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Wage Theft: PCSD SRO speaks out about impact on student safety

Posted: 9:11 PM, May 16, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-17 17:30:49-04

TUCSON, Ariz — Turmoil within the Pima County Sheriff's Department continues to escalate.

A School Resource Officer (SRO) speaks out for the first time on camera about his claims of wage theft and retaliation. He's one of eight deputies who've filed a lawsuit against the sheriff and Chief Karl Woolridge.

The SRO claims these illegal practices could be putting student safety at risk in some schools.

Ethics, Conduct, Law -- codes Pima County Sheriff's Deputies live by.
They also live by communication codes, like 10-4.

One code, in particular, is used by deputies to signify confidential information -- "Code 35" (10-35).

Now Pima County deputies are comparing "Code 35" to the famous scene in the movie "A Few Good Men".

In the film, "Code Red" is an action or punishment that falls outside the law. The lawsuit claims "Code 35" is the term used when top command wants to keep "rank and file from stepping forward and reporting abuses".

"They were trying to handle this thing as a secret. And they use that term when they're questioned about it," said Sgt. Bill Phillips.

The thing Sgt. Bill Phillips is talking about is on-call pay - that's when deputies are paid to be on standby for emergencies that fall outside their regular 8-hour shifts.

Phillips is a 27-year veteran in charge of the department's nationally recognized Student Resource Officers program. SROs receive on-call pay -- about $1.30 an hour, which amounts to $140 a week for all the 14 SROS combined.

"For being available 24/7 for the schools. It becomes a safety issue for the kids. It makes a huge difference," said Sgt. Phillips.

Because social media plays a big part in school threats - ranging from bullying to mass shootings.

"So it may be at midnight that a kid tells his mom that something is on the computer and they're calling the principal," said Phillips.

He says the principals then call their assigned SROs who know the school culture -- and "can cut to the heart of a matter more quickly" to determine the next step -- for the next school day -- ranging from staying on alert to shutting the school down.

"They were told originally when we started the whole program with past administration that we're available 24/7. That's the way it works," said Phillips.
But it's doesn't work that way anymore. Phillips says when Sheriff Mark Napier took office in 2016 he immediately started slashing the budget.

In the crosshairs, the SRO's on-call pay during late night hours because Napier had told Phillips SROs don't physically go out to the schools enough.

The lawsuit shows Napier and Chief Karl Woolridge "issued verbal orders for SRO's to simply turn off their phones overnight," but "SROs could *choose to answer the phone" and log 15 minutes. If SROs don't answer -- Phillips says the calls would be handled by regular patrols -- less familiar with the schools -- who often call the SROs for advice.

"Nobody is not going to answer their phone and not be that deputy -- that SRO -- that decides not to answer and then there's a problem at the school the next day if something bad happens," said Phillips.

Phillips complained to Napier -- calling the move "wage theft" because the SRO's are basically working overnight hours -- for free. "So they want us to carry a phone to be available, but say we'll pay you if you answer the phone. They can't do that. They're not allowed to do that. They're not paying compensation. It's Illegal. The state and federal law says you have to pay," said Phillips.

Also in the crosshair, a Patrol Unit that handles specialized investigative assignments. The lawsuit shows Napier and Woolridge also pulled their on-call pay "with no change in their duties or hours worked."

A check of the financial records shows a drop in On-Call pay from $1.3 million in fiscal year 2016/17 to a projected 940-thousand in 2018/19.

Phillips says when he filed a wage theft complaint with Pima County Human Resources a year ago, Woolridge retaliated - issuing an order to permanently cut Phillip's on-call pay -- dropping his salary $8,000.

"It's unprofessional. It's nasty. It's Chief Woolridge," said Phillips.

Woolridge has a history of violating policy -- uncovered three years ago during our investigation into the 2016 money laundering scandal involving RICO spending. KGUN9 reported Woolridge ordered the financial manager, Ron Jee, to alter a memo that warned command staff of possible spending violations.

Jee changed the wording -- and the spending practices continued for more than a year, which was approved by Woolridge. Phillips says he's not the only one who believes Woolridge continues to abuse his administrative power.

"I mean he has right now sitting at county I think there are 6 or 7 retaliation complaints against him by commanders," said Phillips.

We checked with Pima County Human Resources, which confirms Woolridge is under investigation. An emailed response shows, "Currently, there is a pending investigation, however, it has not concluded and therefore there are no records subject to disclosure at this time."

KGUN9 also received an email chain that reveals a lieutenant, along with at least 5 others, filed a bullying complaint against Woolridge.

KGUN9 asked the largest union, the Pima County Deputy Sheriff's Association. about the complaints.

Sgt. Kevin Kubitskey is speaking on the union's behalf. "I believe there is the vicinity, I was told by the union, about 6 maybe more," said Kubitskey.
Kubitskey's bullying complaint is among them.

He says the county ordered deputies not to discuss the details -- but he confirmed some complaints date back about a year.

Both deputies say county policies are not being followed -- and the delay in the investigation is making matters worse for those who are stepping forward and reporting abuses.

"They're done with the favoritism, the bullying. We have the policy and we're meant to read it. And the county needs to follow it," said Kubitskey.

We reached out to Napier and Woolridge for comment, but Napier told me he and Woolridge will not comment on pending litigation.