A disgraced former Mesa police lieutenant who tried to get away with special treatment during his DUI arrest, but then got away with special treatment while serving time in the Scottsdale City Jail prevailed in court today. This, after the prosecutor attempted to get him on a probation violation for not doing his jail time.
Gilbert Municipal Court Presiding Judge John Hudson sentenced Rick Van Galder to three days in jail last year as part of a plea deal he accepted. Hudson sentenced Van Galder to serve his time in the Lower Buckeye Jail. But acting as his own attorney, despite the fact that he had an attorney on record, Van Galder filed a motion to Judge Hudson to change the location of his jail stay to the Scottsdale City Jail. Judge Hudson gave his approval. But neither the judge nor Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell knew at the time that jail staffers and Scottsdale Police Cmdr. Bruce Ciolli knew of a plan to put Van Galder up in Detention Manager Jeff Landrum’s office instead of in a cell.
Upon learning this plan had come to fruition, Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell took swift, decisive action. He suspended Bruce Ciolli, his police commander for 40 hours without pay.
His top jail commander, Jeff Landrum, never returned to work and retired. Rodbell demoted Sgts. Kris Keilich and Don Vogel and issued a written reprimand to Detention Sgt. David Simpson.
Scottsdale police told 12 News Van Galder was scheduled to surrender to the jail at 7 p.m. on Aug. 4, 2016. But they altered the plan to avoid media coverage.
Last year after 12 News exposed the truth, details from the Scottsdale police internal investigation revealed the plan and who knew ahead of time. There were discussions in the police department on "how we were gonna handle it and try to avoid some of the media play that Wendy was going to go with, Um, or at least try to answer the questions that she was gonna give us, uh, for the future," Sgt. Ben Hoster said.
Scottsdale Police Sgt. Melissa Palopoli: "Um, did he -- and the time in which he was coming in get altered?"
Detention Sgt. Kris Keilich: "Yes. Originally he was supposed to come in at 7 o'clock that evening, on the 4th. But then I got a phone call from Landrum saying that he would -- that the media was possibly gonna show up at 7 o'clock at the jail so he requested to come in at 5 o'clock, which Jeff Landrum granted, and so I should be expecting him about 5 o'clock."
Detention Manager Jeff Landrum says he called Scottsdale Police Cmdr. Bruce Ciolli.
"I told him, I'm like, ‘Dude, we just need to wash this whole thing -- make it good’ … I said, ‘This reporter gets a hold of it, uh, she's gonna spin this story that we let him outta the cell and we put him back in my office as a special treatment,’ and, uh, I said ‘I don't wanna see my name in the news.’"
On Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016 Van Galder showed up to serve his sentence.
Sgt. Melissa Palopoli: "So the media's involved, and did that change the way he was going to be brought into the jail?"
Detention Sgt. Kris Keilich: "Um, yes."
Sgt. Palopoli: "OK, tell me about it."
Detention Sgt. Kris Keilich: "So a little before -- I don't know, it was sometime around 5 o'clock I get a call from Landrum saying that lieutenant is out in the back of the building waiting to come in. So I go out to the back courtyard and I -- and I'm lookin' around, I couldn't find him. So I'm walkin' around and finally I hear somebody yell, ‘Are you Kris?’ So I'm assuming it's him because who else is gonna be calling me by my first name? So I turned around, I walked back, and this gentleman comes walking up the stairs from the lower level of the public parking structure. Introduces him as, um, I don't know what, if he said his name was Richard or Van-ah, but he -- it was who we were looking for."
Detention Sgt. Kris Keilich: "So, um, I introduced myself, ah, blah blah. We come in, we go first right into Jeff's office. I let him put his stuff down, um, which is was, like, a little, ah, bag and he had, ah, some books, he had a cellphone, um, some paper and, like, a pen or pencil, I don't remember what it was. So he left -- he left all that there except for, like, I think he brought the book with him 'cause I told him he could bring -- do some reading, because he already knew he was gonna be going into a cell for a while from a conversation that he had with Landrum."
Van Galder entered intake and was not subjected to a full search or given a medical screening. He was allowed to keep his shoes, which is a violation of policy. He was then taken to cell No. 20.
The next morning while on his way to work, Keilich called Detention Sgt. Don Vogel and instructed him to move Van Galder to Landrum's office. At 7:45 a.m., jail surveillance video shows Sgt. Don Vogel free Van Galder from his cell. He was taken to Landrum’s office, outside the jail in an unsecured area where he’d left his belongings, including his cellphone. Records show Landrum called Vogel on Saturday.
Vogel says Landrum told him: "We probably are not going to be able to release him early, because there was an investigative reporter that was looking into us -- into this and that he was probably going to have to stay and do all of his time."
On an audio recording, Van Galder, when interviewed by Scottsdale Police Sgt. Melissa Palipoli during the internal affairs investigation said, “Because they were nervous because of Halloran, I stayed the full three days.”
Whether Van Galder did his time the way Judge Hudson intended would be front and center Friday during a bench trial. And again, Van Galder’s defense attorney Jeff Van Norman objected to our camera coverage.
Van Norman has repeatedly expressed frustration of media coverage telling Judge Hudson that they were not notified and he thought media coverage could be prejudicial to his client. In the past, Judge Hudson has said that the case is of public interest and the media has a right to be there. Again Friday, Judge Hudson set the record straight, telling Van Norman, “But if your hope today is I'm going to exclude the media and go forward with the hearing, that's not going to happen.”
Scottsdale Assistant Police Chief Scott Popp was called to testify. Gilbert Town Prosecutor Cathy Bohland questioned Popp.
“During your 26 years at Scottsdale have you ever heard of an inmate being held in an unsecured part of the detention facility to do their confinement?”
Popp testified, “No.”
Popp was also asked about Sgts. Kris Keilich and Don Vogel bringing in food from the outside for Van Galder.
“Keilich and Vogel asked Mr. Van Galder if he wanted something to eat, he got money for them, went out and bought lunch and they ate in the control room.”
Popp testified that the jail provides meals for inmates. Staffers heat up TV dinners, he said. He also testified that it was possible Van Galder could have left the property but they have no way of telling for sure admitting that a gate would have to be opened.
Bohland then brought up the fact that Van Galder, one week after he left the facility, hand-delivered thank you notes and restaurant gift cards to Landrum, Keilich and Vogel, thanking them for their hospitality. This, much to the chagrin of Van Galder’s co-counsel, Tamara Brooks-Primera who was critical in that the state filed only a motion for a probation violation against her client and did not accuse the Scottsdale Police Department and Van Galder of fraud on the court.
“Again, they are irrelevant as to whether he serves his jail time. Are we now going down the fraud path? Is that what we're gonna do here -- that he paid them off in some way?” Brooks-Primera asked before she took it a step further.
“I don't think the state is coming forward and saying that the Scottsdale defrauded this court. I don't think that they're willing to go that far because the only way that they could get this court to set aside the automatic termination of probation would be if they alleged that all of the officers in the Scottsdale City Jail participated in this event. Regardless, if they all followed their policies, that they committed a fraud because they filed a notice with you. They took Mr. Van Galder in -- it's all undisputed -- and they held him in a facility at that location. So I believe the state could file a motion to set aside the automatic termination of probation by claiming there was a fraud perpetuated. That's not what they did here. They filed a petition to revoke the probation.”
Popp was asked to draw a diagram of the jail facility and asked questions about unsecured areas. Then Brooks-Primera said to Popp, “Mistakes were made, but these people aren't stupid, right? The jail and police?” To which Popp responded, “Some of the things they did were pretty stupid.”
She then put the onus on the Scottsdale Police Department by telling Popp, “We can agree that mistakes were made.” Popp responded, “Yes, ma’am.” Then she said, “But they weren’t by Mr. Van Galder, right?” To which Popp responded, “No, ma’am.”
Because Van Galder’s was a bench trial, the decision was up to only Judge Hudson, who took a recess following closing arguments to make his decision.
A short time later, Judge Hudson returned and court was back on the record.
Citing that the state asked the court’s impression of jail, he said, “The impression of ‘jail’ that I have was not the description of the facts presented here today.”
Things seemed to be going in favor of the prosecution.
“What is clear in the testimony is the state doesn't like the way Scottsdale treated Mr. Van Galder. They thought Mr. Van Galder received special treatment and it appears based on the testimony, he did,” said Judge Hudson.
But the state failed to argue fraud was perpetrated on the court.
“It would be a different story -- never has the state presented Scottsdale defrauded the court with the information,” said Judge Hudson.
But Judge Hudson ruled that while Van Galder was not treated like an inmate, once booked, the jail staffers get to determine how he spends his time in their facility.
And with that, Judge Hudson ruled, “Whether he had one meal a day or gets five meals a day, whether it was cooked there or brought in, that's up to the jail. So that stated, I find that he did not violate the terms of probation in regards and the petition is dismissed.”
Van Galder never took the witness stand.
There was no reaction from him or his attorneys.
We contacted Scottsdale police seeking comment on the judge’s decision and if they intend to bill Van Galder $500 for his stay but were told, “We should have a response for you sometime in the latter part of next week,” according to Scottsdale Police Sgt. Ben Hoster.
Van Galder is scheduled to be back in Hudson’s court on March 17 to have his sentence reviewed.
Meantime, the Arizona Peace Officer Standards in Training Board has moved to revoke his peace officer certification. It went for a final vote last week but there were not enough board members for the vote to count.
Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell sits on AZPOST and voluntarily recused himself when Van Galder’s case came up. DPS Colonel Frank Milstead, who is a former Mesa police chief, also sits on the board but did not recuse himself. In 2014 when Milstead was Mesa chief, he signed off on Van Galder’s promotion to the rank of lieutenant. AZPOST will attempt another vote later this month.