Mesa Police Assistant Chief Investigated Last Year for "Assault" on Another Cop; Incident Deemed "Horseplay"

One of three possible replacements named for Mesa Police Chief George Gascon was investigated last year for hitting another officer with a water bottle, says a report by

Assistant Chief Mike Denney was accused of striking Commander Fred Ruhland in the groin with a water bottle after Ruhland made some smart-alecky comment. The whole thing was ultimately down-played, but not until after an investigation by a Tempe prosecutor. The flap also spurred the Mesa department to interview several top officers about other, similar incidents involving Denney.

The assistant chief told investigators he didn't recall hitting Ruhland, but that it could have happened:

"Ive done that to people in just playful ways," Denney told the investigator. "Never to hurt them, never to insult them or injury (sic) them or cause them to do anything. So, I can't tell you it didn't happen. I just don't have a recollection of it."

He described it as "horseplay."

"I mean, this is the kind of horseplay that goes on in police agencies forever and ever," he said later.

We found it interesting that Nick Martin, the laid-off journalist who runs Heat City, got the big "no comment" about the situation from the department's public information office, which reports to directly to Denney. Typically, the outgoing police chief, George Gascon, runs a relatively "transparent" shop. Earlier this month, the Mesa Police Association criticized Gascon for holding a news conference to talk about rank-and-file officers involved in the case of a flushed [dead] fetus. We e-mailed Gascon for a comment; we'll let you know if he writes back.

Whether Denney's "horseplay" is appropriate for the workplace or not, we have to wonder about Ruhland's motives for filing his report five months after the alleged incident. [Martin says the report does not detail a reason for the delay].

The internal squabble between Ruhland and Denney could be an early indication of a lack of team spirit that plagued the department before Gascon's arrival -- and which might grow worse after he leaves.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.