Marana Town Manager Mike Hein, in an Aug. 13 letter to the Marana Mayor and Town Council members and copied to all Marana police officers, is calling for an "outside agency" to review morale in the police department as well as allegations made against Marana Police Chief David R. Smith.
The effort is an apparent response to a series of Northwest EXPLORER stories about Smith's management of the police department.
Hein refused comment about the letter. He said it would be "inappropriate" for him to comment about the town's intentions and he wanted to avoid "tainting" the process.
In that regard, he also refused to say what agency he is considering bringing in or describe the process that will be used to select the agency. He also refused to comment on the timing for selecting the agency, except to say "as soon as possible," and allegations the agency might be reviewing.
Hein said in a letter to the editor published Aug. 21, and in his Aug. 13 letter that he believed the EXPLORER's series about Smith to be the result of unethical reporting, containing mostly innuendo and the rantings of disgruntled former police department employees.
Nevertheless, in his Aug. 13 letter he said, "The accusations jeopardize the public trust in the department and place a millstone around the necks of every employee. While I continue to believe the vast majority of members of the police department are conscientious and professional, it is unfair to them to allow this cloud to linger… To reinforce the degree of public trust the department deserves and to bring unbiased closure to the issues raised, the Chief and I will be requesting an outside agency review of morale in the police department and a review of some of the specific allegations raised." (See full transcript of Hein's letter below)
Though Hein indicated in his letter that Smith would participate in selecting the agency to review allegations made about him, Hein's reticence to answer questions left it unclear what specific role Smith will play.
Marana Mayor Bobby Sutton called a meeting of the town's police officers in order to address the issues raised in the EXPLORER articles, which were published on Aug. 7 and Aug. 14. The meeting with the officers occurred on Aug. 20, according to Hein's appointment calendar for August.
A source close to the police department who requested not to be identified, said officers went to the meeting expecting to be able to address some of the issues concerning their relationship with the chief, but found the chief sitting next to Sutton at the meeting.
Many of the officers interviewed for the EXPLORER's series expressed fear of reprisals from Smith if they spoke against him or the department.
Sutton did not return repeated calls for comment.
The EXPLORER series was the result of a more than two-year investigation of Smith's oversight of the Marana police department.
The first part of the series was published in January. In it, the EXPLORER detailed Smith's relationship with the now closed New West/Gotham nightclub. The club was the scene of hundreds of police calls a year, including fights, several shootings, and one murder, until it was shut down by the state earlier this year.
In 1997 Smith began providing off-duty police officers to the bar to work as security and even Smith worked several shifts of security at the bar. Smith and all the officers who worked there in the two years the off-duty security was provided were paid as much as $20 an hour by the bar. The off-duty work ended in December 1999.
Bar patron Westyn Hamilton died at the bar on Jan. 2, 2000, after being restrained by the bar's bouncers following a fight in the bar involving Hamilton. Though nearly every Marana police officer on the force at the time had worked security shifts for the bar, including Smith, Smith allowed his department to conduct the investigation of Hamilton's death.
The EXPLORER investigation raised questions about Smith's and the department's conflicting relationship with the bar, the completeness of the Hamilton investigation and the role Smith played in the investigation.
Several of the officers interviewed by the EXPLORER accused Smith of having interfered with the investigation and of "leaking" information about the investigation to the bar's attorney.
Hamilton's death was ruled accidental by the Pima County Medical Examiner who said the death was the result of restraint asphyxia.
When the violence at the bar caused the state's liquor board to review the bar's license in 2000, Smith sent a letter of support for the bar to the liquor board, saying the "safety of the public … was not at risk."
The EXPLORER stories published last month detailed complaints made to the town by officers about Smith for more than two years; in an anonymous employee survey in 2000, in exit interviews written by officers and department employees who had quit, and an internal survey conducted at the request of a department lieutenant.
Among the officers' claims were that Smith is abusive in his treatment of some officers, that he is unequal in his application of discipline, that he protects some officers accused of wrongdoing and that he has intervened in investigations of prominent people in the town.
The EXPLORER relied upon thousands of police department and town records and interviews with 18 current and former police department employees in reporting the stories.
Though the town has dismissed officer complaints about Smith in the past, particularly the anonymous survey, the results of which Hein said were the result of ballot stuffing on the part of some officers, Hein admitted there needed to be a level of trust with the officers in the "outside agency."
" … clearly, if we're going to bring some sense of closure to this, there has to be some level of involvement of trust," Hein said.
He said that was partly the reason he did not want to comment on any part of his Aug. 13 letter.
Hein's letter also said he will be asking the council to create a fourth lieutenant's position whose primary role will be implementing community policing standards in the department.
Community policing is a trend in law enforcement in which police officers have more personal contact with the public.
Hein is also calling for more "comprehensive management oversight" of the department, but he declined to comment on what that meant, saying the "memo speaks for itself."
Officer Terry Evans, president of Marana Police Officers Association, a nascent police union local in the department trying to achieve a measure of recognition from the town, did not return calls for comment about Hein's letter.