Career Death

The consequences for a DPS officer who bucked his bosses' dismissal of a righteous speeding ticket, got fired, and won a $190,000 jury award for wrongful termination

Wyatt soon filed a second grievance and had his attorney fire off a letter to the Maricopa County Attorney's office that stated the ticket dismissal represented "mismanagement, abuse of authority, and possibly a violation of the law."

Lane was furious and tried to fire Wyatt, but DPS Major Destin Coleman told him there wasn't enough documentation to warrant termination.

Wyatt's probation was extended for about two months — enough time to gather documentation.

Brent Wyatt would rather be wearing a uniform. If he hadn't tape-recorded telling phone conversations with superiors, he probably would be.
Laura Segall
Brent Wyatt would rather be wearing a uniform. If he hadn't tape-recorded telling phone conversations with superiors, he probably would be.

Wyatt, 31, moved to north Phoenix in 1989 from Huntington, West Virginia, to live with his aunt and uncle. His father was "never in the picture," and his mother had health problems and "couldn't properly care for me," he said.

After graduating from Barry Goldwater High School in 1993, he worked odd jobs and tried his hand a couple of times at running his own businesses: an audio-video installation service — "it was kind of a flop" — and Xtreme Motorsports, which involved selling cars.

Wyatt said that in the late 1990s he decided to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a police officer and applied at several agencies.

"It's not the best-paying, but it's the coolest job," he said.

He began working for the DPS in early 2002, but got off to a rocky start and had his field training extended for two weeks. Supervisors pegged him as somebody who seemed to have an excuse for every mistake he made.

But he worked through his issues, ended his field training, and was allowed to begin patrolling solo. His overall work was rated standard from February 2002 until the evaluation he received in April 2003.

From there, his career began unraveling.

As testimony during the trial showed, Wyatt was assigned to work with an officer who had just six months more experience, and who was told to scrutinize Wyatt's performance.

One day, the officer saw Wyatt and Wyatt's realtor at a convenience store. Wyatt told the officer he had been waiting for him at the Deer Valley station, as required, then left to get a soda and meet quickly with his realtor to sign paperwork for a house he had sold.

The officer said Wyatt told him he had gone inside the office.

But the office alarm had not been deactivated to allow entrance.

Soon an internal affairs investigation was launched. Wyatt told investigators he sometimes waited outside the office in his car, and must have been wrong about going inside.

Internal affairs concluded that Wyatt had been dishonest.

At about the same time, Sergeant Youngberg staked out Wyatt's north Phoenix home to make sure Wyatt was starting work on time, DPS records show.

Wyatt said he spotted Youngberg doing surveillance on him and confronted him. Youngberg said he was just "checking on his [Wyatt's] welfare."

Another time, IA investigator Bill Cramer drove out to Wyatt's home at 12:30 a.m. Astonishingly, the DPS later claimed Cramer was trying to determine if Wyatt had gone on vacation as he said he had. Questions submitted to the court by a juror carry an incredulous tone about the incident: "1). Why did Investigator go to Wyatts [sic] house @ 0030 to see if he was home. At 0030 aren't lights off, house quiet, neighbors the same? 2). How can one determine @ this time whether someone is home (w/out knocking on door — etc. . .?) (Is investigator going to testify?)"

The jury foreman, who agreed to be identified as such but did not want his name used, said this "non-standard" investigation worried jurors.

"You can't go staking out people's homes at night," he said, noting that such actions were done at taxpayer expense.

But the 12:30 a.m. trip was fruitful for Cramer: He discovered Wyatt's personal car had an expired dealer plate. Wyatt explained he had the plate because of his old business, and did not know the plate was expired. A quick call to the Motor Vehicle Division, and the plate was valid again. Still, there was consternation at the DPS that Wyatt used the plate, which cost less than regular vehicle registration, in the first place.

Another internal affairs investigation regarding the plate soon nailed Wyatt for conduct unbecoming an officer.

Whalen sat in on the investigations and said supervisors were abusive toward Wyatt.

"I've been in investigations for 25 years," Whalen said. "I know the proper procedures [for internal affairs]. They did not follow proper procedures."

Lane then assigned Wyatt to the squad of Sergeant Dave Hechler, who retired from the DPS in December 2003 after 34 years in law enforcement. Hechler ordered Wyatt to ride with Officer Mike Ransom, whom he told to judge Wyatt fairly.

"Mike and I would wonder what's going on," Hechler said. He remembers thinking, "'They're really fucking this guy over. This is a witch hunt.'"

Ransom gave Wyatt standard ratings for two months. The last standard evaluation should have automatically taken Wyatt off probation, according to DPS rules.

But the evaluation disappeared after Ransom turned it in to Lane's office.

At his deposition in May 2005, Lane said he never saw the evaluation and never signed it.

A couple of weeks after the deposition, the evaluation — which had been signed by Lane, after all — was entered into the DPS system by a clerk. The computer marked Wyatt's status as "off probation." By the time the evaluation was found as part of the trial discovery process, it had already been almost two years since Wyatt was fired.

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