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For a Tiny Police Department, Globe Has Big Problems

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For a tiny police department, Globe has big problems.

A small mining town about an hour and a half east of Phoenix, Globe is home to about 7,000 people. Twenty-six people work for the Globe Police Department, and with so few employees and so many misconduct investigations, the department's legacy of problem police officers far exceeds its size.

A Phoenix New Times review of Globe's history — prompted by the resignations of two police chiefs last year, one of whom is now suing the city — found that in the past five years, at least two ex-Globe officers have been banned from working in law enforcement in Arizona, two additional officers have been ousted following accusations of domestic violence and sexual assault, and two of the department's newest hires both have had their peace officer certifications suspended for misconduct prior to joining the department.

The department's newest chief, Dale Walters, is trying to turn that all around. Walters comes to Globe with nearly three decades in law enforcement under his belt, most recently as the assistant chief of Chandler Police. On his first day as chief, Walters placed ex-Globe Chief Robert Folker under internal investigation following accusations of misconduct that would eventually lead to the ouster of Folker and his ex-lieutenant.

"We addressed some of the pending issues that were facing the department when I immediately got here," Walters told New Times. "I understand the importance of proper policies and procedures and training, and we're working on establishing standards and policies."

Troubled Past

In 2014, officer John Rittenbach relinquished his peace officer certification after the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board determined he had been dishonest during the application process. Globe cop Braxton Bittner gave up his certification the following year, in 2015.

According to POST records, Bittner filed a false report when he claimed his patrol vehicle was damaged in a hit-and-run when it had, in fact, been damaged when he backed up into a post on private property. He then lied to his supervisor about the incident. The lie got so out of hand that in an attempt to cover up how he had damaged his patrol vehicle, Bittner wrongfully arrested someone, then asked dispatch to delete records of the stop.

Two years later, in November 2017, ABC15 (KNXV-TV) reported that Globe had launched an investigation into dozens of closed cases that were not properly investigated. Most of the cases belonged to former Globe detective Sergeant James Durnan, according to ABC15.

Asked about the cases Durnan allegedly failed to investigate, Globe City Manager Paul Jepson said only, "Globe did in fact investigate and resolve a number of cold cases at that time. The City never named or investigated any officers, past or present, as being involved in the cold cases."

Durnan left Globe in 2017 to work for the neighboring Miami Police Department, but he has since retired and no longer works for the department, a spokesperson for the city said.

Not long after, on March 1, 2018, Globe Police Chief Mark Nipp resigned amid reports that two Globe cops were under internal investigations. Nipp cited "philosophical differences" with the city over his goals for the police department as his reason for leaving.

Sergeant Abraham Castaneda and Officer Gabriel Guerrero were placed on administrative leave while investigations into alleged misconduct were underway, ABC15 reported.

Jepson told New Times that Castaneda was cleared of any wrongdoing and has since been promoted to commander. Castaneda had been accused of improperly accessing the criminal records database used by the city. Ultimately, investigators determined Castaneda had not wrongfully accessed any protected records, the Globe city manager told New Times.

Guerrero, meanwhile, was fired. He had been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in December 2016, New Times has learned.

In early 2018, a woman contacted Globe police and said that Guerrero had sexually assaulted her, AZPOST compliance specialist Lori Wait said at a January 2019 board meeting.

According to the woman, she and Guerrero had been friends and had a sexual relationship for over two decades. But on that day in December, she explicitly told Guerrero she did not want to have sex with him and said no repeatedly both before and during the encounter, the woman said, according to Wait.

When Guerrero was asked by internal investigators whether the woman had told him no during any of their sexual encounters over the past 20 years or on that day in December 2016, Guerrero initially said no. But, Wait said, Guerrero eventually conceded during the interview that she had, in fact, told him no.

Guerrero was terminated from Globe — but, the city manager says, Guerrero was fired not for an alleged sexual assault, but for lying. And the woman's assault was never criminally investigated.

"Based on the results of an internal investigation that coincided with his admin leave, Sergeant Guerrero was terminated," Jepson told New Times. "Guerrero was investigated administratively for a past accusation of sexual assault. While certain allegations were not sustained, he was found to be dishonest as part of the investigation and terminated by the city of Globe on that basis. Globe never investigated this criminally, and we are unaware of any other criminal investigations related to this."

AZPOST has initiated proceedings to consider revoking or suspending Guerrero's peace officer certification.

Attempts to reach Guerrero were unsuccessful. He did not respond to a Facebook message nor voicemails.

Ex-Globe Chief Sues the City

After Nipp resigned, he was replaced by Bob Folker. But, New Times has learned, Chief Folker didn't last very long either, and now he's suing Globe, claiming the city violated the Peace Officers' Bill of Rights by not fully informing him about misconduct allegations against him. Folker also alleges the city had no just cause to terminate him.

Just months after taking over for Nipp, on June 11, 2018, Folker got a phone call from the Gila County Sheriff's Office. He was told that one of his subordinates, acting Lieutenant Justin Keeling, was under investigation for domestic violence, exhibits submitted along with Folker's lawsuit show.

Folker immediately called Keeling and told him about the allegation before criminal investigators could even arrive at the scene, contact Keeling themselves, or interview him, according to AZPOST compliance specialist Amanda Faust.

The next day, Folker and Keeling were getting lunch when Keeling was served with an order of protection. Folker went to the Gila County Courthouse with Keeling to get a copy of the order, according to exhibits from the lawsuit. AZPOST employees said in November that Folker tried to help Keeling find out how quash the order, and that Folker went to the victim's house to try to talk with her at some point as well.

"While at the court house," Folker allegedly spoke with a judge about "beating this case," exhibits from Folker's lawsuit show.

On August 7, Globe officials announced that Walters would lead the department. Folker was to return to his former position, lieutenant, by September 10, Walters' first official day as chief.

But the day Walters took office, he placed Folker on administrative leave and informed Folker he was under internal investigation.

According to a lawsuit filed by Folker against the city, Walters, and City Manager Paul Jepson, Walters brought in an independent investigator to review the misconduct allegations against Folker and others.

In his lawsuit, Folker claims his October 2 interview with internal affairs "did not comply with state law" and got his lawyer, Steve Serbalik, to send an email to the city manager complaining about it. Jepson reviewed Folker's complaint, and Folker was brought in for another interview — after receiving what he says was a more thorough notice of investigation laying out the claims against him — on November 1.

After the interview was over, Folker was instructed to meet with Chief Walters. Walters told Folker he was being terminated and gave him a notice of intent to terminate.

According to the notice of investigation, Folker told Keeling and Sergeant Janice Power "they did not have to participate" in the Gila County Sheriff's Office investigation into the domestic violence allegations against Keeling. Folker didn't cooperate with the investigation either.

Walters didn't mince words when he explained his reasons for firing Folker. The facts of the internal investigation, Walters wrote in the notice of intent to terminate, indicated that Folker had conducted himself inappropriately during a criminal investigation and "acted in such a manner that your criminal, dishonest, or disgraceful conduct whether on or off duty adversely affect the members relationship with this department."

"You were the Chief of Police," Walters wrote in the notice of investigation. "Lt. Keeling is the subject of a criminal investigation for domestic violence. An Order of Protection had been served on Lt. Keeling, in your presence. You accompanied Lt. Keeling to the courthouse, on duty, to obtain copies of the Order of Protection, violating City of Globe rules ... There is not one act recorded, by you or any police officer, that protects the rights of the victim in the criminal case being investigated."

On November 8, Folker resigned, according to the AZPOST.

Folker claims in his lawsuit, which he filed on November 6 in anticipation of being terminated (he ultimately resigned instead), that he has suffered "depression, anxiety, insomnia, and emotional distress" as a result of the investigation and his ouster.

Keeling also resigned from the department — while Globe was still in the middle of investigating his conduct. Globe finished the investigation, but couldn't take any action against him, the city manager told New Times.

On September 30, 2019, the Gila County Attorney's Office charged Keeling with assault with intent to cause injury, preventing someone from using a telephone in an emergency, and disorderly conduct, court records show. On October 30, all three charges were dismissed without prejudice.

The Gila County Attorney's Office did not respond to a voicemail and email seeking further information about Keeling's case. Keeling also did not respond to phone calls, voicemails, or an email to his business.

AZPOST decided to take no action in Folker's case, meaning his peace officer certification will remain untouched. The AZPOST has tabled discussions of Keeling's case the past two meetings and is slated to bring it up at a future meeting.

Folker voluntarily dismissed his lawsuit against the city of Globe on December 28, 2018. But he only did it so that his attorney, Steve Serbalik, could file a notice of claim against the city in an attempt to get some money out of the lawsuit, according to a notice of dismissal filed in federal court.

"Since the commencement of this matter, Plaintiffs learned of additional facts that may lead to monetary claims under Arizona State Law that would necessitate a Notice of Claim in order for them to receive financial compensation for potential state law claims," Serbalik wrote.

Going Forward

Two of Globe's latest hires, Jonathan Clements and Jeremy Cochran, come with histories as questionable as the department's. Clements and Cochran were brought in earlier this year.

Clements had his peace officer certification suspended for six months in 2017 after the AZPOST board determined he had violated POST rules, specifically, rule 13-409(A)(12): engaging in any conduct or pattern of conduct that tends to disrupt, diminish, or otherwise jeopardize the public truth in the law enforcement profession.

There is no audio of the 2017 meeting. It's unclear from POST records what exactly Clements did to warrant the suspension.

Cochran, meanwhile, had his certification suspended for 18 months, from January 2017 to July 2018, following an October 2016 drunk driving incident. Cochran was working for the Coconino County Sheriff's Office at the time.

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He was driving his pickup off-duty around 6 a.m. near Flagstaff, swerving in and out of lanes and occasionally driving north in the southbound lane, prompting civilians who saw his drifting vehicle to contact the Department of Public Safety. Troopers arrived, and Cochran failed a sobriety test, blowing a .154 BAC. He refused subsequent tests, AZPOST members said at a September 2018 meeting. New Times could not find any court records related to this incident and has requested any records related to this stop from DPS.

While some of Globe's newest additions may seem less than promising, Walters assured New Times he is steering the department in a different direction. Besides increasing staffing, improving background checks on new hires, and seeking to get the department accredited through the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, Walters says they've conducted a number of audits to identify and address systemic issues plaguing the department.

In recent months, Walters says Globe has adopted a better case management system, improved training for new hires and taken advantage of training offered at other agencies, and worked to improve the relationship between Globe police and other law enforcement in the region.

"We are doing everything we can to rebuild this organization," Walters said. "We are working for success here. We're trying to create something that will not only succeed now, but have longevity."

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