First Pink Underwear, Now Pink Slip
Sergeant Mark Battilana found out last week that Sheriff Joe Arpaio intends to fire him.
Battilana had been suspended in May and was the subject of an internal investigation for unspecified code-of-conduct violations. Maricopa County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lieutenant Tim Campbell confirms that Battilana faces a pretermination hearing on August 15. Four days later, Campbell says, the Sheriff's Office will make a final determination whether to fire Battilana, and if he is fired, will then reveal the accusations against the 18-year veteran.
Deputies say that Battilana is being fired because he is suspected of talking to New Times.
An April 25 New Times cover story ("Mutiny at the County") relied on deputies' accounts and public records to document how the sheriff's posse program was eating up the department's resources, which has in turn eroded respect for Arpaio among his own employees.
Deputies say that Arpaio responded to the article with a massive campaign to find out who had fed New Times information. As a result, Battilana was suspended, several employees were given polygraph examinations, and other longtime deputies suspected by Arpaio were transferred to undesirable jobs.
New Times has a policy against confirming or denying the identity of any confidential sources.
Arpaio, through his spokesman, refuses to discuss why Battilana was singled out for suspension. In May, Campbell would only say that Battilana was being investigated for "a number of code-of-conduct violations." Campbell wouldn't confirm that Battilana was accused of talking to a reporter.
But when a sheriff's investigator contacted a former reporter for the West Valley View in July, most of the questions related to New Times' story. Bill Lane, who used to report on the Sheriff's Office for the West Valley View, says he was called by Lieutenant Gary Gregory, an internal affairs officer. Lane says Gregory asked several questions, but seemed most interested in whether Battilana had ever mentioned talking to New Times reporters. Lane says he was unresponsive.
The Sheriff's Office confirms that Gregory assisted Lieutenant Robert Wetherell, an enforcement-support officer who was temporarily assigned to internal affairs to oversee the Battilana investigation. Wetherell has since been given permanent command of the internal affairs division, replacing Captain Garland Moore, who took a job in the jails division.
Deputies and former employees cite the appointment of Wetherell--who had worked for posse boss Chief David Hendershott--as proof that power is increasingly shifting to Hendershott and his posse operations.
"Arpaio's always been paranoid of anyone talking to the press," says Bill Miller, a former deputy chief in the department. "It's just a petty-ass witch hunt. That's probably why Moore was transferred out, because he wouldn't put up with it. But Wetherell was willing and got moved up."
In May, Arpaio's chief deputy, Jadel Roe, told New Times that she had appointed Wetherell to the investigation because Wetherell had worked with Battilana and, if anything, would treat Battilana favorably.
But deputies tell New Times that there was no love lost between Wetherell and Battilana. And former deputy chief Miller says Roe is just covering for a decision she didn't make.
"Jadel Roe is doing exactly what she was told to do. I've been told she assigned Wetherell to the job because she was told to by Arpaio and Hendershott," Miller says.
Sheriff's spokesman Campbell says nobody from the department will comment on the case until the final determination on August 19.
If he is fired, Battilana will be able to file an appeal with a county merit commission. That could eventually lead to a hearing, and Arpaio could be called to testify.
Neither Battilana nor his lawyer, Bob Yen, was available for comment.
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