GOODYEAR, Arizona — A former Goodyear Police lieutenant who was fired in March after facing allegations of sexual assault by a fellow Goodyear police officer is fighting for his job back. The department determined that Joe Pacello’s treatment of a female officer in two incidents from 2017 and 2019 meant he could no longer work there.
The female officer, Jamie Cole, first came forward with allegations against Pacello in August 2020. Chandler Police launched a criminal investigation into the allegations while Arizona’s Department of Public Safety launched an independent internal affairs investigation.
The criminal investigation did not result in charges, but did expose the former lieutenant’s role in the department’s secret SWAT team initiation process known internally as “Hell Days.”
Following the conclusion of the DPS investigation, Goodyear Police Chief Santiago Rodriguez fired Pacello.
Pacello is now appealing his termination.
Pacello’s role in the police department
Pacello joined the Goodyear Police Department as an officer in 2005. Over the course of his 16-year career, he climbed the ranks and ultimately became the lieutenant in charge of the department’s professional standards unit responsible for training and disciplining officers.
Pacello was also the commander of Goodyear’s SWAT team.
What are “Hell Days?”
“Hell Days” are a controversial initiation day and the final step for recruits looking to join the Goodyear Police Department’s part-time SWAT team. The term “Hell Day” is not formally used by the department, according to the current chief of police, and is not documented in any departmental policy.
Rodriguez describes the selection day as one of the most rigorous tests in the country. He said it exists to test the candidates’ ability to perform in a high-stress environment, but is kept secret from recruits. Law enforcement experts have likened the initiation day to hazing.
Rodriguez told 12 News in an interview that recruits are told to show up to the police department before sunrise where they are given a medical evaluation.
While the itinerary changes each year, according to the department, recruits in the past have been handcuffed and hooded. They are then put in a van with loud music blaring and taken to a training facility where they are put through a number of tests.
Rodriguez said the department has recently decided to stop the use of hoods and handcuffs on SWAT recruits.
Rodriguez said no recruits have ever been injured during the initiation.
The bathtub filled with ice and water
Pacello was fired for “conduct unbecoming” and “infamous conduct” following the DPS internal affairs investigation that found evidence he handcuffed and blindfolded Cole in his home in 2017. Pacello told investigators he filled his bathtub with ice water and Cole submerged her head in the water repeatedly while handcuffed. Pacello said that he was preparing her for “Hell Day” or the Goodyear SWAT selection test.
Pacello, who was married, had been in a secret relationship with Cole since 2015. In an interview with 12 News, Cole said she wanted that relationship to end by the end of 2016.
In early 2017, Cole went on a date with someone else. Pacello found out about the date and Cole said he was upset. Not long after, he invited Cole over to his house.
Cole said she believed she was going there to talk about the date but when she arrived, she said Pacello handcuffed and blindfolded her then threatened her. She said he took her to his bathroom where he had filled his bathtub with ice water before she arrived. Cole said he forced her to submerge her face. She said he then sexually assaulted her.
During his appeal hearing, Pacello disputed parts of Cole’s story. He said he had been training Cole in the gym for the SWAT team for months prior to that incident. He said he invited Cole over that day to continue their training and he had created his own test specifically for Cole.
Pacello said while Cole didn’t know what to expect, she consented to the training. He said he blindfolded and handcuffed Cole then took her to his bathtub filled with ice water. He testified he then told her to submerge her face in the water with the goal of holding her breath for 10 seconds.
He said after the training was over, she consented to sexual acts.
Following the internal investigation conducted by DPS and the criminal investigation conducted by Chandler Police, which resulted in no charges, Goodyear Police Deputy Chief David Farrow reviewed the case and recommended termination. Rodriguez agreed.
During Pacello’s appeal hearing, both Farrow and Rodriguez said Pacello’s version of the incident alone warranted termination.
Allegations of harassment in 2019
According to attorneys representing the city of Goodyear, a second incident also led to Pacello’s termination.
Goodyear attorneys said in the summer of 2019, Pacello showed up to Cole’s home and tried to get inside locked doors while yelling outside after Cole had ended their sexual relationship. The incident was witnessed by neighbors who told investigators they would have called the police had they not known that both Cole and Pacello were the police.
Pacello argued the neighbors misunderstood. He said Cole knew he was coming over so he went to open her screen door but it was locked. He said because her doorbell is broken, he then “rapped” on her door several times.
Pacello said he never yelled outside her residence and ultimately went through an unlocked door in her garage. Then, he said he raised his voice and cursed at Cole asking why she didn’t leave her door unlocked for him.
Both Farrow and Rodriguez said that incident was also problematic.
Pacello’s disciplinary history
Pacello was the lieutenant in charge of internal affairs investigations, however, he had a disciplinary history of his own.
According to personnel records, Pacello assaulted a Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputy while the two were at a training conference in Miami in 2008.
Records show Pacello grabbed the deputy by the neck with both hands and shoved him into a urinal causing the deputy to hit his head and chip his tooth.
Pacello was suspended for two days following the assault.
In August of 2020, Pacello was placed on administrative leave after Cole came forward. He was terminated in March of this year.
Pacello is appealing his termination. The hearing officer has made her recommendation to Goodyear’s city manager who has 30 days to decide whether to uphold his termination or give him his job back.