Sheriff Mark Napier has asked the Pima County Attorney’s Office to investigate claims that he and members of his command staff committed perjury during a merit commission investigation involving the suspension of one of his lieutenants.
Napier said Friday that he made the request, which came after both the sheriff’s deputy and commanders unions issued statements asking for the investigation. He said he can’t comment further but “I will in the future.”
The perjury allegations stem from comments made by merit commission member Mike Hellon during an early-January hearing for sheriff’s Lt. Joe Cameron, who was appealing a May 2019 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 appeal hearing in front of the Pima County Law Enforcement Merit System Council, 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.
“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 Captain (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.
The comments from Hellon led to immediate backlash from within the department, including from the leaders of the Pima County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and the Pima County Sheriff’s Commanders’ Association. Both organizations called on Napier to launch the investigation.
“I am very concerned with the verdict from the (merit) board regarding multiple high ranking commanders involved in perjury. This type of behavior deserves to be further investigated and not ignored by our sheriff or the County Attorney’s Office,” Eric Cervantez, deputy sheriff’s association president, said in a prepared statement.
Commanders’ association chairman Gerard Moretz echoed those concerns to the Star, saying the organization’s long-term concern is to “sort through allegations and get some sort of clarity on what occurred so that can be dealt with head-on.”
“I believe one of the key strengths of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department has been the trust given to us by the public,” he further said in a prepared statement. “This trust is built on earned legitimacy, which is generated by transparency and integrity. That is all jeopardized without an objective clearing of the air. That can be accomplished by an unbiased investigation conducted by an agency for whom there is no conflict.”
In an interview with the Star on Friday, Napier said nobody has been disciplined as a result of Hellon’s comments, despite suggestions that Woolridge was on leave as a result; Napier said Woolridge is on medical leave for a life-threatening medical condition, and that he notified the department of that in an email.
“It’s under investigation,” Napier said. “Nobody gets disciplined for an accusation. Anybody can allege anything. It doesn’t mean that there’s any merit to it. So no, I requested that the County Attorney’s Office investigate that. We’re conducting a review of this stuff internally. But that said, I can’t comment.”
The Pima County Attorney’s Office did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment Friday afternoon.
It was not immediately known if the county would have to recuse itself from an investigation.
Cameron has long feuded with Napier, including when he released recorded audio that prompted Napier to ask the Attorney General’s Office to conduct a criminal investigation into the alleged misuse of federal funds by department leaders.
He said he wasn’t surprised by Hellon’s comments.
“I’ve been asking for an investigation for years,” said Cameron, who is also a treasurer for the commanders’ union. “What I want is for these people to be held accountable.”
He said he hung the letter of reprimand on his wall “because that was a reminder for me to always do the right thing and even when you do the right thing, it’s going to be painful.”
“That was for me,” Cameron said. “That’s how serious I take this.”
Napier said he stands by the suspension.
“It was a violation of department policies. It’s insubordination,” he said.
Contact reporter Justin Sayers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4192. Twitter: @_JustinSayers.
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