Fired state trooper fights to get his job backPosted: Updated:
A fired Department of Public Safety trooper who sued for whistleblower protection just lost his appeal to get his job back on Tuesday.
He says this isn’t over and it's just a small window into the pervasive problems plaguing DPS.
DPS has a policy encouraging employees to come forward anytime something's wrong.
The slogan goes, "See something. Say something. Report it."
And that's just what Simon Wade did.
He said when his chain of command told him "leave it alone," he turned in an 18-page letter and instead of the department fully investigating his claims, they fired him.
"You put on your vest, your gun, and your badge on every morning and you go to work," Wade said.
Wade, a Former DPS bomb tech, said no training can prepare troopers for the drama and petty politics the department's dealing with right now.
"These guys are working the road, and they're more worried about what's happening in the office. That’s a huge concern," Wade said.
He’d be the first to admit that his lengthy letter was riddled with grammatical errors and typos but said he drafted it as a passionate plea and heads up for the department’s professional standards unit.
He hoped someone would take a closer look, investigate and vet the good-faith claims and observations he considered to be serious safety and policy violations.
“I have seen leadership failures, malfeasance, theft and operational decisions that befuddle me,” Wade said.
The claims varied, for example, from “nasty politics and backstabbing” to a sergeant misusing federal RICO funds in overtime off-duty pay to being reckless with explosive detonations on the range.
"Some of these situations we’re talking about have the potential of seriously injuring or killing someone and putting our agency and the state at great liability,” Wade said.
DPS deputy director Heston Silbert ordered a quality assurance audit of the claims in Wade's letter.
"Everything he wrote was taken seriously," Silbert said.
And while the Quality Assurance Audit resulted in some policy changes and safety protocol briefings and updates, the most serious action taken from Wade’s letter was a criminal inquiry aimed at Wade himself.
"It completely turned on me. I was the target," Wade said.
It had to do with a Marine bomb disposal vehicle.
Wade mentioned in his letter how he helped DPS get a nearly quarter-million-dollar total containment vessel that was being retired from the Marines.
Silbert ordered a criminal inquiry into whether there was anything illegal about the acquisition.
A YouTube clip from the Department of Defense five years ago shows Wade being interviewed with the then-DPS bomb sergeant explaining how the program worked.
Still, Wade, a 20-year combat Marine veteran and Bronze Star recipient, had to turn in his gun, his badge and got sent home on administrative leave for about a month while investigators sorted it out.
He said he was never told why he was being sent home, even after asking 13 times.
“If I grounded my young child and send them to their room, I tell them why,” he said.
Meantime, Wade said his bomb squad colleagues continued rooting for him and even told him of other serious safety problems continuing despite the unit allegedly being under the microscope.
He filed an emergency grievance with a photo of an improvised explosive device that was, for some reason, taken into evidence and stored at DPS, putting unknowing workers and civilians at risk.
"I told them, 'There is a fully functional bomb right next to your building right now!' And they did nothing but add my emergency grievance to the ongoing investigation of the claims in my letter,” Wade said.
"Mr. Wade made dishonest statements that were very clear in his memo that immediately warranted investigation, irrespective of anything else we found,” Silbert said.
Wade said he was put in a position where he felt he had to lie about a new bomb K-9 team being certified when they weren't.
In his letter, he wrote he “had to completely lie to a Commander with Chandler Police Department we had an explosive detection K-9.”
Silbert said that admission demanded an investigation as honesty is the cornerstone of law enforcement.
Wade said he was never asked about the K-9’s certification and never actually lied, that he simply felt by not letting the commander know the team wasn’t certified was a lie of omission.
It took at least two follow-up Professional Standards Unit (PSU) interviews to clear that up.
Silbert said ultimately, that lie about a lie, coupled with other unsubstantiated claims against a fellow officer of possible criminal conduct, resulted in Wade getting fired in September for dishonesty, conduct adverse and incompetence.
Two other troopers testified on Wade's behalf, corroborating some of his claims of serious safety violations and said they were afraid to talk.
One said in the state personnel whistleblower hearing he was apprehensive to testify because he feared retaliation.
Another testified under oath that some of the findings in the quality assurance audit of Wade’s claims included misstatements of fact.
"Retaliation is horrible in DPS. It's basically, keep your opinion to yourself and don't say a word. There is a serious morale problem,” Wade said.
In months researching this story, we got calls from several active duty troopers and supervisors who said many of the claims in Wade’s letter should have resulted in disciplinary action against other troopers and the swift action to send him home on what they called a bogus theft claim is just proof of the lengths the command staff is willing to take to try and keep people "in line.”
"I deserve my job back,” Wade said.
Wade says this isn't just about him. He hopes to spotlight chronic problems putting public safety at risk.
"I'm talking about one of my troopers being either seriously injured or killed,” he said.
Now with the Law Enforcement Merit System Council upholding his termination on Tuesday, Wade will have to wait for his second appeal to the state.
Council chairman Richard Walker said it wasn’t an easy case and while there appeared to be validity to certain claims Wade made, it didn’t give him a license to make false or misleading statements to PSU or excuse the unfounded allegations of criminal misconduct without sufficient substantiation.
“I consider the results, in this case, to be somewhat tragic because it would have been so easy to raise all the complaints in a way that was more responsible,” Walker said.
“I know what I could have done better. I could have articulated my letter better,” Wade said.
Be that as it may, he still just wants to clear his name and return to his calling.
"I would love to go back to DPS. This isn't a paycheck. This isn't a job. It's a way of life. It's what I enjoy doing,” Wade said. "I don't know how we rebuild the trust that our officers are supposed to have in their chain of command. That's a very hard problem to resolve."
Wade could still get his job back through the state personnel board, which has a few months to rule on his whistleblower case.
If he wins, his supervisors could also be fined or fired.
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