Police, Mesa trade legal barbs in e-mail scandal

Jason Massad

Katie McDevitt
East Valley Tribune
November 10, 2007 – 12:48AM

A Mesa police union has accused the city of retaliating against officers who were involved in an e-mail scandal in 2006 by threatening to hand down more discipline if the union doesn’t agree to settle a lawsuit filed earlier this year, court records show.
The Mesa Police Association stated in a court filing that the city is threatening to further punish officers who had been disciplined for sending lewd or racially offensive messages on the city’s e-mail system last year.
The union is asking Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Douglas Rayes to determine if the city is allowed to levy new charges against the officers that could force them toward a settlement in the earlier case. Rayes is considering a proposal by the union’s attorneys, according to court records.
Rayes ruled in May that City Manager Chris Brady overstepped his bounds when he disciplined all city employees involved in the scandal according to a “matrix” system he had created. City rules dictate that city department heads are responsible for disciplining their employees — not the city manager.
Mesa didn’t appeal the ruling. Deputy City Attorney Alfred Smith said the city is following the court’s orders by delegating discipline of officers to the police department.
If the union doesn’t agree to a settlement with the city, police officers could face additional charges and possibly could be fired for the e-mail offenses, Smith said.
Union court filings call the action a “vindictive” attempt to get them to settle. And union officials don’t believe the May ruling allows the city to charge officers with additional offenses.
Attorneys hired by both the union and city could not be reached for comment. Officials declined to discuss details of the proposed settlement.
“We are still in negotiations of what, if any, punishments should be administered to the police officers involved,” said Fabian Cota, president of the Mesa Police Association. “We hope a resolution comes quick and is just.”
Last year, the city punished 521 city employees — including 200 police personnel — for using the city’s computer network to e-mail pornographic images, ethnic and racial slurs, violent photos and foul language.
Many offenders were suspended for two to five days. The most severe punishment — a six-week unpaid suspension — was handed to three employees for sending images of hard-core sex acts.
Police personnel, represented by two unions, have been most concerned that the disciplinary actions were recorded in their personnel files.
Detectives and patrol officers have said they routinely defend their records in court against defense attorneys looking to discredit them during trial.
Meanwhile, Mesa’s other union, the Fraternal Order of Police, accepted the settlement agreement, said Bryan Soller, the FOP’s president.
“All of our members have decided to take the deal and just get this over with,” Soller said. “The chief explained the whole thing to us three months ago and we moved on it quickly and got it resolved.”
Soller said he knew additional charges could be handed down on his union’s members if they didn’t settle.
He said the agreement involved dropping the lawsuit in exchange for the officers accepting the original punishments and having the records of the offenses removed from all city files after a two-year period.
Nancy Sorensen, an attorney for the police department, said the settlement agreement was offered because Mesa Police Chief George Gascón thought it was in the best interest of the employees and city to “move past this.”
“He was very concerned about that, so we approached both of the (unions) back in August and we’ve been working very hard since that time to try and reach some type of agreement.”

(click here to read full article)