MPD CHIEF RETIRES - The Explorer: Import

MPD CHIEF RETIRES

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Posted: Thursday, February 27, 2003 12:00 am | Updated: 7:47 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Marana Police Chief David R. Smith, who led the MPD for more than a decade and in the end became a source of controversy within the ranks of his own department, announced he will retire Feb. 28.

Smith's Feb. 15 letter to the town announcing his departure was submitted two days after Marana received results from an Arizona Department of Public Safety review of MPD's handling of a high-profile death investigation in 2000, and a DPS-administered survey intended to gauge morale within the police department.

Lt. Richard Vidaurri, an MPD veteran, was appointed chief Feb. 24 (see related story, pg 7).

The DPS review and survey were requested in October by Marana's mayor and town attorney.

Marana Town Manager Mike Hein refused a request under the Arizona Public Records Law to immediately release the results of the DPS review and survey, but said he "did not believe" the findings were related to Smith's retirement.

"I know that Chief has been contemplating (retirement) for several months," Hein said.

Hein said he planned to release the DPS findings March 3, the first working day after Smith's retirement. He declined the Northwest EXPLORER's formal request to immediately release the findings, saying the documents had been sent to a printer for duplication and were unavailable.

"I believe within a week's time I'll be prepared to comment," Hein said. "I want a chance to digest the meaning of the surveys internally. I want a chance to decide how we're going to proceed with the chain of command within the police department."

In a Feb. 19 letter advising the Marana Town Council of the police chief's retirement, Hein praised Smith for the diversity of Marana's police force and for obtaining a coveted national certification last year.

"He has taken a department from its infancy and led it on a progressive path toward professionalism and a department grounded in the philosophy of community oriented policing," Hein wrote.

Smith, 50, became Marana's police chief in August 1991 and oversaw the department's exponential growth from 10 employees to more than 60 during his tenure. He did not return calls seeking comment.

In his letter to Hein announcing his retirement, Smith described his career in Marana as challenging and rewarding and said he had set several personal goals when he was appointed police chief.

"These goals included changing the perception of the police department of being unprofessional and overbearing into a well-respected department of professionals with a strong customer service philosophy," Smith wrote.

The review by the state police of MPD's investigation of the death of Westyn Hamilton, who died Jan. 2, 2000, outside the New West/Gotham nightclub after struggling with five of the bar's bouncers, was prompted after Marana Mayor Bobby Sutton, Jr. and Marana Town Attorney Dan Hochuli met with DPS officials in Phoenix Oct. 10.

Sutton and Hochuli presented the DPS officials with EXPLORER articles published in January 2002 that questioned Smith's involvement and possible interference with the investigation of Hamilton's death.

The Marana officials initially requested the DPS perform an administrative review of the basic procedures used by MPD in their investigation. DPS officials instead sent the case to its criminal investigations bureau for a more extensive review, according to DPS records.

No one was ever criminally charged in the MPD investigation of Hamilton's death. Smith and almost the entire MPD patrol division had worked as paid security for the bar, earning more that $250,000 over two and a half years. Town officials ordered a suspension of the off-duty work just days before Hamilton died.

The bar at Ina Road and Camino Martin was closed by state liquor regulators in January after being cited for repeated acts of violence and other liquor law violations.

The DPS-administered morale survey was also requested by Sutton and Hochuli in response to a series of EXPLORER articles. The stories published in August were also based on interviews with MPD employees and detailed allegations of plummeting morale, an exodus of veteran employees and increased incidence of officer misconduct the employees said was directly related to Smith's management of the department.

The story also examined a town-administered survey conducted in 2000 that contained an alarming number of responses that were critical of Smith and questioned his ethics.

Marana officials dismissed the responses claiming the survey was skewed by "ballot stuffing" by a handful of disgruntled MPD employees.

Asked repeatedly by a reporter to summarize the findings by the DPS, Hein did not provide any specific details, saying he had not had a chance "to fully digest the reports" he had received.

"Clearly, things could have been handled much better," Hein said of the state police review of the Hamilton case. "It's a great instrument for us to move forward with should we ever have an unfortunate situation or any homicide."

Hein was also reluctant to discuss the details of the morale survey completed last month.

"Clearly, I believe it was a valid survey. I want to take some time to reflect on the responses and I want to take some time to decide how to express the town's thoughts, whether it be me, or through the police department," Hein said.

Lt. Tim Chung, the DPS investigator who oversaw the review, refused to comment on the state's findings. Chung said both the review and survey were turned over to Marana officials Feb. 13 with an agreement that only Marana administrators would comment on the reports.

The specific reason for Smith's retirement was also unclear among many members of the MPD. Some rank and file officers said they had not heard of the retirement until contacted by a reporter.

In his letter to Hein written on a Saturday, Smith said he had been offered "some new and exciting opportunities and I feel the time is right for me to explore these challenges."

Hein said in the Feb. 19 letter to Marana's mayor and council and in an interview Feb. 21 that Smith was leaving to spend more time with his family.

MPD's spokesman said he had not been told the reason for Smith's retirement.

"(Smith is) not talking a lot about it, he's just saying this new opportunity presented itself," Derfus said.

Det. Terry Evans, president of the Marana Police Officers' Association, said officers have been kept in the dark about both Smith's retirement and the DPS findings.

"We didn't find out until today," Evans said in an interview Feb. 21. "Evidently, it's been known for awhile, but the rank and file just found out today. We had heard a little scuttlebutt and I've been asking questions of the supervisors and they didn't say anything to me. We kind of had an idea that something was up."

Evans said he would not be surprised if the morale survey came as a less than glowing review of Smith and his management.

"I didn't think they would be if people were honest," Evans said. "We want to see the results of the survey, whether Chief's gone or not … our guys deserve to see it, whether it's good bad or indifferent."

Evans, who was a member of the team of detectives who investigated Hamilton's death, said he would be surprised if the DPS found problems with MPD's handling of the case.

"I know that we basically did that investigation by the book, hand in hand with the Pima County Attorney's Office," he said.

Smith, a native of Tucson, began his 28-year career in law enforcement in 1974 as a reserve officer with the Coolidge Public Safety Department. He eventually climbed the ranks to become a lieutenant and assistant chief for the small, 20-member police department in the town located half way between Phoenix and Tucson.

In 1990, Smith became chief of the nine-member Snowflake Police Department in Northern Arizona before coming to Marana in 1991, according to his Marana personnel file.

VIDAURRI NAMED NEW MPD CHIEF

Marana Police Department Assistant Chief Richard Vidaurri has been selected to replace David R. Smith as chief beginning Feb. 28.

"I'm really looking forward to the challenges ahead," Vidaurri said. "This an outstanding agency with good people who have done a heck of a bang-up job. It's really energizing right now, people are really pumped-up about the future."

Described by many MPD officers and employees as trusted and well-respected, Vidaurri is an MPD veteran who has "served at every level of the Marana Police Department," Marana Town Manager Mike Hein wrote in a Feb. 24 letter to the town council announcing his appointment of Vidaurri.

"He's one of the most moral and capable police officers I've ever met. He's a real family man and someone you can trust," said Det. Terry Evans, president of the Marana Police Officers' Association.

Evans transferred to MPD with Vidaurri and two other officers from the South Tucson Department of Public Safety in 1994. Vidaurri served as acting police chief in the South Tucson department

Vidaurri oversaw MPD's three-year effort to obtain a prestigious national certification from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies received in April. He was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant late last year.

Vidaurri said he asked Mayor Bobby Sutton Jr. to schedule an agenda item at the March 4 Marana town council meeting for him to discuss his plans for the future and the results of an employee morale survey administered by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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