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Goodyear lieutenant fired, outside criminal investigation reveals secret ‘Hell Days’ for SWAT recruits

The 12 News I-Team uncovers a SWAT team tactic known as “Hell Day," including kidnapping and ice water exposure that Goodyear PD kept secret for years.

GOODYEAR, Ariz — This story contains references to allegations of sexual assault and may be disturbing. You can find a list of resources at the bottom of this page.

Goodyear Police lieutenant and SWAT commander Joe Pacello was fired in March 2021 following a criminal investigation into an allegation of sexual assault by a female Goodyear officer. 

Her allegations lead to new revelations about a SWAT-team tactic known as “Hell Day,” allegedly including kidnapping and waterboarding, that the department has kept secret for years.

‘I thought, OK, I’m really gonna drown. He is gonna kill me.’

Lt. Joe Pacello, a 16-year veteran with the Goodyear Police Department, was fired in March 2021. Pacello was also head of the Professional Standards Unit, meaning he was in charge of training, disciplining and hiring new officers. His personnel record shows he was also SWAT Commander and in charge of the Special Assignments Unit.

Pacello is appealing the city’s decision to terminate him.

The 12 News I-Team exclusively obtained audio and written records from the Chandler Police Department showing Pacello was investigated for sexual assault months before his termination.

The I-Team spoke with former Goodyear Police officer Jamie Cole, who said Pacello sexually assaulted her. She agreed to meet with the I-Team in an undisclosed location as she says she still fears retaliation for coming forward.

Cole said she and Pacello met at a gym in 2015, around the time he had been promoted to lieutenant. The two began a romantic relationship, which she said they kept secret because Pacello was married. Shortly after they began their relationship, Cole got hired at Goodyear Police Department as a patrol officer.

In an interview with the 12 News I-Team, Cole said she wanted the relationship to end by the end of 2016. Months later, in early 2017, she said Pacello called her asking her to come to his house to talk.

“I walked into the house thinking we were gonna have a conversation but it turned into this whole handcuff, use of force, handcuff, putting a hood over my head, putting my hands over the back of a chair. I asked, ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing this?’” Cole described.

Cole also told detectives Pacello repeatedly dunked her head in a bathtub full of ice water.

“I thought, OK I’m really gonna drown. He is gonna kill me,” Cole said in an interview with 12 News.

Then Cole said he sexually assaulted her.

“When he finally let me go, when I ‘earned the right to leave’ and he gave me my warning that if I told anyone about what happened that he would just say that it was SWAT training,” Cole said.

Pacello has not returned multiple requests for comment. The I-Team has also contacted union representatives at the Goodyear Police Officers Association, but calls and emails have not been returned.

Chandler Police did not recommend criminal charges against Pacello, concluding in part, “No physical and/or DNA evidence was obtained in this case due to the delayed disclosure.”

Still, their criminal investigation did find evidence of a romantic relationship between Cole and Pacello, including letters and emails that were sexual in nature.

Chandler detectives also documented evidence of Goodyear’s SWAT training which mirrored what Cole said happened to her in 2017.

‘Hell Days’

Cole didn’t know at the time she reported her alleged sexual assault to Chandler Police Department, but after the 12 News I-Team obtained Chandler’s report, Cole learned that blindfolding, handcuffing and ice water were familiar to other Goodyear officers too.

The outside investigation conducted by Chandler PD identified it as Goodyear’s “SWAT Selection Process.” 

Current and former officers said SWAT recruits went through a “mock kidnapping” where they were handcuffed, hooded and transported in a vehicle blaring loud music. They were then given tests while being sprayed with water or exposed to freezing water.

It’s known within the department as “Hell Day.”

Goodyear’s Chief of Police Santiago Rodriguez declined to speak about the investigation into Pacello, citing his ongoing appeal and due process.

For weeks, through spokespeople, Rodriguez also declined to speak on camera about the department’s SWAT initiation process. Instead, Rodriguez provided the I-Team with the following statement:

"The Goodyear Police Department's SWAT testing process is designed to ensure the team is fully prepared for the most dangerous real-life police scenarios. There is not a more difficult test in the department.

This includes a long agility testing day using mock scenarios to test physical fitness, movement in confined spaces, resiliency to extreme weather conditions, decision making and endurance. Candidates are continually encouraged to push themselves to their individual limits. Each participant is evaluated by a team of paramedics prior to and throughout the entire testing process.

This type of testing has been in place for many years and is constantly evolving under my leadership, with the number one priority being the safety of our officers and residents."

On April 14th, hours before 12 News prepared to air this story, Rodriguez agreed to sit down with the I-Team.

“We don’t have anything here that is Hell Day. Now that might be a term that is coined by some of the people that have attended the SWAT training day,” Rodriguez said.

During the interview, Rodriguez disclosed recent changes to the SWAT training day, specifically removing the hooding and blindfolding as a result of the recent investigation.

“And I have removed it from the testing process, is the hooding or blindfolds as you were saying and so forth,” Rodriguez said.

The test still includes ice water.

“We use water, ice water, in a shallow pool to test for dexterity,” Rodriguez said, further stating the dexterity test consists of SWAT recruits standing waist deep in a pool of ice water while putting together Legos.

“Obviously they are putting Legos together there but the other scenario obviously is the distraction. There is a spray bottle of water that is distracting them,” Rodriguez continued.

Rodriguez said he himself has never experienced the so-called “Hell Day” but said recruits are assessed by medical professionals and acknowledges the day’s itinerary is withheld from recruits.

Rodriguez said no recruits have ever been injured during “Hell Day.”

“It is one of the most rigorous testing that you'll probably find in any police department across the nation," Rodriguez said.

‘They’re out of bounds’

12 News interviewed several local and national law enforcement experts with experience in local police, SWAT and the FBI about Goodyear’s training protocol.

“That's pretty extreme. That's more of a control punitive type thing to me than anything else. I quite frankly I've never heard of anybody doing that for SWAT,” said Charles Stephenson, a former FBI agent and SWAT instructor. 

“They’re so out of whack. They’re so off kilter. They’re out of bounds. They just don’t get it,” said Kevin Robinson, a criminal justice professor at ASU and former Assistant Police Chief with the Phoenix Police Department. 

“And it’s not something that you want your law enforcement agency to be known for.”

Charles Stephenson questioned the lack of written policy surrounding “Hell Day.” The I-Team made multiple open record requests in an effort to find where the initiation process was documented.

In an email, Goodyear Digital Communications Director Tammy Vo referred the I-Team to the following:

Credit: 12 News

Vo stated in the email, “Going into more detail about the test would jeopardize the integrity of the testing process for future candidates. The testing is appropriate for the given position and takes place in a controlled environment.”

“If you’ve got some day there that doesn’t exist, ‘Hell Day’ or whatever it is, and it’s not there with specificity about what they do on that day to pass or fail and that ‘Hell Day’ is a prerequisite for being accepted, then that negates the whole idea of any training document for SWAT,” Stephenson said.

‘Detectives could not determine which acts constituted an assault versus test preparation’

Goodyear’s SWAT initiation process apparently complicated Chandler’s criminal investigation into Cole’s allegations.

In Chandler’s report, the detective wrote, “The existence of such a process served to complicate the investigation as detectives could not determine which acts constituted an assault versus test preparation.”

“I wasn’t there for a SWAT test,” Cole said referring to the Chandler investigation. “That just infuriated me.”

Cole said she was silent about what she said happened to her for years.

“There I was like, what do I do? Do you call 911 and say, ‘Hey LT just assaulted me and sexually assaulted me?’ I didn’t know what to do,” Cole said.

Cole said her and Pacello’s romantic relationship continued after the alleged assault. She said it turned into harassment.

Chandler’s police report shows Cole’s neighbors witnessed Pacello repeatedly show up to her home. 

One neighbor told Chandler detectives she witnessed an incident in which she described Pacello “appearing very animated and angry” and “pacing back and forth putting his arms up in the air and appeared to be yelling.” In the report, detectives wrote the neighbor stated she “probably would normally have contacted the police, but she knew they were the police and didn’t want to cause any issues.”

In August 2020, Cole reported the alleged sexual assault to her police chief and Chandler Police.

“That is all I ever wanted was to continue to work my job and not be harassed. That’s all I wanted but it just continued to escalate,” Cole said.

“It wasn’t for any purpose ever except I needed somebody to know what was happening. So it would stop.”

Soon after coming forward, Cole left the Goodyear Police Department. 

Resources for survivors of sexual assault: