Do different rules apply to different people?

A 12 News investigation looks into a concept known as "professional courtesy" in the police world. It's the idea of police looking out for their own, giving a fellow officer a get out of jail free pass, and letting the badge trump the law.

One Mesa police lieutenant expected to be treated with professional courtesy during a traffic stop by Gilbert police for suspected drunk driving. When he wasn't, he became aggressive and belligerent. And the public wouldn’t have known about the incident if 12 News hadn’t started asking questions.

Conduct unbecoming

Mesa Police Lieutenant Rick Van Galder Jr. rose through the ranks of the department after beginning his law enforcement career in 1993. Promoted from officer to sergeant in 1999, Van Galder was up and coming.

In 2007, he was transferred to the department’s internal affairs unit where he investigated his own. In 2014, Sergeant Van Galder promotion to lieutenant was signed off on by former Police Chief Frank Milstead.

Now, Lieutenant Van Galder, a supervisor in the patrol division, finds himself in the crosshairs of a criminal and internal affairs investigation after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. At the time of his arrest, Van Galder’s blood alcohol content was well above the legal limit.

Records show he put Gilbert police officers in an awkward position, testing their willingness to show him professional courtesy by asking them not to report or arrest him.

Police video footage of the traffic stop obtained by 12 News reveal Van Galder belittled and berated the arresting officer -- a rookie cop -- and his field training officer and implied he deserved to be treated differently than rank-and-file.

The criminal and the administrative investigations of Van Galder's behavior ran concurrently.

Initially, Van Galder was reassigned to administrative tasks at the central substation. Then a few weeks ago, the department served him “pre-deprivation” paperwork, beginning the process through which his employment could be terminated. He was sent home and no longer allowed to perform work for the Mesa Police Department, according to police records.

Even so, Mesa taxpayers are currently paying Van Galder’s $90,000 salary while he sits at home and the internal affairs investigation continues.

February 12, 2016

It was Friday night just before 5:30 p.m. when a woman called 911 to report a suspected drunk driver. Officer Gonzalo Dominguez, just weeks on the job fresh from the police academy, was on duty with his field training officer, Josiah Saladen, when they were dispatched to the area of East Warner Road and South Riata Street.

In his report, Dominguez wrote that when they arrived he observed a grey sedan with an Arizona fallen officer license plate swerving back and forth in a lane. He initiated a traffic stop in the area of Lindsay Road and East Orchid Lane.

“I immediately smelled a strong odor of intoxicating beverage emanating from the vehicle. As I spoke with Rick, I noticed his speech was slurred.”

Van Galder told Dominguez he was a Mesa lieutenant and that he had a gun in the side of his door. Dominguez unloaded the weapon.

Van Galder refused field sobriety tests and told the responding officers that he had 20 years on the force and he was going to retire tomorrow. He also maintained he had a beer but would later contradict himself saying, “I’ve had a couple drinks, I, no argument there.”

Lt. Rick Van Galder talks to Gilbert police after he was pulled over for suspected drunk driving on February 12, 2016.
Lt. Rick Van Galder talks to Gilbert police after he was pulled over for suspected drunk driving on February 12, 2016.

As time went on, Van Galder becoming more agitated and argumentative with the officers.

“It’s our job to keep the roadway safe and you should know this,”Saladen told him.

“Do you understand that I’m retiring tomorrow?” Van Galder responded.

Then Van Galder asked Dominguez to park his car and said he would walk home. Van Galder continued to argue that he was not a danger to them and found it “ridiculous” the rookie cop would even consider placing him under arrest.

An officer can be heard telling Van Galder, “He’s not gonna 'not arrest' you in front of me.”

The traffic stop

In the meantime the passenger in the car, his wife Teresa Van Galder, was questioned. She works for the Mesa Police Department as a homicide detective.

Teresa Van Galder can be seen fumbling around in search of her phone and driver’s license. She advised Saladen that she and her husband played golf at Kokopelli Golf Course earlier in the day and then picked up a pizza to take home.

When the couple was pulled over, they were still more than five miles from home.

During the traffic stop, Saladen observed that Teresa Van Galder was intoxicated and got a sense of her condition as she started eating pizza while waiting for her husband, records show.

Saladen wrote, “I observed a chunk of chewed pizza fall out of Teresa’s mouth and land on the seat between her legs.”

At the end of the traffic stop, Rick Van Galder was placed under arrest. On the video, he acts miffed about being handcuffed behind his back and went after Dominguez in a profanity-laced tirade.

Because the Van Galders seemed to be impaired, according to police, their car had to be towed, and Lieutenant Van Galder was transported to the Gilbert/Chandler Unified Holding Facility for processing.

Relentless harassment

Once inside the facility, Van Galder continued to be belligerent and aggressive. He went on and on to Dominguez and Saladen about being handcuffed in the back instead of the front. At one point Van Galder told them he’d do anything they wanted.

Van Galder rambled about his tattoos. He even encouraged Dominguez to pull up his sleeve so he could see his “thin blue line.” Next came a guilt trip -- Van Galder telling the officers that he had watched officers die.

“I could have gotten a little courtesy,” Van Galder said to Dominguez and Saladen.

Then Van Galder grilled Saladen about how long he'd been on the job. Saladen told him it didn’t matter. Van Galder’s belligerence seemingly got worse. He wanted an answer.

At this point, Saladen had had enough. He told Van Galder he wasn’t going to answer his question because he was being confrontational and he didn’t want to argue. Van Galder said he wasn’t being confrontational.

The back and forth concluded when Saladen told Van Galder he was belittling him in front of his in-training officer. But Van Galder was far from finished with them. He suggested they should be more deferential in his presence.

“I literally have 140 cops that would right now be in “awe” and answer every question I say with 'yes, sir,'" Van Galder said.

At 6:41 p.m., Van Galder is asked for and gives consent to have a blood test done. Four minutes later, two vials of blood are collected from Van Galder.

Just before 7 p.m. Van Galder is escorted into the Gilbert Police station lobby and is released to a relative waiting outside.

Before leaving, Van Galder took a parting shot again aimed at Saladen, saying he thinks he's going to spread rumors about Van Galder's arrest. Saladen said he would do no such thing, adding, “You’re a Mesa Lieutenant, I’m sure you have a stellar career.”

“You have no idea," Van Galder said.

Off the charts

The Arizona Department of Public Safety forensic laboratory completed the examination to determine Van Galder’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The lab report shows his BAC was 0.306%.

Doctor Rebecca Hsu, a forensic pathologist, independently reviewed the toxicology and arrest reports in the Van Galder case for 12 News.

She was the assistant medical examiner for the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner and chief medical examiner for the Pinal County Medical Examiner’s Officer before she went into private practice. Hsu has performed between 1,800-2,000 autopsies and pathological/forensic examinations during her career.

“At that level -- a 0.3 -- you are definitely dealing with someone whose had more than 10 drinks, almost 20,” said Hsu.

She added that is sort of level you tend to find people passed out on the floor, not behind the wheel or operating any kind of vehicle.

Taking into account Van Galder’s weight the night of his arrest, she said he wouldn’t even register on the standardized chart.

"Your decision making is greatly decreased if you're even conscious and while I've seen levels higher but that's in the deceased," Hsu said.

Hsu added that the belligerence and arrogance Van Galder displayed was exacerbated by his alarming intoxication level.

“Even to get to that level and to not be unconscious would suggest he has some level of experience with alcohol,” said Hsu.

She said he’s fortunate that he did not hurt anyone.

Professional courtesy

Duane Wolfe is a retired police officer and current law enforcement instructor at Alexandria Technical and Community College in Minnesota. He is also a columnist for PoliceOne.com and has written about the concept of professional courtesy.

He said a lot of police officers feel that pressure to take care of their brother.

“That doesn't serve the profession, it doesn't serve the department and, quite honestly, it doesn't serve the officer, in order to make him a better officer," said Wolfe. "They just get the attitude that there are no consequences for their actions which encourages them to continue with the inappropriate actions.”

Wolfe said there’s more than one way to take care of people.

“If I’ve got an officer who’s got a drinking problem am I helping him by ignoring it?” he said.

He said the culture of a department should be set up to help or support an officer who has a drinking problem. He is unsure the sense of brotherhood and sisterhood is strong enough to allow officers the sense that they can go to each other or the department to get help.

Van Galder accepted into retirement program

In May, two months after his arrest, Van Galder was accepted into the city's retirement program while a criminal and administrative investigation were underway.

The decision was made at a local fire and police pension board meeting in Mesa.

Boardmember Lentz moved to approve DROP applications from another officer and Van Galder. The motion was seconded by boardmember Russell and carried unanimously by the members present.

The Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) is:

“A program that provides certain public safety personnel access to a lump sum benefit in addition to their monthly retirement benefit when they terminate employment and retire. Employees who became members of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System of the State of Arizona before January 1, 2012, are eligible to participate once they have 20 years of credited service. Employees who became members of the system on or after January 1, 2012, are not eligible to participate.”

Van Galder pleads guilty

On July 29 in Gilbert Municipal Court Rick Van Galder pleaded guilty to Super Extreme DUI, after city prosecutor Cathy Bohland offered him a standard plea deal for someone with his intoxication level.

The Gilbert prosecutor shared the terms of his plea agreement, as outlined below:

The State makes the following offer to the defendant that may be revoked at any time and will be revoked once the case is sent to trial:

- Plead guilty to A.R.S.§: 28-1382(A)(2) Driving Under the Influence - .20Extreme (C1M).

- 135 day(s) jail is suspended with 5 year(s) probation with automatic termination.

- 45 consecutive day(s) jail must be served.

- Pay a $4,632.00 fine (including base fine, surcharges, jail fees, screening fee and abatement assessment, if applicable).

- Complete counseling as recommended by Gilbert Youth and Adult Resources, Alcohol Counseling.

- Complete M.A.D.D. program.

- Defendant is not to possess or consume alcohol and/or drugs (w/o valid prescription) while on probation.

- The State will dismiss the following charge(s): A.R.S. § Count D - 28-1382(A)(1) Driving Under the Influence - .15 Extreme, Count A - 28-1381(A)(1) Driving Under the Influence, Count C - 28-729(1) UnsafeLane Change, Count B - 28-1381(A)(2) Driving Under the Influence -.08.

Lt. Van Galder surrenders to jail

On August 4, Van Galder self-surrendered to the Scottsdale City Jail to serve three consecutive days. The 45 days was reduced to 14 days with three days of that to be served in jail and the remaining 11 on house arrest.

Scottsdale Police Sergeant Ben Hoster said since Van Galder is a law enforcement officer he was being housed in segregation, away from other inmates. Mesa Police Detective Steve Berry told 12 News his jail sentence falls on his days off, so he will not be on the clock.

During Van Galder's 11 days of home detention he will be required to wear an electronic monitoring device and have continuous alcohol monitoring. He is required by the Motor Vehicle Division to have an ignition interlock device on his vehicle, through which daily reports are generated that the court reviews for violations.

As part of the counseling and treatment program of his guilty plea, Van Galder will have to submit to random alcohol and drug testing through Gilbert Youth and Adult Resources. Prosecutor Bohland said any positive tests are sent to the court’s probation officer, who can file a petition to revoke probation if needed.

Berry added that although Van Galder’s criminal case is over, the internal affairs investigation is still open and subject to appeal. Berry said there has been no final determination on the status of his employment, despite that fact that Van Galder was served with possible termination paperwork a few weeks ago.

The question is, how does Mesa Police Chief John Meza allow this lieutenant to stay on the force? Has the department taken corrective action or intervened to get him some help?

If Van Galder is fortunate enough to keep his job, how will the department accommodate the lieutenant with a criminal misdemeanor conviction, being on probation for five years and having an ignition interlock device on his car?

We don’t yet know as Chief Meza has repeatedly declined our requests for an interview because the investigation is ongoing.

Incidentally, on March 16, DPS Colonel Frank Milstead made a motion that the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board direct staff to recommend "No Action with Agency Discretion" for cases involving a first time conviction of off-duty DUI without aggravating circumstances. It was seconded by Professor Stemley. The motion carried with one nay vote.

The motion came more than a month after Van Galder's arrest and was made by the man -- Milstead -- who signed off on Van Galder promotion to lieutenant as Mesa Police Chief. It’s not yet clear if the motion will apply to Van Galder’s case. Unless he's terminated Mesa PD is not required to turn it over to AZPOST.