Monday, May 04, 2009

Accused Officer Rob Mahoney Tells Different Story

A veteran Seattle police officer accused of sexually harassing an 18-year-old police Explorer and lying about it said Tuesday he thinks top-level commanders trumped up the case to retaliate for challenging them and defending female officers who had been discriminated against.

Rob Mahoney, 46, a defensive-tactics instructor at the department's training center, said that his accuser, Heather Newstrom, was flirtatious and liked to hang around after training classes to talk to officers. He didn't deny giving her a peck on the cheek after she kissed him on the cheek and hugged him goodbye while the two were in an office after class on April 7, 2008. But, he said, that's as far as it went before he got a phone call and left.

"The allegation that I kissed her on the mouth and put my tongue in her mouth is made up," Mahoney said during Tuesday's hearing before the Public Safety Civil Service Commission.

But Newstrom, now 19 and attending the United States Military Academy, testified last week that as she stood up to leave, Mahoney grabbed her and said, "Now can I have a real kiss?" She said she was shocked and she turned her head and backed away. He dropped to his chair, placed his head in his hands, and apologized, she testified. The department's Office of Professional Accountability deemed her the more credible witness. Mahoney was suspended for 30 days and transferred to a desk job in the 911 center.

He has appealed, arguing the department lacked proof of dishonesty and unfairly disciplined him. The Seattle Police Officers' Guild says it's one of three cases in which officers were fired or disciplined for dishonesty since a new "presumption of termination" policy enacted last year. The other two cases were overturned by a civilian arbitrator, raising questions about how the new standard is applied.

Chief Gil Kerlikowske said he wanted to fire Mahoney under the policy but didn't think he had enough proof to do so. A dishonesty charge on his record, however, still would likely ruin Mahoney's career because it could be used against him in court.

The three-member commission must decide whether to uphold the chief's findings of professional misconduct and dishonesty or rule in favor of the officer. While Mahoney has no record of sustained misconduct, court records show he was the focus of a domestic-violence investigation in 2006 that resulted in no charges.

Newstrom, a Holy Names graduate, said she was 15 when she joined the police Explorers, a mentorship program for teenagers interested in police work and community service. They have uniforms and meet regularly under a department adviser. She said she enjoyed police training and providing security at community events. She said she did give hugs, which other officers said seemed like behavior typical of a high school student.

She said she got to know Mahoney taking his classes and looked to him as a mentor. Their friendship started because they share an interest in philosophy. Mahoney first noticed her because she stuck out while reading Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Women" while at the training center, he testified.

Mahoney testified that he's thinks investigators believed her because he made enemies on the command staff. He alleged that the captain overseeing the sexual-harassment investigation, Tag Gleason, held a grudge against him over a training program that he and several officers tried to start 8 years ago. Gleason then headed the training unit.

Mahoney said he drew Kerlikowske's scorn because he wrote a use-of-force analysis in support of two officers who were disciplined for beating a man outside a Capitol Hill nightclub over a littering complaint. The officers had asked him to do so because of his expertise. The case was one of two high-profile misconduct cases that led to a public controversy in 2007 over police accountability.

He testified that he's also in hot water for sticking up for his current girlfriend, Officer Susanna Munro, who filed a discrimination complaint against the Police Department. She testified Tuesday that she was turned down for a job on the Narcotics Unit over rumors that she was having an extramarital affair with Mahoney while married to another officer. Sgt. Alvin Little, who denied her application, is the current adviser to the Explorer program. He testified to helping Newstrom file a complaint against Mahoney.

Mahoney said he was viewed with suspicion from the start of his career because he has an advanced degree. He testified that he thinks his case was treated differently from other officers who denied allegations.

"I have no faith whatsoever in the ability of the (Office of Professional Accountability) to conduct a fair hearing of an officer who is politically unpopular in the department or in the community," he said.

Mahoney joined the department in 1998 after working as a college professor. He has a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Edinburgh. A New York City native, he started studying martial arts while growing up in the Bronx because the streets were rough but he wasn't a "tough kid," he said.

Mahoney's attorney, Alex Higgins, said the case boiled down to a "tall tale" told by Newstrom. He pointed out that Mahoney had no history of sustained complaints on his record.

While Mahoney alleges department officials were searching for reasons to ruin his career, they didn't do so three years ago when Mahoney was accused of threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend and her fiance, which triggered a criminal investigation, according to court records. obtained court records this week showing that Mahoney's ex-girlfriend, Siolo Thompson, filed for a court protection order against him in March 2006. Her then-fiance, Bart Keogh, a doctor at Harborview Medical Center, also said in a sworn statement that Mahoney made threats to kill him.

Both said Mahoney was jealous, verbally and physically abusive to Thompson, and had used his authority as a police officer to reach her at work. A judge declined to issue a permanent order, which would have required Mahoney to surrender his gun, but entered a less restrictive restraining order under a settlement between both sides, according to court records.

Mahoney and Thompson have a son together. After their separation in 2003, the court awarded custody to Mahoney with a visitation plan. In his statements from that case, Mahoney said Thompson, also a trained martial artist, was unstable and the one who threatened him, once warning that she would run away with their son to South America, where she is from, according to court documents.

Keogh also filed a complaint with Seattle police, which was investigated. King County prosecutors reviewed the allegations but didn't file charges in part because the woman later decided not to cooperate, saying she feared jeopardizing Mahoney's career, said Ian Goodhew, chief of staff in the Prosecutor's Office.

Prosecutors require proof the victim had a reasonable fear of the threat. Another issue arose with the fiance's call to police, in which he had at first phrased as a hypothetical "what-if" an officer had threatened to kill him, Goodhew said.

The Police Department also found no evidence of misconduct and the investigation was closed. No information from that case was presented during Mahoney's Civil Service Commission hearing.

"It was so baseless and far-fetched, even the City didn't bother to do anything with it," said Higgins, Mahoney's attorney, after Tuesday's hearing on the current case. "Unfortunately, with people in family situations, people are mad at each other and there are high emotions and the courts are brought in. But there was no basis for it and that was the conclusion of everyone who looked at it."

The prior case wasn't presented this week to the Civil Service Commission because no charges were filed, which raised questions of its relevance, Assistant City Attorney Paul Olsen said after Tuesday's hearing.

In her request for the protection order, Thompson said she started dating Mahoney in 1996 when she was 19 and taking a kickboxing class that he taught at the University of Portland. Mahoney was then an adjunct professor of philosophy at the school, according to court records.

Several Seattle police officers testified this week in support of Mahoney. Many described him as a top-notch training instructor and an "asset" to the department. Some of the same officers defended him in court against his ex-girlfriend's domestic-violence allegations three years ago.

Sgt. Rich O'Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, criticized the investigation, saying the department failed to question other potential witnesses or follow up on possibly exonerating evidence. He said Mahoney got hardball questions, while Newstrom was tossed a few softballs. Typically, lying must be proved with evidence of intent, he said.

"When someone is bringing allegations this serious, that allegation should be tested," he said.

Mahoney said he's filed a claim with the city's Office of Civil Rights against the Police Department, alleging discrimination against him for defending his girlfriend.

Under questioning from Olsen, the city's attorney, Mahoney testified about a letter he sent in January to the state Department of Labor and Industries accusing Sgt. Little of defrauding the state workers compensation fund. It also accused Assistant Chief Nick Metz of covering up misconduct. The letter was sent after Mahoney was suspended, according to testimony.

Yet, Mahoney said he would like to return to his prior assignment and continue improving self-defense training for officers. The Civil Service Commission is expected to rule within 90 days.

Correctional Officer Walter Schmidt Fired After Tasering Children

Prison officer Walter Schmidt wanted to give his colleagues' children a taste of what their moms and dads get up to at work while showing them around a Florida jail.

So to make the youngsters' experience all the more realistic as they toured Franklin Correctional Institution during the lock-up's 'Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day', he decided to zap them with his 50,000-volt stun gun.

The jolt sent at least two of them sprawling to the floor, crying out in pain and clutching at agonising burns on their arms. One child ended up in hospital.

But 37-year-old Schmidt told officials who later fired him that he had only been trying to show the children - whose parents all work at the jail near Tallahassee - what a typical day involves while handling unruly inmates.

'It wasn't intended to be malicious, but educational,' he explained to the St Petersburg Times.

'The big shock came when I got fired.'

Sgt Schmidt, who had served as a jailer for 14 years and was in charge of the prison arsenal, claims that he had asked permission from the children's parents for the stunt. 'When they said "Sure" I went ahead and did it,' he shrugged.

Florida's Secretary of Corrections, Walter McNeil, has ordered an investigation into the incident.

The stun gun Schmidt used, known as an electronic immobilisation device, delivers a shock up to 450 times stronger than the current in a household electric socket.

It must be held directly on the victim's body to deliver a shock - unlike a Taser, which fires dart-like electrodes into the skin from a distance. The charge disrupts a person's nervous system, causing involuntary muscle contractions that leave them temporarily immobilised.

Duffie Harrison, the chief warden at Franklin Correctional Institution, told Schmidt in a letter that he had 'engaged in inappropriate conduct while demonstrating weapons to several kids during a special event at the institution.'

'Your retention would be detrimental to the best interests of the state,' the letter advised.

Cameras For Fort Lauderdale Patrol Cars Still Needed

The idea to install cameras in Fort Lauderdale police cruisers didn't fall out of the clear, blue sky. Residents demanded them in 2007, after four suspects were killed in police shootings and complaints of excessive police force and racial profiling increased.

Now Fort Lauderdale city commissioners are considering abandoning the dash-cam program in light of the budget crisis. But that would be an unwise decision that could eventually bring back suspicion and friction between the police and the community.

These are tough economic times, yes. But the city has already spent $760,000 on the equipment, and has another $400,000 allocated by the federal government for the cameras. The city also spent $1.5 million on laptops needed to operate the devices. To change course now would mean the federal money would have to be returned and the city would bear a "nonrecoverable loss" of at least $1.16 million.

It would be better to spend the additional $1.2 million to complete the project. If that becomes financially unfeasible, it would make more sense to move forward with scaled back plans, rather than writing off the whole program and the previous expenses.

The equipment becomes even more crucial when you consider that not one Fort Lauderdale police officer has been disciplined due to citizens' complaints of brutality in about eight years. A Sun Sentinel review of city records found that many complaints were filed, but they were all thrown out by investigators or closed because citizens didn't follow up. Many weren't fully investigated, according to the report.

Is the public really to believe all those citizens' complaints were invalid?

Such one-sided results only compromise public trust. Cameras are not perfect, but they provide some documentation of police-community interactions. The devices can also be a defense against unfair brutality charges brought against police.

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Deputy Ezra Arnold Accused of Assaulting his Stepson

A Newberry County deputy has been placed on paid administrative leave after he was accused of assaulting his stepson.

Whitmire police officers were called to Wallace Thompson Hospital just after 8:30 p.m. on April 27.

The deputy's mother told Whitmire police that her son, Ezra Arnold, had assaulted her grandson before school on Monday morning. Arnold was not on duty at the time.

According to the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office, Arnold has been employed with the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office since August of 1999. He is a sergeant in the uniform patrol division.

The State Law Enforcement Division and the South Carolina Department of Social Services are both conducting investigations into the incident.

Arnold was placed on administrative leave with pay on April 28 pending the preliminary report from SLED.

Officer James Dadeppo Arrested for Shoving his Girlfriend

A Grosse Pointe Woods police officer has been arrested for shoving his girlfriend and resisting arrest, officials said today.

James Joseph Dadeppo, 53, of St. Clair Shores was arrested Friday at a home in the 28900 block of Lane Court near Common and Hayes Roads, police said.

The Macomb County Prosecutor's Office has issued a two-count misdemeanor warrant for Dadeppo on charges of domestic violence and obstructing a police officer, according to Dwyer. The penalty for each crime is 93 days in jail.

The defendant is scheduled to be formally arraigned in 37th District Court on Wednesday. He was released Saturday on a $2,500 bond, Warren Police Commissioner William Dwyer said today.

Police say they were called to the home on Lane Court to respond to a domestic dispute complaint. Officers spoke to a 53-year-old Warren woman who said Dadeppo became verbally abusive to her while they were having a few drinks at a Sterling Heights restaurant. The woman told police she left the restaurant and returned home.

Dadeppo later showed up at the home and argued with the victim, police said. He also pushed and shoved the woman around her kitchen, she told investigators. The suspect then started collecting some of his personal belongings from the home and the victim called police.

When Warren police officers arrived, they confronted Dadeppo in the home's driveway and retrieved his firearm, Dwyer said.

He said when the officers questioned Dadeppo, he became upset and refused to comply with their requests. A struggle ensued as officers attempted to handcuff him and take him into custody. No one was injured.

Trial Begins for Officer Paul Cervantes Accused of Theft

Opening statements are set to begin on Monday in the case of a police officer, accused of theft.

Paul Cervantes is being charged with Grand Auto Theft.

The charges come after an alleged drug dealers accused Cervantes and another officer, Hector Becerra, of stealing his SUV, and giving it to an informant.

Back in February, Becerra was cleared of all charged against him.

The informant, Jesus Valles, has reached a preliminary plea deal. He is expected to testify for the prosecution in exchange for having the charges against him dropped.

Authorities say Cervantes had a direct role in that vehicle theft. Cervantes' Attorney, Terry Bowman, says the people making the allegations are not credible.

Correctional Officer Sidney Nunn Charged with Smuggling Drugs into Jail

A 25-year-old correctional officer was arrested on drug charges following an investigation into drug smuggling at Vaughn Correctional Center, police reported today.

Dover police spokesman Lt. Tim Stump said Sidney Nunn, of Smyrna, was charged with possession with intent to deliver marijuana, maintaining a vehicle, conspiracy, possession of drug paraphernalia and promoting prison contraband.

Nunn was released after posting $8,000 bail.

Internal Affairs at the prison contacted the Dover police drug unit with information about Nunn, Stump said.

About 2 p.m. Saturday officers arrested Nunn in the parking lot of the Dover Mall and confiscated 26.7 grams of marijuana from him that police said he had intended to smuggle into the prison.

State Department of Correction spokesman John Painter said Nunn was hired in April 2004 and worked as a correctional officer at Vaughn Correctional Center.

“Following normal procedure, he had been placed on leave with pay pending the outcome of an internal investigation,” Painter said.