APD chief of staff's actions are under investigation - Albuquerque Journal

APD chief of staff’s actions are under investigation

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

More than $2,500 worth of electronics purchased and signed for with the Albuquerque police chief’s signature stamp – without his knowledge. A dog named Sophie peeing and pooping in the offices of deputy chiefs.

Conflict over salaries and raises.

Internal memos obtained by the Journal reveal infighting and dysfunction among the Albuquerque Police Department’s top brass and their assistants and resentment over “conflicting directives” from the Mayor’s Office.

After this story was published online Wednesday evening, Police Chief Michael Geier issued this statement: “I take responsibility for what happens in my office with my chief of staff and my assistant. Any suggestion that I am not in control of the department (is) ridiculous. This is nothing more than petty water-cooler talk.”

Last month, Geier requested that an internal investigation be opened into his chief of staff, John Ross, for the most serious allegations, saying he believes Ross may have violated standard operating procedures by engaging in conduct that reflects poorly on the department, altering, misrepresenting or making false statements in reports, and failing to safeguard department property.

Ross followed Geier from the Rio Rancho Police Department to APD.

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APD Chief of Staff John Ross (APD)

In his July 20 memo requesting the investigation, Geier said he had learned that Ross had bypassed the city’s protocol in purchasing a $2,400 Apple laptop computer – when he already had a department-issued ThinkPad laptop – and a $200 Apple TV box that didn’t appear to have any purpose for work. Furthermore, Geier said, he found out that Ross was trying to purchase a ballistic vest – described as an “off-duty jacket type vest” – despite a pending request for bid and the fact that the purchase would result in the vendor being disqualified.

Geier said that he met with Ross for an informal discussion about the allegations and that Ross admitted he bought the Apple computer and TV box but said he thought it was OK, noting that the TV box could be used for Zoom meetings. He said Ross acknowledged he did not have approval but directed his assistant to use Geier’s signature stamp anyway.

“I explained to John that his actions portrayed him as possibly using his position to benefit himself,” Geier wrote. “I told him the ‘appearance’ of this would seem wrong to others in the agency and it gave the optics of abuse of his authority. Both of these outcomes could conceivably impair the efficiency of the Department and damage both his reputation and that of APD in general.”

APD Chief Mike Geier

Geier said he told Ross that it would be best if he returned the items and he trusted him to do the right thing. The items were not returned. And the ThinkPad that Ross had been initially provided crashed when he used the wrong charger.

Geier ended up locking up his signature stamp.

An APD spokesman said the investigation into Ross is ongoing and he is not on leave.

Ross did not respond to an email requesting comment.

Issues raised

Issues with Ross’s conduct and actions seem to have come to a head in mid-July when Geier’s administrative support coordinator, Paulette Diaz, wrote a memo to the chief outlining several concerns she had already discussed with him in a meeting. Diaz wrote that she believed Ross was abusing his position for what appeared to be personal gain and that he was evading standard operating procedures.

Diaz also came from the Rio Rancho Police Department with Geier. On Wednesday, under the direction of city Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair, she was transferred to the Department of Animal Welfare until the conclusion of pending internal investigations.

In response to questions about the transfer, City Attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr. said APD administrative investigations are a routine process to determine whether employees followed policies.

“Temporary reassignment of employees is a common option to protect both sides during an investigation and is not retaliatory,” Aguilar wrote in a statement. “Unclassified, exempt employees are also subject to reassignment or other status changes at any time. Here, the allegations being investigated have to do with the compromise of confidential information, so reassignment is advisable.”

Gilbert Gallegos, the APD spokesman, said Diaz “has been the subject of allegations that predate the current situation, as well as the potential compromise of confidential information.”

But Diaz’s attorney, Thomas Grover, said the transfer means his client could be headed toward a lawsuit. He said Diaz has no idea what prior allegations have been made against her and she did not leak confidential information.

In a seven-page memo, Diaz detailed 10 issues she had with Ross, including his purchase of the Apple laptop and Apple TV box on March 15 and April 11, respectively. She points out that Ross did not seek approval from Geier before the purchase and said he was using a “P-Card” rather than waiting for a purchase order because the latter route can take weeks to complete.

Another issue Diaz raised is that Ross’ salary had been increased without Geier’s approval.

Geier’s memo, which was sent to Internal Affairs Professional Standards a week after Diaz’s memo was written, explains this incident by saying Ross had asked for a “small bump” in pay, which Geier interpreted to mean “a few thousand dollars annually.”

“He thought he could be elevated to the same pay level as a Deputy Chief but I explained that would not be feasible due to our existing rank structure and our compensation and classification process,” Geier wrote. “I also told him that Deputy Chief Harold Medina was already upset that two other Deputy Chiefs were already getting paid more than him due to a longevity agreement from the last administration.”

Geier goes on to say that he signed a memo provided by Ross but either “did not remember seeing the actual amount of the raise being listed on his memo or did not look at it with any scrutiny since I trusted John.”

It appears Ross took that memo to CAO Nair and was given a “significant pay raise at the rate of a Deputy Chief.” Geier said he was surprised when he learned from the city’s website that Ross was making almost $140,000 a year, about $5,000 less than Medina.

“I sign a lot of documents and am very busy at times and it is possible I missed it,” Geier wrote. “However, I reminded him of our initial conversations about the possible implications of receiving such a large raise and the appearance of impropriety.”

Diaz references interference from Mayor Tim Keller and CAO Nair, saying they have provided Geier with conflicting directives about how to address the issues with Ross.

“Those directives do not support you running this department and the Mayor’s office should not be entertaining private discussions with John, or even (Deputy Chief of Police) Medina for that matter, that run contrary to adherence to the chain of command or are done for their own personal reasons,” Diaz wrote.

Dog’s behavior

Ross’ dog, Sophie, presented another big issue for staff on the fifth floor.

According to Diaz’s memo, Ross began bringing his personal dog to the office last fall because his wife would not let him keep her at home while he was at work. Over time, the dog’s behavior became more unmanageable and she was aggressive toward people, including employees and visitors.

“In addition Sophie would poop and pee on the carpet in the offices,” Diaz wrote. “(Deputy Chief Michael) Smathers was not happy that Sophie used his office (as) the place to poop and DC (Arturo) Gonzales was tired of Sophie peeing in his office and asked me to see about getting the carpets shampooed. It got to the point that air fresheners had to be brought in and some staff has even gone to the limit of burning candles to mask the odor of what is obviously a health concern.”

Diaz said other APD employees were tasked with taking care of Ross’ dog while he was at meetings and Ross had a city employee train the dog to behave during work hours.

“Again this is an abuse of his authority and lack of respect for all other employees and has also sent a message that John can do whatever he wants without any repercussions and that he is in command not you,” she wrote.

Grover acknowledged that the 10 issues Diaz brought up in her memo run the gamut from human resources complaints – like what was happening with the dog – to frustration over her own salary and that a newly hired “social media person” was making more than her at $32 an hour.

“Some is clearly human resource, administrative concerns,” Grover said. “… At the other side of the spectrum is these allegations of Ross using his position to buy things or bypass typical purchasing procedures with, frankly, a sense of fraud in it, in terms of drafting memos without Geier’s knowledge or consent or strong arming his way to get the signature pad from Paulette to sign these memos.”

APD Chief Michael Geier
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