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Sheriff under fire: Merit Commission finds complicity, perjury

Lawyer asking Pima County Attorney to investigate
Posted at 10:22 PM, Jan 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-16 18:23:57-05

TUCSON, Ariz. — A Pima County Sheriff's deputy victory was handed down Wednesday evening after he was suspended over unprofessional behavior and insubordination.

The Merit Commission overturned his suspension -- and even found Sheriff Mark Napier and his command staff -- lied -- in hearings.

And now the Lieutenant's lawyer has asked the Pima County Attorney's Office to investigate.

Lt. Joe Cameron doesn't hold back his criticism of how sheriff Mark Napier manages the Pima County Sheriff's Department.

A letter from May 2019, shows Lt. Cameron was suspended without pay for three days by senior command staff, for unprofessional behavior and insubordination.

The letter details Lt. Cameron refusing to take a discipline letter off his office wall, and recording a department member without consent during an investigation and refusing to turn the recorder off.

Lt. Cameron quickly appealed the allegations.

"They're nonsense," Lt. Cameron said. "They're trumped up charges."

"I've never seen anything like this. This degree of targeting," said Mike Storie, Lt. Cameron's attorney. "This degree of retribution."

Lt. Cameron and his attorney appealed to the Pima County Merit Commission. The commission holds quasi-judicial hearings, and resembles court and judge functions. Evidence is reviewed, and witnesses are interviewed in the course of those proceedings.

In the case of Lt. Cameron, those interviews included Sheriff Mark Napier, Chief Deputy Byron Gwaltney, and Chief John Stuckey.

After nine months the commission found that "the county failed to establish that the discipline imposed was justified."

Merit Commission chairman Mike Hellon and other members found that Lt. Cameron did take the letter off the wall, and he had the right to record audio during an investigation.

"And therefore he did not violate the policy," Hellon said.

Lt. Cameron's attorney said senior command targeted his client by pressuring his supervisor to discipline the lieutenant when there was no basis for it."

"... denied remembering ever giving such an order," Hellon said. "It think that's not credible."

Hellon said senior command also denied they had been ordered to turn their backs on Lt. Cameron.

"Gwaltney said 'I want Joe shunned,'" Storie said. "Gwaltney denied saying that."

Audio recordings made during the hearings capture Hellon saying "In the totality of these hearings was multiple cases of perjury committed by the sheriff's command staff."

"Perjury is clear," Lt. Cameron's lawyer Mike Storie said. "If you lie while under oath then it can be a criminal act. We're asking that be investigated immediately."

"It's evidence of a disturbing pattern of practice in the way the sheriff's department is being managed," Hellon said. "If you can't trust your law enforcement to be honest and treat people fairly and with respect, then I think we have a problem in the community."

The commission also said Chief Karl Woolridge was subpoenaed to appear at these hearings but never showed up.

"He absolutely violated a subpoena," Hellon said. "He ducked it, he dodged it. I think it's clear from all evidence and testimony that he was very culpable in much that occurred in the situation. That he simply did not want to come in and answer questions about his conduct and his behavior."

During the hearing Hellon said "I consider Captain [chief] Woolridge to be in contempt of this commission and Sheriff Napier to be complicit in the contempt. He totally willfully refusing to be here when ordered to do so."

Two days before, KGUN 9 learned Chief Woolridge was placed on leave, no word for how long.

In an email to KGUN 9 the sheriff would not specify why Woolridge was placed on leave, but stated it wasn't for disciplinary reasons.

We asked the sheriff for an interview. He replied with a statement reading in part:

"The disciplinary action brought against Lieutenant Cameron was the result of willful and deliberate insubordination. Both Pima County Human Resources and the Pima County Attorney's Office reviewed it to ensure its appropriateness and compliance with county policy. We regret that the Law Enforcement Merit System Council felt otherwise."

Lt. Cameron's three day suspension has been overturned and he will receive back pay for the time he missed.

The sheriff can appeal the ruling. So far, there's no word on whether Sheriff Napier plans to do so.

KGUN 9 also reached out to the Pima County Attorney's Office about the request to investigate the perjury statements. They said they cannot comment on pending investigations.