THE CHIEF: OFFICERS QUESTION ETHICS OF MPD CHIEF DAVID R. SMITH - Tucson Local Media: Import

THE CHIEF: OFFICERS QUESTION ETHICS OF MPD CHIEF DAVID R. SMITH

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Posted: Tuesday, August 13, 2002 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

During his tenure as Marana's top law enforcement officer, Police Chief David R. Smith has engaged in a pattern of ethically questionable behavior that includes a personal bankruptcy which left him indebted to an influential member of the community, setting up an off duty work arrangement rife with conflict of interest, and allegedly influencing police reports dealing with prominent citizens of Marana, according to documents and interviews with MPD employees.

Smith's ethics, many of his own officers say, sets the tenor for a department that has endured several recent high-profile incidents of officer misconduct, and contributes to the department's declining morale and a rush of veteran officers leaving the MPD.

"He's simply compromised his position as chief of police and many, many of the officers feel that way," said Bill Conley, an unpaid reserve officer who resigned last month and became the latest of 32 employees who have left the 80-member department since January 2000. "We're fighting the chief more than we were bad guys on the street."

Smith has refused repeated requests for comment since shortly before January when the Northwest EXPLORER detailed Smith's involvement with a violent Marana nightclub. Between 1997 and late 1999 Smith and almost the entire MPD were employed as off-duty security guards by the bar while also investigating hundreds of crimes that occurred there.

The questions over Smith's veracity have surfaced to the town's attention periodically over the years in resignation letters, exit interviews of separated employees and employee satisfaction surveys. The references to dishonesty and policy violations in those documents were always brief and unspecific.

But interviews with 18 current and former members of the MPD expanded on many of those allegations and led to corroborating documents in the department's own files and elsewhere.

One of the allegations from officers against Smith is that his chronic trouble with his personal finances has led him to accept financial considerations from a prominent member of the community.

Smith's filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection Dec. 5, 1996, with he and his wife Marian listing more than $72,000 in debts, according to federal bankruptcy records.

Smith, who became Marana's police chief in 1991, was earning $55,196 at the time of the bankruptcy, according to his town personnel record.

At the time of the bankruptcy, Marian Smith earned $7.70 per hour as a transition specialist working with disabled children for the Marana Unified School District, according to MUSD records. The Smith's also have four daughters.

Smith currently earns $79,153, according to town records.

Smith's financial trouble came despite being given an unusual "two step compensation adjustment" by the town council at the recommendation of then Town Manager Hurvie Davis just months before the bankruptcy filing.

According to town records, Smith's pay was raised from $50,178 to $52,687 on Jan. 1, 1996, and jumped to $55,196 just six months later. Prior to that date, Smith's salary was reviewed every two years.

It's unclear why Smith received two raises in one year. According to a handwritten entry by an unidentified employee in Smith's personnel file, the increases were based "on request by H. Davis. No documentation found on (illegible) search in minutes on process used."

One of the debts listed on Smith's bankruptcy filing was for $3,000 owed to Susan Ong, a wealthy real estate broker who owns more than 900 acres of land in Marana and who is the daughter of former Marana town council member Sam Buck Chu.

Smith's debt to Ong was listed as a loan on the bankruptcy filing.

Ong, owner of Broadstone Commercial Real Estate and an unsuccessful bidder for the city of Tucson's multi-million dollar Rio Nuevo urban redevelopment project, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

According to Pima County Justice Court records, Smith also had the small trailer home and lot he was living in at the Adonis Mobile Home Park in rural north Marana repossessed for nonpayment shortly before the bankruptcy filing.

Before losing their home in the Adonis trailer park, the Smith's moved into a home at 12870 W. Grier Road, where directory and phone book information indicate they lived from 1994 to 1997.

According to Pima County Assessor's Office records, the home is owned by Chu, who died in 1988, and Ong.

Arizona Corpor-ation Commission records list the legal agent for Ong's Broadstone real estate firm as Tucson attorney Eric Sparks, who also represented Smith in his bankruptcy filing. Marian Smith also listed her occupation as Ong's "personal assistant' for a five month period in 1996 on her job application to MUSD.

"David Smith was mixed up with Susan Ong because he was having a lot of financial difficulties and she was helping him out," said Ralph Wong, member of a prominent Marana family who said he has known Ong and Smith for years. "I remember one time I saw Smith in Susan's office and he seemed really embarrassed that I saw him there. He called me later and tried to explain why he was there, which was pretty strange. She has a lot of business interests in Marana and he's the chief of police. It's not a very good perception at all."

Almost all police departments have policies that require police officers to keep their financial affairs in order to keep them from becoming susceptible to graft or from becoming indebted to members of the community they protect. The Marana Police Department screens new applicants with financial background and credit checks, and Smith's own policy directive requires officers to "diligently manage their financial affairs."

Marana town policy calls for employees to "manage our personal and business affairs so as to avoid situations that might lead to conflict, or the appearance of conflict, between self interest and our duty to the town, to the persons served by the town and to the general public."

Smith's business and personal affairs came into further conflict during the two and a half years that he and his officers were paid employees of the New West/Gotham Nightclub in Marana.

Smith's bankruptcy filing came about six months before he set up the off-duty work at the New West/Gotham in mid 1997.

An estimated quarter of a million dollars were paid to MPD officers, command staff and Smith by the bar over the time Smith allowed the off-duty work to continue, according to records obtained from the department.

Smith allegedly removed his chief insignia and worked at the door as security for $20 per hour more than 20 times, according to MPD records and interviews with officers who worked at the bar alongside him.

The off duty work arrangement that financially benefited Smith and his officers persisted despite vigorous objections from officers in Smith's own Office of Professional Standards, which was set up in 1999 to develop policies for the MPD, and which now also conducts internal investigations of officer misconduct.

Smith maintained the relationship with the bar despite concerns raised by a Marana councilmember, and the fact that almost every law enforcement agency across the nation expressly prohibits officers from working off duty at bars and nightclubs because of the conflict of interest it engenders.

By mid 1997, the nightclub was employing between four and 10 officers per night four to five nights a week including Smith, who allegedly bumped other officers from the off-duty schedule so he could work security at the bar's entrance.

"It was a continual problem," said one of the three employees who at different times scheduled officers to work at the New West/Gotham. "He was continually bumping officers off the list so he could work. Another problem we had was that the New West would call and say 'we need eight officers tonight' and the Chief would tell me 'call them back and tell them they're getting 10 officers.' It really made scheduling difficult."

Marana Police found themselves charged with enforcing laws and investigating crimes at a bar that paid them $16 to $20 per hour, depending on their rank.

The New West/Gotham generated an average of 500 police responses per year for crimes that included homicide, rape and assaults, according to MPD's own statistics.

Despite Smith being a paid employee of the New West/Gotham, which also employed his daughter, the police chief would defend and support the nightclub before the Marana Town Council and in a letter June 6, 2000 to the state liquor board, which was considering taking disciplinary action against the bar.

Smith, according to MPD memos, would also order additional on duty patrols of the nightclub after the officers were forbidden to work off duty there by Town Manager Mike Hein at the end of December 1999.

On Jan. 2, 2000, just one day after the MPD quit working off duty at the bar, a patron died while struggling with a group of the club's bouncers.

The death of the patron, 23-year-old Westyn Hamilton, was investigated by detectives who had worked as security alongside the bouncers suspected of killing Hamilton and inflicting the 54 separate injuries found on the Tucson man's body.

On April 5, 2000, the case was ruled an accidental death by the Pima County Attorney's Office, however at least one of the MPD detectives told the EXPLORER last year that investigators believed the bouncers beat Hamilton and were not simply trying to restrain him.

Police officers and detectives also claim that Smith was meeting privately with the New West/Gotham's attorney while the homicide investigation was occurring, and during an investigation by the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control that followed. The employees allege Smith "leaked" critical information about the investigation that may have had a bearing on the outcome of both cases.

At least one of the officers said the detectives were being "pressured" by Smith for information at the same time Smith was meeting with the bar's attorney, and one detective frequently tried to conceal the case file from Smith by taking it home at night. A detective said, and other police officers verified, that the detective would "walk around police headquarters with the case file wrapped in (the detective's) arms and would sometimes take it home at night to keep it away from the chief."

The nightclub was shut down Jan. 23 by state liquor regulators for repeated acts of violence that occurred at the bar and for failing to protect patrons.

The allegation by MPD employees that Smith interjects himself into cases involving influential members of the community has arisen on at least two other occasions.

Frequently cited by MPD employees is a police report from September 2000 involving the 75-year-old father of a Marana town councilmember charged with misdemeanor assault.

Clifford "Ray" Honea, father of Councilmember Ed Honea and a "town founder' who lobbied for Marana's incorporation in 1977, was cited for assault after poking his finger in the chest of a supervisor of a road construction project during an argument.

According to the police report, Honea went to Marana Police Headquarters at 13291 N. Lon Adams Road on the morning of Sept. 6, 2000 and asked MPD Officer Chris Sekavec to follow him to a water line construction project at Denny and Sandario roads where he said a worker had damaged his truck with a traffic control sign.

Sekavec followed Honea to the construction site in rural north Marana and questioned the worker, Larry Parton Jr., who Honea claimed put a two-inch dent in the hood of his pickup truck with the sign as Honea drove by.

Parton told Sekavec that after the sign struck the truck, Honea confronted Parton and his supervisor, Jim Steely.

Honea allegedly was yelling at Parton that he "built this town, owns this town and that someone was going to pay," according to the police report.

Honea also yelled at Steely that "he built this town" as he poked him in the chest. Steely told Sekavec that he wanted to press assault charges against Honea, according to the report.

Sekavec, who repeatedly described Honea as angry in her report, wrote that she had to order Honea to his vehicle twice while she interviewed Parton and Steely.

Sekavec cited Honea for assault and Parton with criminal damage. As she attempted to explain when he would need to go to court, Sekavec said Honea "interrupted me, saying he was going to the town council to complain that he was not happy about my service. He asked for my name and badge number and I explained it was on the citation.

"He looked at my name and asked me if I was Polish, then stated that it really didn't matter. He said he was going to take care of this. Mr. Honea was argumentative and uncooperative," Sekavec wrote in her detailed, six-page report.

Sekavec wrote a second report 14 days after the incident which was more brief. The single paragraph reads: "Chief Smith handed me two citations from incident number 00-00460 and told me to take them to the prosecutors to have them dismissed. He said both parties have dropped the charges. I contacted the town prosecutor and advised him on Sept. 20, 2000 by telephone."

Sekavec did not return calls seeking comment. Steely, interviewed last year, said he didn't feel pressured to withdraw the charges, and was simply "glad to have it over with."

Honea said the whole case was a "farce," denied that he touched Steely, and said Smith helped him.

"I just went down to the police department and talked to Dave Smith after it happened, he and I know each other, and he helped me out. He and another officer came out and looked at the scratch on my pick up, and he said 'we can't be writing people tickets for things like this,'" Honea said.

Honea said Smith put him in touch with Marana Water Director Brad DeSpain, and DeSpain contacted Parton and Steely's company that was subcontracting for Marana Water on the pipeline project and Honea and Steely agreed to drop their respective charges.

An MPD employee who was close to the case, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Smith's actions were improper.

"It was bad on several levels. Right off, you don't have the chief of police ordering an officer to go to the prosecutor's office and get charges dropped. Once those charges were filed, than it's at the prosecutor's discretion. That's the complainant and prosecutor's business, not the police officer's. And second, the chief of police interfering like that and trying to work out a deal is not the way to go about it.

"If anything, he should make sure he's distancing himself from a case that involves a council member's father, instead of getting involved to the extent that he did," the employee said.

A former MPD supervisor, who asked for anonymity because he feared Smith would interfere with his future job prospects, said Smith "exploded" when he got Sekavec's report.

"(Smith) was yelling 'He's a a 75-year-old man, for God's sake. What the hell are you teaching these officers?'" the former supervisor said.

In 2000, Smith also became involved in another police investigation involving a prominent member of the community.

Richard "Rick" Westfall, a businessman who operates Arizona Cord Wood and Westfall Transport in Marana, allegedly threatened to kill KE&G Construction foreman Bill Campbell May 24, 2000 during an argument over road work in front of Westfall's firewood business at 5300 W. Ina Road, according to Campbell and Marana police.

"He threatened to kill me three times, and admitted to a police officer that he said it," Campbell told the EXPLORER shortly after the incident. "He told me that he was friends with the mayor and that he would have our construction shut down."

Westfall, a contributor of $300 to Mayor Bobby Sutton Jr.'s 1999 mayoral election campaign, telephoned Sutton during the confrontation, who called Hein, who in turned called the Marana Police Department to dispatch officers to Westfall's business.

Westfall, Hein and Sutton all said shortly after the incident that they felt the case was handled properly.

Sutton said he also discussed the matter with Chief Smith after the altercation, but said it was a casual discussion and that he did not ask for any intervention in the matter.

"I talked to the chief after the incident just to see what happened … we talked about it because this is a small town and (we talk about) most things that happen where the police go out, even the minor things. And the chief knows Westfall too. He's very well known in Marana," Sutton said.

"They just snuffed it and I couldn't understand why," Campbell said.

Marana police did not initially take a report of the incident after Campbell said he wanted a day to consider pressing charges.

One of two Marana officers dispatched to the scene, would write a report five days later saying that Westfall had told him he called to "keep me from killing the foreman."

Under Arizona law, threats or intimidation is a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine up to $2,500.

The following day, Campbell recontacted the police and said he wanted to press charges.

"After I had a chance to sleep on it, I felt I had to. (Westfall) just seemed out of control, and I was worried that the road work would have me and my crews in the area and I was concerned myself or one of my guys was going to get hurt or killed if we ran into him again," Campbell said.

A Marana officer wrote a report May 25, 2000 indicating Campbell's desire to press charges for threats or intimidation. Marana police did not forward the case to the Marana prosecutors office until June 20, 2000 - a week after the Northwest EXPLORER filed a public records request for the police report, according to documents obtained from Marana police.

A police spokesman said he did not know why the case took 27 days to reach the town prosecutor's office.

The case remained in the prosecutor's office from June 20, 2000 until mid-September of that year, when the EXPLORER filed a second public records request for documents related to the case.

In the meantime, Campbell said he had called the prosecutor's office twice to see what happened to the case.

"They just kept saying it was under investigation. I even drove up to the Marana Police Department to get a copy of the police report because I never received one," Campbell said.

The case was transferred to Oro Valley's municipal court in September 2000 by Marana Town Attorney Dan Hochuli, who said he wanted to "avoid the perception of a conflict of interest." Campbell dropped the charges against Westfall immediately after the case was transferred.

Earlier this year, The Northwest EXPLORER reported Westfall's transport business has done more than $100,000 of work for the town without having to bid for it. Some of the improperly procured contracts involved work done at the Marana Northwest Regional Airport and involved state and federal grant money.

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