Longform

Copping an Attitude

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Whitson, who has retained an attorney for a possible lawsuit, doesn't see things that way.

"They've singled me out for speaking my mind," says Whitson. "I won't say that anyone else is a bad officer and I'm perfect. Obviously, I'm not. I've got nothing against talking to a shrink, except I don't want it to be a setup--that I'm diagnosed as being this delusional bitch. All I'm saying is, 'Deal with me equally.'"

Another Glendale officer who requested anonymity says the squabbles have been the subject of many an after-shift coffee klatsch.

"Every agency has its problems, but this has been ridiculous," says the cop. "You've got Jan and Frank, who make some good points, but who think the department is out to get them. And you've got people who hate that all this ugly stuff was exposed publicly. Does all this affect the way anyone is serving the community? Probably not. But it's so damned unhealthy."

Like the old Pogo comic strip, Jan Whitson is convinced she has met the enemy, and he is us.

In many ways, she's a typical cop, bullheaded and prone at times to whining about real and perceived slights. But her personnel file indicates her overall performance at the Glendale P.D. has been outstanding.

Born in tiny Spruce Pine, North Carolina, Whitson recalls the admiration she felt as a young girl for the town cop.

"He wore a dark blue uniform, just like we wear out here," she says, in a soft drawl that betrays her Southern heritage. "He looked sharp and acted sharp. I told myself, 'I'd like to be an officer someday, somehow.' The fact that I was a female didn't enter into my thinking."

But marriage and motherhood put her dream on hold for several years. As an Air Force wife, Whitson lived in various parts of the country before she settled in Glendale in 1979.

Soon after that, Whitson became a fire dispatcher. A few years later, she took a job at the police station, also as a dispatcher.

By now a single mom, Whitson's dream finally was within her sights. She won a spot in the police academy and passed muster. On July 2, 1984, Glendale P.D. hired her as a sworn officer.

"It's all about being up-front, honest and to the point," Whitson says of her policing philosophy. "When you're sure someone is lying to you, you tell them. When someone is being helpful, you thank them."

In 1989, Whitson's superiors transferred her to the detective bureau. For almost five years, until she returned to patrol, Whitson was the only female detective on the Glendale force. (At present, there are none.)

She performed without a major glitch until April 1993, when she investigated a child-abuse case against Milford Edward Withey.

The Glendale man was convicted of pummeling his infant son, but an appeals court ruled April 30 that he deserved a new trial. The court said Whitson had violated Withey's rights under the landmark Miranda decision by continuing to speak with the suspect after he'd requested an attorney's advice.

The appellate reversal led to an investigation by the Glendale P.D. into allegations that Whitson may have lied under oath during the 1993 child-abuse trial.

That internal probe recently cleared Whitson of the perjury allegation. But the department has placed a "memo of correction"--its least serious form of written discipline--into Whitson's personnel file for violating Withey's rights.

Whitson alleges the inquiry was initiated in retaliation for her role in the New Times story; police chief Dobrotka denies the allegation.

The internal probe stemmed from a series of circumstances that illustrate the care police must exercise to avoid violation of the Miranda decision's dictates.

In April 1993, Whitson and fellow detective Tom Clayton were assigned to investigate how 4-month-old Daniel Juliano had sustained life-threatening injuries.

Emergency-room doctors contacted police after finding multiple skull fractures, retinal hemorrhaging and other injuries that led them to suspect someone had intentionally hurt the baby.

At the hospital, Ed Withey first told personnel what he had told his girlfriend, the infant's mother: In his haste to keep an older child from pulling a computer keyboard off a table, he had accidentally kicked Daniel in the head.

Withey stuck with that story in an interview with child welfare officials, and in his first interview with police at his Glendale apartment.

Withey's tune started to change after Whitson and Clayton arrested him, read him his Miranda rights and took him to the police station. There, Withey said he'd become frustrated with the baby's crying, snatched him out of his crib and accidentally dropped him on the floor, kneeing him in the head in the process and knocking him unconscious.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin