GOODYEAR, Ariz. — It’s been more than a year since a female Goodyear police officer mustered up the courage to come forward to her police chief about allegations against a lieutenant in the department.
Her chief referred her to an outside agency, where she reported that she had been handcuffed, blindfolded and waterboarded by a fellow male officer in 2017. He was fired from the department with no public announcement and faced no criminal charges.
Then, the 12 News I-Team learned of the termination and began investigating the circumstances. The investigation uncovered a SWAT team initiation process that had been kept secret for years.
SWAT “Hell Days” exposed
“I had no idea what the SWAT testing process was like… I had no idea, with what happened to me, I still didn't know what the SWAT testing process was like,” said attorney Jamie Cole, who previously worked as a police officer in Goodyear.
“I didn't know that the things that happened to me, were part of the testing process.”
The Chandler Police Department conducted a criminal investigation in 2020 after Cole said that she had been handcuffed and blindfolded in the home of Joe Pacello, a former Goodyear police lieutenant and SWAT team commander.
Chandler investigators did not recommend charges against Pacello, in part because they learned that the SWAT team used handcuffs, blindfolds, gas exposure and ice water in a secret-SWAT selection process known as Hell Days.
“The existence of such a process served to complicate the investigation as detectives could not determine which acts constituted an assault versus test preparation,” a Chandler investigator wrote in the police report.
The I-Team, learning through interviews and public records requests that the Goodyear SWAT selection process changed year to year, but included handcuffing and blindfolding recruits before subjecting them to a variety of scenarios.
SWAT team “revamped” after temporary shut down
Within two weeks after the I-Team reported the allegations against the former SWAT commander, Joe Pacello, and the details of the SWAT “Hell Days,” the Goodyear Police Department determined to stand down the SWAT team.
“I'm sorry for the people that got caught up and everything that followed, but the way that I see it, if it was egregious enough to capture the public's attention, then something was wrong with that behavior. And it needed to come out,” Cole said.
The SWAT team stood down for several months as police leadership reviewed its operations.
When the team was brought back online, the entire testing process had changed, no longer involving any handcuffs, hooding or blindfolds, gas exposure or ice water exposure.
SWAT operators are now equipped with body-worn cameras, the team maintains an updated roster, and have new training standards, including national training scheduled for 2022.
Police lieutenant termination upheld, law enforcement license under review
Pacello was terminated in March and ultimately lost his appeal to get his job back.
During his appeal hearings, he admitted to blindfolding and handcuffing Cole at his home then leading her to a bathtub filled with ice water to dunk her head into.
He said his actions were part of an at-home SWAT test he had developed that was different than the typical “Hell Day.”
City leaders said dunking blindfolded and handcuffed officers into ice water was never part of the SWAT testing day. Chief of Police Santiago Rodriguez said Pacello’s version of events was enough to terminate him.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office also added Pacello’s name to the Brady List, a list of law enforcement officers with possible credibility issues.
The Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board is also reviewing the case to determine whether or not to terminate Pacello’s license.
Neither Pacello nor his attorneys agreed to speak with the I-Team.
“There are so many good police officers out there. There are so many good human beings.”
Cole said that the experience in 2017, and her continued relationship with Pacello traumatized her. She said making the report in 2020 was an extremely challenging decision, as was agreeing to a televised interview earlier this year.
“I have chosen to take everything that I went through and use it as kind of a way to open other people's eyes to what the culture what the policing culture is like,” Cole said. “There are so many good police officers out there. There's so many good human beings.”
She said she could not have predicted when she first came forward, that her report would lead to a termination, leadership changes in the department, and an entire SWAT team getting shut down and revamped.
“I went on camera because I knew if I didn't, this will get swept under the rug like all of the other incidents, and I just didn't think that it was appropriate for the community to not know what was going on inside of that agency,” Cole said.
Cole left law enforcement after making that report and moved out of state.
She now works as an attorney and has started writing a book. She said she misses Goodyear and working as an officer. She stressed that most police are overwhelmingly on the force to help their communities. Still, she said she hopes coming forward will make things easier for other officers to improve policing culture.
“So, do I think I made a difference? I can’t ever say for sure. There’s no empirical evidence to say that I did. But I think that the community knowing what was going on inside that agency was important,” Cole said.
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