OV BOARD UPHOLDS VETERAN COP'S FIRING - The Explorer: Import

OV BOARD UPHOLDS VETERAN COP'S FIRING

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Posted: Tuesday, April 15, 2003 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:47 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

In a split 3-2 vote April 8, the Oro Valley Employee Grievance Review Board upheld the Sept. 30 firing of Oro Valley Police Sgt. James Bloomfield. The vote ends for now a drawn-out process that has caused sharp divisions within the OVPD.

Bloomfield still has the option of appealing the grievance board's decision to the Pima County Superior Court. Bloomfield's lawyer, Michael Storie, said after the board's vote that no decision had been made about an appeal, but that Bloomfield was considering it.

Bloomfield, a 14-year OVPD veteran, was fired after an internal affairs investigation determined he lied to his supervisors about an affair with another officer's girlfriend. He appealed his firing to the grievance board which had the power to simply reinstate Bloomfield, reinstate him with lesser discipline or uphold the firing.

The board listened to more than 20 hours of testimony spread out over a period of four months. The hearing was frequently delayed due to scheduling conflicts among board members, changes in lawyers by both sides, and legal wrangling over witnesses.

It is unknown which boardmembers voted to uphold or overturn Bloomfield's firing, or why, as the board deliberated in private and took a secret vote.

The board's members include three town employees, Assistant Town Clerk Roxana Garrity, crime analyst Lorinda Navarro, and senior civil engineer Steve Faborg; and two town residents, Pima Community College Human Resources Director Jack ReDavid, the board's chairman, and Ethel Rocco.

ReDavid refused to comment about the board's decision.

The investigation of Bloomfield was sparked after OVPD Det. Andrew "Buddy" Novak called Bloomfield the night of Aug. 9 to confront him about an affair Bloomfield had with Novak's girlfriend, Stephanie Bruce, a year earlier.

Bloomfield, who is married, denied the affair to Novak during the call. Novak ended the call by telling Bloomfield he was going to "get the department involved" and have Bloomfield "hooked" up to a lie detector.

Bloomfield then called his supervisor, Cmdr. Charlie Lentner, to report the phone call with Novak.

What Bloomfield told Lentner during that call was at the center of the department's allegations of untruthfulness against Bloomfield.

Lentner told investigators, and testified at the hearing, that it was his "impression" from Bloomfield that night that Novak's accusations of Bloomfield having an affair with Bruce were untrue, claiming Bloomfield told him "he didn't know" what Novak was talking about.

Bloomfield later admitted during the investigation that he did have an affair with Bruce over a period of about a year.

Police Chief Danny Sharp testified that he believed Bloomfield intentionally misled Lentner to cast suspicion on Novak in case he did try to involve the department.

In an interview in October, Sharp said, "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. 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."

Thomas Arn, a Phoenix lawyer contracted to represent the town, told the board it needed only to determine if Bloomfield lied to Lentner, or during the investigation, to uphold the firing.

"Did he lie? There's a tremendous amount of evidence here that he did lie," Arn told the board. "Police officers go to court all the time. And one of the things that they have to have when they take that stand is credibility of being a law enforcement officer who can testify to important facts in a case. If (an officer) is disciplined for any truthfulness related issues, that has to be disclosed (to the defense). That … renders (an officer) to attack. A skilled (defense attorney) can take a police officer apart with that kind of information."

Storie argued to the board that Bloomfield did not lie to Lentner, or anyone else in the investigation. Nor did he mislead the department, fail to report information of importance to the department, or act in ways unbecoming an officer, which were also reasons Sharp gave for firing Bloomfield

Instead, Storie argued, the only thing Bloomfield could be disciplined for was "exaggerating" to Lentner about the nature of his conversation with Novak.

Storie further argued that nearly every OVPD officer involved in the investigation was guilty of making statements that weren't accurate or true in one way or another, yet only Bloomfield was singled out for discipline.

"Think about the power that men like Chief Sharp carry. He can say 'that one, lie; that one, mistake; that one, misleading; this one, clarification," Storie told the board. "… Every darn other person (in the investigation) made inaccurate statements … everyone of these people did the exact same thing. You can't say (Bloomfield) lied even once during this whole thing … The worst crime (Bloomfield) can be accused of is he exaggerated, maybe," Storie said.

Bloomfield's firing and subsequent grievance board hearings have caused, or brought to the fore, sharp divisions within the Oro Valley Police Department between officers and the command staff, and have been a polarizing issue within the rank and file between officers who support Novak and those who support Bloomfield, including those who disapprove of Bloomfield's affair but dislike how the department handled his investigation.

The issue has also sparked tension between officers who represent the leadership of the OVPD Fraternal Order of Police chapter and leaders of the Oro Valley Police Officers Association.

Since Bloomfield's firing, membership in the OVPOA has nearly doubled, going from 28 members to 48. The FOP is currently recognized by the town to represent officers in salary and benefits negotiations. However, last week OVPOA president Dan Krueger was circulating a petition among officers to have the town officially recognize the OVPOA instead.

In December, the OVPOA asked its umbrella organization, the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs, a conglomeration of more than 60 police unions representing the majority of the state's law enforcement officers, to review OVPD's investigation of Bloomfield.

The larger union's lawyer, Martin Bihn, sent the town a letter Jan. 8 in which he called the town's investigation "flawed."

"The investigative procedures employed by (Oro Valley) were generally shoddy," Bihn wrote. "The investigation is replete with inappropriate questions posed by investigators, multiple failures by the investigators to follow up or clarify answers given by witnesses, and lacks an investigative report prepared by the investigators."

The problem many OVPOA members have with the investigation, as well as the AZCOPS lawyer, was Lentner's role.

Despite Lentner being a key witness in the investigation, he still played a part in determining whether to fire Bloomfield. Additionally, after reviewing all of the investigative documents and interview transcripts compiled by Det. Chuck Trujillo, who conducted the internal investigation, Lentner asked for a second interview and changed his statement about what Bloomfield told him the night of Aug. 9.

Initially Lentner told Trujillo Bloomfield told him Novak had threatened "to kill" Bloomfield and that Bloomfield had denied having an affair with Bruce.

In his second interview, Lentner said Bloomfield never said Novak threatened to kill him and that Bloomfield never denied the affair but that Bloomfield left him with "the impression" that the affair never happened.

In his letter to the town, Bihn said of Lentner, "Frankly … we are left with the impression that Commander Lentner was dishonest in his initial interview, was allowed to review all other statements of other witnesses, and was then allowed to modify his own prior inconsistent statements. It appears to be the height of hypocrisy to allow Lentner, a witness who has altered his statements during the investigation, to review the investigation and then recommend the dismissal of Sergeant Bloomfield for 'dishonesty.'"

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

"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 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."

"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."

Between a half dozen to a dozen OVPD officers have attended the five days of hearings, mostly members of the OVPOA.

"We don't agree with what happened, with the acts that Jim did," Krueger said. "But we also believe that it wasn't any of the department's business and (it) got involved more than (it) should have."

Several prominent members of AZCOPS, some of whom are officers in Phoenix-area police departments, have also attended the hearings. Tucson Police Sgt. Rich Anemone, president of the Tucson Police Officers Association, an AZCOPS board member and an Oro Valley resident, has attended every hearing.

"One thing that we're looking at very closely is how (OVPD) commanders are treated as compared to the line officers and sergeants," Anemone said.

"What we're looking at right now is a double standard. There's a standard for the chief's commanders and then there's a standard for everyone below them. And that's something that we don't want to carry over to our department."

Perhaps the most controversial issue, besides Lentner, was the town's decision to seek testimony from Robert Easton, the police department's professional development administrator (see story page 4).

Easton mainly oversees training and provides career advice to officers but he also administers the department's peer support and Critical Incident Stress Management programs. Those programs are supposed to allow officers to speak candidly to Easton about their jobs or private lives with the promise that what they say will remain confidential.

Some officers now say they won't talk to Easton about their problems because Easton could end up being made to testify in administrative proceedings.

Sharp said he recognizes the divisions that have arisen over Bloomfield's firing and is taking steps to address them, specifically in regard to the role of supervisors in investigations and in rebuilding officer trust in Easton.

"The important thing is that we're consistent in how we approach things and there were some concerns brought up about some procedural things and how some things were done that we can look at addressing in the future," Sharp said. "Some of it there's just some difficulty when you have a small department. We're not a department that's large enough to say, "OK, because you're involved in the chain of command, we'll give this over to somebody else.'

"I think the department's in good shape and people are grateful there's been some closure and now we can move on," he said.

As for officers needing help with their problems, Sharp said he is working with a department supervisor to develop policies and procedures that will set ground rules for confidential communications between officers, supervisors and Easton.

TESTIMONY MAY HAVE STATEWIDE IMPACT

by Mark B. Evans

A decision by the town of Oro Valley to compel testimony from Robert Easton, the Oro Valley Police Department's Professional Development Administrator, in the employee grievance review board hearing of fired OVPD Sgt. James Bloomfield may have an impact on other police departments in the state.

Tucson Police Officers Association President Sgt. Rich Anemone said he is going to advise his members in the next association newsletter that what they tell members of Tucson Police Department's Behavioral Science Unit could end up being used against them in civil service hearings.

Anemone is also a board member of Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs, a conglomeration of more than 60 Arizona police unions representing the majority of the state's law enforcement officers. He said he is going to recommend to the AZCOPS board that it put the same information out in its newsletter.

Anemone is an Oro Valley resident and attended all five days of Bloomfield's grievance hearing.

Easton was a cop for more than 20 years before being hired by Oro Valley. He has a bachelor's degree in psychology. Easton mainly oversees training and provides career advice to officers but he also administers the department's peer support and Critical Incident Stress Management programs. Those programs are supposed to allow officers to speak candidly to Easton about their jobs or private lives with the promise that what they say will remain confidential.

In August, Easton was asked by an OVPD commander to call Bloomfield and OVPD Det. Andrew "Buddy" Novak after the two officers had a confrontation over the phone about an affair Bloomfield had with Novak's girlfriend, Stephanie Bruce. (See related story, page 3).

Bloomfield, who is married, told Easton he did not have an affair with Bruce. Bloomfield called Easton a few days later and told him he had lied to Easton about the affair. Bloomfield later became the subject of an internal affairs investigation and told investigators he did have an affair with Bruce.

He was eventually fired by Police Chief Danny Sharp for untruthfulness. Bloomfield appealed the firing to the employee grievance board, which voted April 8 to uphold the firing.

Easton was never interviewed as part of the internal affairs investigation. Bloomfield's conversations with Easton apparently played no role in Sharp's decision to fire Bloomfield, though it is unclear when Easton told Sharp about his conversations with Bloomfield.

Bloomfield's lawyer, Michael Storie, tried to prevent Easton's testimony on the grounds that Bloomfield believed his conversations with Easton were confidential. He also argued that the town was only seeking Easton's testimony to prejudice the board by further branding Bloomfield as a liar. He said since Easton's conversations with Bloomfield played no role in the decision to fire him, it should play no role in the board's decision.

However, the town successfully argued to the board that because Easton was not a licensed psychologist, conversations with him were not protected according to state law, and that it was important the board know about the conversations because it demonstrated a pattern of lying by Bloomfield about the affair.

The town's decision to have Easton testify is alarming to Anemone.

"My intention, in the next newsletter, is to tell them the circumstances of the case that Bloomfield is involved in and the decision about confidentiality with anyone being in the capacity as a peer counselor or a behavioral science officer - that basically, anything you say according to state law, and the Oro Valley Grievance Committee, is not considered confidential unless that person is licensed," Anemone said.

"And I would leave it up to the individual member to decide if they would want to interview with anyone in that capacity."

The head of TPD's Behavioral Science Unit, Dr. Mary-Wales North, said Anemone's fears are misplaced. She said she is a licensed psychologist and the two sergeants in the unit are certified Employee Assistance Professionals.

She said certified EAPs can have privileged communications. Moreover, she said TPD has strict policies and procedures that say all communications between TPD officers and members of the BSU are confidential.

However, Tucson resident Don Jorgensen, president of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association, the organization that certifies EAPs, said, that while recent court decisions have extended the right of privileged communications to EAPs, he doesn't believe the two BSU sergeants act as EAPs. He said TPD actually has a contract with his partner to provide EAP services to TPD officers.

For Anemone, this again raises the issue about whether the two sergeants could be compelled to testify against TPD officers in civil service hearings.

Anemone said he's not concerned that the current police department administration would try to seek information from the BSU, but said he can't say it will always be that way.

"I think that Chief (Richard) Miranda is a fair enough person and I have enough confidence in him that he wouldn't do something like that. But what happens when he leaves? That's what I'm worried about.

"Or say the city attorney pushes it, not Chief Miranda? That's where I'm concerned," Anemone said.

Counseling for police officers has become more prevalent in the last 20 years as research has demonstrated the harmful impacts severe stress can have on an officer's health and family life. Cops have some of the highest rates of divorce, domestic violence, and substance abuse of any profession. Counseling programs where officers can reach out for help if they're having difficulty dealing with stress have become common in most medium to large police departments in the country.

One of the most ubiquitous programs is Critical Incident Stress Management in which some police officers, or peers, are trained to "debrief" fellow officers involved in stressful incidents such as a gruesome traffic accident scene or an officer-involved shooting.

However, according to Dr. Beverly Anderson, trust in the peers of the peer support part of CISM is paramount.

"If officers don't trust that you have confidentiality and privilege, they're not going to use you," Anderson said.

Anderson, a psychologist, is clinical director of the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's Employee Assistance Program. She is also president of the American Academy of Police Psychology and advisor to the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.

She has provided therapy training to numerous police departments around the country.

She was dismayed to hear about Oro Valley's actions with Easton.

"That really, really hurt the credibility of some of these peer support programs that do do a good job," Anderson said.

Anderson, though, is more a proponent of actual therapy with a licensed therapist than of peer support.

"Critical Incident Stress Management is not a theory of personality, it is not a theory of psychology. It's a technique that is more training than therapy," she said. "Just because someone has an accreditation (in CISM) just means they took a course. It doesn't mean they have the ability (to conduct critical incident stress management), it doesn't mean they are an expert in the technique and it doesn't mean they are a psychologist that can assess someone.

"Psychologists should stick to being psychologists and police officers should stick to being police officers. I'm not a cop, I'm not a cop wannabe. I'm a therapist."

After being read Easton's job description, she said she thought the town was trying to do too much with one person and conflict about whether a communication was confidential or not was inevitable.

"Oro Valley … was just inviting trouble and inviting liability for the police department," she said.

"Put me on record as saying to (Oro Valley) police officers, 'do not go and talk to (Easton) because he's already shown that it's not confidential, it's certainly not privileged, but it's not confidential either.'"

That message was apparently already clear to some Oro Valley officers who now say they will no longer speak to Easton about any problems they may be having, according to officer Dan Krueger, president of the Oro Valley Police Officers Association.

"Everybody that I've talked to that are Oro Valley Police Officers Association members are not going to go in there and talk to him anymore because they know it's not confidential. They're not going to take any problems to him," Krueger said.

Krueger said if Easton ever asks him how he's doing, his answer will be, "Doing fine, Bob."

Sharp said he was concerned that some officers may have lost trust in Easton, or in peer support, and is taking steps to address that.

He said he spoke with Sgt. Jason Larter who is the senior ranking member of the steering group for the department's peer support program, and the two are developing ground rules for confidential communications within the department.

"The problem is we don't have the policies and procedures written up for our peer support groups and we're working on those," Sharp said. "And this brought up another area, not just Bob, but in Jason's case, he's a supervisor, what role is he in? So we're working on coming up with a viable procedure for that."

As for Easton, Sharp said, "Bob's role is so multifaceted, (policies and procedures are) something we have to put in place to make sure we protect the community's interests, the department's and the individual's."

However, Sharp said officers concerned about Easton's ability to have privileged conversations can speak with Sarah Hallett, a reserve OVPD officer who is a licensed psychologist.

"She's not under contract but she is available for referral purposes," Sharp said.

He added that officers could also go to the town's human resources department and ask for a referral to the town's Employee Assistance Professional provider.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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