The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board voted unanimously to revoke the peace officer certification of a former Mesa Police lieutenant last Wednesday during its regular board meeting.
Rick Van Galder has been the focus of a series of 12 News investigative reports which highlighted his conduct during and after he was arrested for super extreme DUI on February 12, 2016.
Gilbert police body camera footage shows Van Galder repeatedly tried to use "blue privilege" -- his status as a cop -- to get out of being arrested. He berated and belittled rookie cop Gonzalo Dominguez and his field training officer Josiah Saladen throughout the traffic stop until the time he was released from the Gilbert Police station to his daughter, the footage shows. What's more, his wife and passenger, Mesa Police Homicide Detective Teresa Van Galder, was also intoxicated and disciplined for her role in this case.
The board, which certifies and de-certifies peace officers in this state, also received evidence from the Scottsdale Police Department which runs the Scottsdale City Jail. That evidence showed that after Van Galder took a plea deal from the Gilbert city prosecutor, pleading guilty to extreme DUI, he was allowed to do his jail time in the detention manager's office outside the confines of jail.
The board took into account the totality and chain of events exposed by 12 News in this case. Those details included Van Galder's high level of intoxication -- a .306, almost four times the legal limit -- his behavior captured on body cameras the Gilbert Police officers were wearing, and his non-responsiveness with the board which sent him the complaint letter that it had initiated proceedings against him on November 16, 2016. According to the peace officer board, that complaint was sent to Van Galder via certified mail. He signed for it on November 28th but never responded to the board, thereafter.
They also took into account the fact that Van Galder resigned from the Mesa police force in lieu of termination, that he didn't depart the agency voluntarily despite paperwork showing he retired.
Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell immediately launched an internal affairs investigation when 12 News brought the events of Van Galder's jail stay to his attention. Rodbell sits on the peace officer board and recused himself from the board’s decision, as did Buckeye Police Chief Larry Hall.
Head of the Arizona Department of Public Safety Frank Milstead, Van Galder's former police chief who signed off on Van Galder's promotion from sergeant to lieutenant in 2014, voted along with the remaining board members to revoke Van Galder's certification.
Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan filled in as chairman of the board because Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher was unable to attend. The board heard from Assistant Attorney General Seth Hargraves about the case against Van Galder. He told board members about some of the comments Van Galder made to the arresting officers to cement the case against him.
"He made comments including, 'You can park the car, I'll walk away I have no problem with that.' 'Your hands aren't tied it's a misdemeanor.' 'And just so you know, tomorrow I'll retire if you do this," Hargraves told them.
"During the course of his arrest he was criticizing the arresting officers for not giving him the courtesy of handcuffing him in front when they handcuffed him in back and put him in the cruiser," said Hargraves.
The video also reveals that Van Galder made disparaging remarks about Officer Dominguez' rookie status during the arrest.
While handcuffed in the back of the police cruiser, Van Galder ridiculed Saladen for getting his daughter's name wrong when he was trying to ask him if he can release the loaded gun he had in the side compartment of his car to his adult daughter.
Van Galder: I have three daughters which daughter are you releasing it to?
Saladen: I believe it was Megan, the 21-year-old.
Van Galder: I don't have a daughter named Megan.
Saladen: I'm not sure what her name was.
Van Galder: You know what I mean?
Saladen: You got a 21-year-old?
Van Galder: You won't put my hands in front but you're saying a daughter, you're gonna release a gun to.
Saladen: A 21-year-old. Are you comfortable with that?
Van Galder: Yes, tell me her name. Well what's her name?
Saladen: I don't know. The other officer talked to her.
Van Galder: Yes that's my daughter. Do you get what I'm saying bro. You wouldn't put my handcuffs in the front but you're gonna release a gun to somebody you said, you don't even know their name. Do you understand how silly that is?"
Teresa Van Galder was also intoxicated and they would not release the gun to her.
She couldn't find her ID and started eating pizza in the car while her husband was being questioned. One officer noted in his report that he “observed a chunk of chewed pizza fall out of Teresa’s mouth and land on the seat between her legs.”
Executive Director of the peace officer board Andrew LeFevre motioned to accept the facts surrounding his case and revoke Van Galder's peace officer certification. The motion was seconded by board member Sergeant Leo Aparicio from the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.
12 News uncovered how the top command of the jail allowed Van Galder to serve his time in detention manager Jeff Landrum's office. Internal affairs interviews with Scottsdale jail command show they sought to prevent 12 News from finding out about Van Galder's accommodations. The investigative report shows they planned to free Van Galder from his cell well before he reported to the jail.
Even Van Galder was apprised in advance that he wouldn't be incarcerated for long, according to Scottsdale police internal affairs investigative documents.
Scottsdale police told 12 News that Van Galder was scheduled to surrender to the jail at 7 p.m. on August 4.
The records reflect they didn't want any media attention and allowed Van Galder to surrender hours earlier.
Transcripts from the investigation show Detention Manager Jeff Landrum says he called Scottsdale Police Commander Bruce Ciolli, who helped get permission for Van Galder to stay in their jail. Landrum said, "I told him I'm like, ‘Dude we just need to wash this whole thing make it good.’ I said this reporter get's 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.’"
The report also shows that Detention Sergeant Kris Keilich was sent to the public parking garage to greet Van Galder when he surrendered to the jail. This was not the normal entrance for prisoners. Keilich told internal investigators that he took Van Galder to Landrum’s office first, so he could put his stuff down.
After that, Van Galder was placed in a cell, which he was released from at 7:45 a.m. the following morning. He stayed the remainder of his sentence in Landrum's office and never returned to incarceration.
Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell acted swiftly upon learning from 12 News about Van Galder's special treatment. In a letter dated March 16, 2017, Rodbell thanked 12 News for bringing the events involving Van Galder to his attention: "From the very start, this case was taken very seriously and investigated to the fullest extent. We discovered serious human error and policy violations during that investigation. Those violations have been addressed, corrected and significant discipline was issued where warranted."
Scottsdale Detention Manager Jeff Landrum was demoted but never returned to work and retired. Scottsdale Police Commander Bruce Ciolli was suspended for 40 hours without pay. Detention sergeants Kris Keilich and Don Vogel were demoted to detention officers and later returned to work. Detention Sergeant David Simpson received a written reprimand.
As a result, changes to several policies of the jail are being implemented.
The jail no longer allows prisoners from other jurisdictions to serve time there. And will only accept prisoners for up to 24 hours from its own court.
They are no longer offering the "stay to pay" program Van Galder took advantage of.
All prisoner searches will be done in view of video surveillance -- a full-search was not conducted on Van Galder.
The policy has also been strengthened regarding when the jail fills up with the use of newer holding cells and the ability to transport prisoners to a county holding facility to reduce the strain on the jail.
University of South Carolina expert reviews case
Geoffrey Alpert is a nationally renowned expert in police misconduct. He's a professor at the University of South Carolina in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. He has conducted research on high-risk police activities for more than two decades and has published more than 100 articles and 15 books. Dr. Alpert reviewed the documents and reporting in this case and offered his expert opinion.
"Officer Gonzalo Dominguez, and his field training officer, Josiah Saladen were courageous. They were put in a most awkward situation and responded appropriately and courageously. Their actions should be highlighted and used to show the public that police are not above the law. Mesa Police Lieutenant Rick Van Galder Jr. has put all law enforcement officers in an awkward position and is an example of why the public does not trust the police to investigate themselves. His actions need to be understood as inappropriate and in violation of police practices. I wonder how DOJ Civil Rights Division lawyers would evaluate the activities of Lt. Van Galder and his cronies? The cooperation he got at the jail was an embarrassment for all concerned and individual discipline for all those who were involved and aware must be swift and severe."
"I mention that all those aware of the situation should be held responsible because knowing about this behavior and doing nothing is no different than participating in it. We are seeing many police departments enact policies that REQUIRE officers to report excessive force and all sorts of improper actions and behavior used by others to supervisors and/or internal affairs. In many situations, these are registered as formal complaints and investigated as such."
"This type of "above the law" behavior has been rampant in American law enforcement for years. Officers have "badged" their way out of traffic tickets and other illegal behavior. For years many have been allowed to get away with things for which we civilians would be punished. Many police officers don't worry about speeding or other traffic regulations thinking that by showing a badge, nothing will happen - because for years nothing did."
"Officer Dominguez should be a hero in his agency for doing what is right - morally, ethically and legally, - after being put in a very precarious situation. His behavior should be a message to other police officers who think they can get away with putting us at risk. Lt. Van Galder's department and the jailers must take a serious look at the culture of their agencies to see why this behavior was allowed and deemed appropriate by employee and supervisors."
Bringing "disrepute" to her department?
The Mesa Police Department served Teresa Van Galder with a notice of investigation on October 10, 2016, alleging she brought "disrepute" to the department by being the subject of 12 News reports related to the traffic stop and jail visits.
Internal affairs alleged she visited her husband in the Scottsdale Jail without the permission of jail staff and did so while on a call out for the Mesa Police Department, thereby using a city vehicle for personal business. Almost a month later, the notice of investigation was amended to include an allegation that the homicide detective used her position as a police officer to obtain privileges and favors. The department's investigation of Teresa Van Galder would rely in large part on the findings from the Scottsdale Police Department internal affairs investigation into the jail incident.
According to the report from Scottsdale police, Keilich told investigators he spoke with Rick Van Galder about having "someone” drop off clothes or food but that he denied he gave Teresa Van Galder permission to visit her husband or enter the facility. Vogel told investigators he saw her in the detention manager's office with Rick Van Galder but that she did not have his permission to enter the facility. But Vogel also admitted he didn't ask her to leave.
Teresa Van Galder told Mesa Police Sergeant Kim Scott, the internal affairs investigator on her case, that once she was inside the facility she met with jail staff. Teresa Van Galder also said she was not asked to leave and "there was no indication she was not welcome." She told Scott, the staff was "pleasant, engaging and there seemed to be absolutely no question of it being an issue."
Records show Van Galder submitted an overtime request due to the autopsy she attended from 8 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. on August 7, 2016. But records show she told Scott she visited her husband at 11 a.m. She was asked to explain.
Detective Van Galder told internal affairs she was on her way back to Mesa from the Medical Examiner's Office in downtown Phoenix when she spoke with her husband. She said he asked her to stop by the jail to pick up his sleeping bag and other personal property he'd brought with him to stay in the detention manager's office.
An audio recording from the internal affairs investigation reveals Teresa Van Galder said it made sense to her to just veer off to Scottsdale to make that stop before going to the Mesa police station to submit her evidence. She estimated the trip in the city vehicle was about four and a half to five miles out of the way. Teresa Van Galder admitted she did not ask or receive permission from anyone to use the city vehicle for personal use.
She maintained she was at the jail for about 20 to 30 minutes and that she did not count that time on her overtime request. She stated she charged the department overtime for the investigation she was working on. But investigators could not definitively determine if her visit to the jail was accounted for on her time card. She was however, disciplined for a timekeeping violation and that particular allegation against her involving the overtime issue was sustained. The allegation of misuse of a city vehicle was also sustained.
When asked if she believed her actions negatively affected the reputation of the police department, Teresa Van Galder replied, "Yes."
In the end, Teresa Van Galder was disciplined with a written reprimand in her personnel file and ordered to receive counseling and training. She remains a detective in the homicide unit for the Mesa Police Department.
Mesa Police issued the following statement to 12 News:
"When allegations of employee misconduct are brought to the attention of the Mesa Police Department an internal affairs investigation is promptly initiated. As in this case, all the facts of the case are gathered and properly dispositioned. We take all matters of employee misconduct seriously as employees are obligated to uphold all department policies and laws at all times. "