Inquiry launched into claims that acting Marco chief put malicious docs in employee files
This is a six-month review of the most-read crime stories in Collier County on naplesnews.com from September 2018 to February 2019. Wochit
Nearly three months after a Marco Island police officer accused the interim police chief of placing "malicious documents" in officers' employee files without their knowledge, the city is launching an inquiry into the allegations.
The inquiry was initiated after the Naples Daily News filed multiple public records requests for emails and documents related to accusations that acting Chief Dave Baer, who is serving in an interim capacity until the last week of August, placed negative, unofficial documents in officers' employee files without their knowledge and due process to respond.
"On August 5th, a local media representative made a public records request for communications between city officials, as well as copies of documents that were allegedly removed from a Department member’s personnel file," Baer wrote in an email sent to police employees, the City Council and members of the media.
"A preliminary review of the circumstances described leads me to believe the question(s) justify a further formal inquiry. I have briefed the City Manager and been in communication with the City Attorney, who concurs with my course of action to date. It is far too early to suggest any policy violations or policy failures."
Request for removal
The most recent occurrence came to light in May when Officer John Derrig made a request to remove multiple items from his personnel file, citing the state's general records retention schedules.
"Over my 13 years of my employment, there (were) several uninvestigated and or slanderous documents placed into my personnel file," Derrig wrote in an email to human resources manager Leslie Sanford. "These documents were never investigated per Florida Statutes, or the dispositions were never included because there was no merit to the complaint. These documents were placed inside my file to support the malicious agenda of the prior administration. These documents are insufficient on its face and should be removed."
The documents Derrig was referencing were unofficial notes placed in his police file and arbitration decisions reversing adverse disciplinary action against him that were not included in his files.
The same type of notes were also found in other officers' files, Derrig wrote.
More notes discovered
"Prior to Sgt. Matt Goetz leaving our agency, he requested to view his personnel file," Derrig wrote. "During this review, he believes Capt. Dave Baer had maliciously placed documents inside his file. These documents were removed by Capt. Stoltenborg."
Derrig added that multiple other officers have had items removed from their personnel files.
Goetz, who left the Marco Island Police Department for the Collier County Sheriff's Office, confirmed to the Naples Daily News that malicious notes were placed in his file without his knowledge and the ability to offer a rebuttal. He declined further comment.
Goetz did say the notes were removed after he sent a memo to then-Police Chief Al Schettino informing him of what he discovered when reviewing his police file.
The Naples Daily News filed a public records request for both the notes and memo prior to the announcement of the investigation, but the City of Marco Island will not fulfill the request until it is now complete.
Claims against acting chief
An employee climate survey completed a few years ago also included the same claims against Baer, which Sanford said were never investigated
"The files in question are not under my purview," she said.
Baer has served as the acting chief since the forced retirement of Al Schettino in June. Schettino offered to retire after Harden asked for his resignation due to multiple scandals within the police department and questionable leadership decision. The city hired Frazzano later that month from the Montclair Police Department to lead the department, starting at the end of August.
City Manager Mike McNees sent an email to City Council late Tuesday morning informing it that a third-party investigator would review the handling of personnel files.
"Putting a little more meat on the bone as this evolves, our intention is to use an outside investigator (one with whom we have prior experience) to look into this situation and gather the facts," McNees wrote. "The results of his investigation will then be presented to Chief (Tracy) Frazzano, keeping the existing chain of command out of the investigation."
Along with those documents, Derrig also requested files related to the two times he had been wrongfully terminated and reinstated by an arbitrator be removed. The arbitration decisions were not attached to those investigations.
His requests were denied by city officials, who stated that his personnel files were required to be kept for 50 years after an employee separates. Then-city manager David Harden also wrote to Derrig to inform him that Sanford could not assist him with files internal to the police department.
Derrig raised issues with first the investigation, which later resulted in him being given six months back pay, in his email to Sanford because Officer Tige Thompson was the investigator that found him to be insubordinate and untruthful.
Thompson had previously been fired from the Collier County Sheriff's Office for being untruthful and was later designated as "do-not-subpoena" by the state attorney's office due to credibility concerns.
"After reading several documents released in the media, it is evident that the Department was aware that there was an issue with Officer Tige Thompson’s credibility," Derrig wrote. "The administration participated in some unethical practices by sweeping this under the rug. Capt. Baer and Chief Carr both testified during the hearing. The City failed to disclose this information and it is required by Brady v. Maryland."
Arbitrator agrees with union
After Derrig's reinstatement, the arbitrator agreed with the union's position that police administration had a vendetta against him when it fired him after an alleged excessive use of force situation.
“It was unfortunate that the Police Department Administration had a certain animus toward Officer Derrig,” arbitrator Frank Squillace wrote. “Thus, the Union’s claim that Officer Derrig was retaliated against is meritorious. The written documents and witnesses’ testimonies show that after Office Derrig returned to work in January 2012, he was treated in an arbitrary and capricious manner.”
Derrig told Sanford he believed the inability to remove the files was having an adverse effect on his advancement.
"Our current collective bargaining agreement states that prior to promotion, officers personnel files will be reviewed," Derrig wrote. "I have been passed over for detective positions by two-year officers and recently a 7-month officer who is still on probation."
Other complaints not investigated
The lack of an investigation into complaints is not a new occurrence in the human resources or police departments.
Baer was among the top targets for complaints in the climate survey, which included accusations of him conducting malicious investigations against officers and falsifying the time sheets of his secretary.
Police administration and some members of the City Council were resistant to seeking a third-party investigation into the claims of the survey. Only recently has the City Council expressed more of support for a deeper dive in the department after a slew of embarrassing incidents over the past few years, including multiple officers having sex on duty.
The ability to investigate the past time theft complaint has already been compromised.
In October, the Naples Daily News made a public records request for past key swipe access logs into the police department's secured building but was told a system failure prevented it from pulling logs before Jan. 1, 2018.
The city has also failed to act even when receiving formal written complaints.
In September 2016, Derrig emailed Schettino signed formal complaints and additional documentation to support his claims against Baer and former Sgt. Neil Giansanti.
Derrig stated in his email that he approached Schettino earlier that year about filing a complaint and initially took his suggestion of trying to "move forward" before noting that the city and police department refused to do so.
"I believe that it is imperative that an internal investigation be conducted on the conduct of Capt. Baer," Derrig wrote. "After reading the award, I believe it is your responsibility as the chief administrator of (the police department) to have the entire investigation be investigated.
"The investigation was (biased) and (a) clear example of gross mismanagement, malfeasance, misfeasance, gross waste of public funds and gross neglect of duty committed by a police captain within the Marco Island Police Dept."