Longform

Copping an Attitude

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That's where things lay until this April 30, when the Arizona Court of Appeals unanimously overturned his conviction, citing "impermissible police conduct" on Whitson's part.

The County Attorney's Office sent a copy of the appellate ruling to the Glendale P.D. Chief Dobrotka says he ordered an internal investigation after he saw the court's opinion and a copy of Whitson's conflicting testimony.

But police records indicate Glendale Sergeant John Dempsey, not Chief Dobrotka, made the initial complaint against Whitson. The distinction is important:

Dempsey, Whitson says, is a pal of Preston Becker, the sergeant who came under fire in the earlier New Times story for erring badly in an affidavit that led to a search of the home of Balkcom's son.

Whitson claims she and Dempsey have had a checkered history. "He plain doesn't like me or whatever it is he thinks I stand for," she says. "Dempsey is buddies with all those officers we've been talking about. Those guys were pissed at being named in the story, at being exposed. He must have drooled when he saw the court decision. But he didn't do his homework at all."

Responds Dempsey: "Yes, I am friends with Preston, but that truly had no bearing on what went on here. Two detectives came to me stating that Jean Hoag was pretty upset about a reversal on a case. They never said Whitson was involved. I called Jean, but she didn't call back at first.

"A few days later, I received a copy of the court's ruling. I read it, and there were some pretty serious issues concerning our liability to civil rights issues, plus cost issues in a retrial, plus publicity issues because of police misconduct causing a convicted child abuser to walk. I was obligated to let my chain of command know what was going on, and I did. A little bit later, I was instructed to talk to Ms. Hoag, and so I did.

"That's about it. No vendetta."
Cindi Nannetti, head of the county attorney's sex-crimes unit, says she attended Dempsey's meeting with Hoag.

"Sergeant Dempsey showed absolutely no bias against Jan Whitson in our meeting with him," Nannetti says. "I've been in dozens of these types of meetings, where an officer from a police department questions me about another officer's performance. Believe me, I've seen cases where they come in with a predetermined thought process. Not this time."

The internal-affairs probe into Whitson was one of several related events that affected the Glendale P.D. in May and June. Others included the New Times story, dismissal of a civil rights lawsuit against several officers by one of Frank Balkcom's sons and the onset of the "conflict mediation" counseling.

To Chief Dobrotka, it has added up to an unhappy mess.

David Dobrotka has a large poster of Albert Einstein sitting over his desk at the Glendale Police Department. "Peace cannot be kept by force," it quotes the great scientist. "It can only be achieved by understanding."

Dobrotka says "understanding" has been hard to attain in segments of his agency.

"I haven't been through anything quite to this extent," he says. "I've got an officer--Whitson--who is trying to connect everything with retaliation for the story and for making allegations of racism against other officers. She's convinced the internal against her was a setup. But there's no way I wasn't going to look into the possibility that one of my officers had committed perjury."

A music major in college, Dobrotka floated into law enforcement in the late 1960s. He spent years in the Minneapolis Police Department, working his way up to assistant chief before eyeing the Southwest. In mid-1994, he and his family decided to make the move to Glendale, one of the nation's fastest-growing cities, with a population of about 180,000.

Dobrotka says he soon came to realize that he had some exceptionally disgruntled officers on his hands.

As detailed in the first New Times story, the troubles boiled over in the aftermath of an April 1994 brawl between several Glendale police officers--including members of the department's gang squad--and two of Frank Balkcom's sons at a wedding reception. The clash led to criminal charges against the boys and, later, to the lawsuit by Frank Balkcom Jr. against several officers.

For multiple reasons, the suit never took off and was dismissed last month by a federal judge. But one general allegation in the complaint was stunning.

"The Glendale P.D. . . . was known for the racist behavior of various of its officers," Frank Balkcom Jr.'s suit alleged. "Furthermore, the Glendale P.D. tolerated the use of racially and ethnically pejorative language among its police officers, thereby allowing to exist and acquiescing in an atmosphere of racial and ethnic bias and prejudice."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin