the appeal to decide whether to hold a hearing, and if it does, it must hold the hearing within 60 days. Bloomfield's appeal is dated Oct. 8.

The five-member board consists of two citizens, Jack Redavid, Pima Community College's human resources director; Ethel Rocco, who is semiretired; and three town employees, assistant Town Clerk Roxana Garrity; crime analyst Lorinda Navarro; and senior civil engineer Steve Farborg.

© 2014 Tucson Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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