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Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier calls perjury claims 'hurtful and meritless'

Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier calls perjury claims 'hurtful and meritless'

Mark Napier Pima County sheriff

Sheriff Mark Napier labeled allegations that he and his command staff committed perjury during a merit board hearing for one of their lieutenants as “hurtful and meritless” and expressed confidence he’ll be cleared by the investigation he initiated with the Pima County Attorney’s Office.

The denial comes days after Napier told the Arizona Daily Star he had asked for the investigation — and amid calls from some in the department to have the county attorney’s office recuse itself, expressing concern over whether the office can carry out an unbiased investigation of sheriff’s officials.

Napier released a lengthy statement Tuesday in which he said a “careful review of the facts and of the hearing transcripts will convincingly demonstrate that perjury did not occur.”

“No one should be accused of perjury based on a subjective supposition of facts or a whimsical desire to believe one thing over another. There must be some basis in objective facts for such an allegation to have merit,” said Napier, who acknowledged the allegations are a “very serious issue.”

In a statement on Wednesday, a representative from the Pima County Attorney's Office said they "are conducting the review in accordance with our standard procedure for reviewing allegations of untruthfulness against law-enforcement officers for purposes of determining our Rule 15.1 disclosure obligations to criminal investigations." Rule 15.1 refers to the Brady List, which includes a list of officers who have been determined to be deemed not trustworthy for lying in their official capacity.

They said following the review, they'll refer their preliminary findings to another county attorney's office for another review before making a final decision. The final decision will be made by chief deputy county attorney Amelia Craig Cramer.

Napier was responding to comments made by Mike Hellon, a member of the Law Enforcement Merit System Council, during an early January hearing for sheriff’s Lt. Joe Cameron, who was appealing a three-day suspension for “unprofessional behavior and insubordination.”

Cameron had been suspended by Napier for hanging a framed copy of a letter of reprimand in his office and refusing orders to not display it, and recording his disciplinary meetings, according to a copy of the suspension letter obtained by the Star.

During the hearing, Hellon said he believed there were “multiple cases of perjury committed by the sheriff’s command staff” during the merit commission process. The council’s investigation included interviews with witnesses and a review of evidence. Those interviewed included Napier, Chief Deputy Byron Gwaltney, and Chief John Stuckey, while Chief Karl Woolridge did not adhere to a subpoena to testify, Hellon said.

“We’re obligated to consider the credibility of the witnesses and the credibility of the evidence. Here, for the record, I want to state that I consider (Chief) Woolridge to be in contempt of this commission and Sheriff Napier to be complicit in that contempt by totally, willfully refusing to be here when ordered to do so,” Hellon said, according to a recording obtained by the Arizona Daily Star.

“I also believe that what we heard in the totality of these hearings was multiple cases of perjury committed by the sheriff’s command staff,” he continued. “I don’t believe any of them. I think they lied to us. ... I thought the sheriff’s command staff in total displayed complete contempt for the process of this commission and I’m offended by it.”

The merit board voted 2-1 to uphold the appeal and overturn the suspension, saying the “appointing authority failed to establish that there was just cause for the suspension,” according to a decision letter obtained by the Star. Cameron was also awarded back pay.

Hellon’s comments caused immediate backlash in the department. The leaders of the Pima County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and the Pima County Sheriff’s Commanders’ Association both called on Napier to launch the investigation, with both stating the investigation should be done by an outside agency.

In Tuesday’s statement, as well as a similar department-wide email sent to the Sheriff’s Department on Sunday, Napier said he initiated the investigation on Jan. 17, “not because I believe wrongdoing occurred” but to “restore the public’s trust by having an outside and independent review of the matter.” He added in the email to the department that he believes the county will choose to outsource the investigation.

“I could have gone to the media and engaged in an emotional outburst about these allegations,” he wrote in the email, which was obtained by the Star. “However, doing so would bring further discredit to the department. I could have gone to the media and engaged in a long irrational rant about the allegations. However, doing so would be beneath the dignity of the office of sheriff. Instead, on behalf of the department I quietly requested a formal investigation. I should not comment further on it, as it now is going to be investigated. That is, as you know, our customary protocol. We all want the investigative process to be respected. When the investigation is completed and the findings are released, I will have more to say on the matter. It would be nice if everyone would respect this process.”

Napier also denied that Woolridge, who he said has been out of the office “fighting for his life” with a medical issue, did not ignore the subpoena during the hearing, and that the board refused to accept his testimony on an original subpoena date.

Mike Storie, Cameron’s attorney, told the Star on Tuesday that Napier’s claims regarding the subpoena are “absolutely false,” adding that Woolridge’s subpoena was rescheduled due to his unavailability. He accused Napier of “misleading the public and his own troops.”

Storie said he would prefer the county recuse itself from the investigation, citing the fact that the command staff was represented by a county lawyer during the merit commission hearing. He also said he’s concerned by the fact that outgoing Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall is listed among Napier’s endorsements for his reelection campaign.

Storie also expressed frustration toward the county attorney’s office for its response to a request he made for the investigation three days before Napier. He received a response Jan. 21 from Jonathan Mosher, the county’s chief criminal deputy, that said, “If you believe you have facts that constitute a crime, please contact law enforcement.”

Both emails were shared with the Star.

“Not only do I feel that it would be improper to conduct the investigation, they’ve indicated to me that they’re unwilling,” he said. “I think that it’s disingenuous for him to request an investigation that he knows I requested a week prior.”

In their statement, the Pima County Attorney's Office called the response "customary."

"We were asked by a private attorney to conduct a criminal investigation related to testimony presented at a recent Pima County Law Enforcement Merit System Council proceeding," the statement said. "Investigations of potential crimes are conducted by law enforcement. Therefore, as is customary when we receive such a request, we referred that attorney to present his request to a law-enforcement agency to conduct the investigation. … We have no further comment until the review is concluced."

Contact reporter Justin Sayers at jsayers1@tucson.com or 573-4192. Twitter: @_JustinSayers. Facebook: JustinSSayers.

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