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Jim Wetzel

Casper Police Chief Jim Wetzel listens Oct. 18 as victims of sexual abuse talk about their experiences during a Casper City Council meeting. City leadership terminated Wetzel's employment contract in May after two-thirds of the department voted that they had "no confidence" in his leadership.

File, Star-Tribune

Over the past year, the Casper Police Department has undergone a number of changes, including the dismissal of its chief and the hiring of a new leader.

On March 4, the Star-Tribune received a copy of the Casper Fraternal Order of Police’s survey of the majority of Casper police and civilian staff. In that survey, more than 20 officers — about a fifth of the total number of sworn personnel — said they were actively seeking work outside of the department.

Much of the criticism was leveled at the department’s leadership and what was perceived as unrealistic performance expectations.

At their meeting that evening, some City Council members called for an investigation into the department.

Former city manager John Patterson appointed Jim Wetzel chief in February 2014. Wetzel joined the department in 1999.

A week later, Wetzel told reporters that he was working to fix “communication gaps” and make himself more available to his employees. He said he planned to meet with patrol teams and with officers individually to hear their concerns.

Despite those efforts, two-thirds of Casper police voted against Wetzel in a “no confidence” vote held by the Casper Fraternal Order of Police that same week. Sixty officers said they had no confidence in his leadership, three voted that they did have confidence and 10 officers abstained. In a letter attached to the survey results, the order’s leaders requested that Wetzel resign. The letter then listed three areas of concern: the chief’s hiring practices, his “ethical leadership and practices” and his “failure to establish direction and vision of the department.”

The situation escalated further when City Councilman and former police chief Chris Walsh wrote a letter to the city’s top administrator at the time requesting a criminal investigation into some of the allegations against the chief. The letter was leaked to the Star-Tribune on April 22.

Interim City Manager Liz Becher, who took over the position after former city manager V.H. McDonald unexpectedly retired, said she could not act on the recommendation of a single councilmember. The city did conduct an investigation into personnel issues at the department through local attorney Judith Studer.

Despite the turmoil, Wetzel told the Star-Tribune on April 25 that he had not considered resigning.

The next week, however, city leadership announced that it terminated Wetzel’s contract, immediately ending his term as police chief on May 5. At a City Council meeting the following week, many of the council members backed Interim City Manager Liz Becher’s decision to dismiss the chief.

In a later interview with the Star-Tribune, Becher declined to explain what exactly caused her to terminate Wetzel’s contract. Wetzel was an at-will employee and he was dismissed “without cause.”

The decision came a few days after Studer’s investigation was expected to be completed. It is unclear exactly what the investigation found as city officials have repeatedly declined to release the report or discuss in detail what the report contained. Becher said that elements of the investigation factored into her decision.

Two weeks after his dismissal, Wetzel attended a city council meeting and publicly criticized city leadership for more than 15 minutes. It was the first and last time he spoke publicly since his dismissal.

Becher appointed Steve Schulz, a captain at the department, as interim chief while a permanent replacement was sought. City Manager Carter Napier announced the hiring of a new chief on Dec. 1. Keith McPheeters, former deputy police chief of Farmington, New Mexico, was sworn in on Dec. 11.

Follow features editor Elise Schmelzer on Twitter @eliseschmelzer

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