The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation should look into leadership problems at the Casper Police Department “due to the potential criminal nature of some of the complaints,” City Councilman and former police chief Chris Walsh requested in a letter to the city’s top administrator Thursday.
In the letter, obtained by the Star-Tribune, Walsh lays out allegations that extend beyond those described by the Fraternal Order of Police in a recent survey of officers and a subsequent vote of no confidence against current Police Chief Jim Wetzel. Walsh wrote that since the survey became public in early April, people have spoken to him about matters not addressed in the survey.
“Many of the complaints describe what could be categorized as a hostile work environment, while some allegations could have a criminal aspect,” Walsh wrote. “Due to the potential criminal nature of some of the complaints, I recommend making a request to the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office and request the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation conduct the investigation.”
Walsh, who served as chief immediately before Wetzel, said Friday evening that the letter was a follow-up to his requests for investigation at a City Council meeting the day the survey became public.
“I figured I should make it formal,” he said.
Interim City Manager Liz Becher said she would not request an investigation from state agencies based on Walsh’s letter because the city manager is authorized to act only at the direction of a majority of Council members. But she revealed Friday that at least two internal investigations related to the police department have been underway for several months.
Walsh also expressed frustration that the letter had been given to the Star-Tribune before it could be discussed further. He said he hadn’t received a response to the letter but that he hadn’t expected one immediately.
“I regret that this is in the news,” he said. “I wish the proper channels would’ve been followed and this wouldn’t have been tried in the public.”
Wetzel did not return a call for comment and has not returned reporters’ calls or emails for the past two days. It’s unclear whether he was aware of the letter Friday evening.
After the survey became public, Wetzel told reporters he would work on improving communication within the department. He also described a “clash of cultures” as he’s worked to make changes since becoming chief three years ago.
Becher confirmed that she had received the letter but had not carefully reviewed it. She said it appeared to match previous allegations made in the survey.
In her third day in the interim role, Becher said she was working to get up to speed on issues surrounding the police department. She replaced former City Manager V.H. McDonald, who announced his retirement days after the problems came to light.
Questions in letter
In his letter, Walsh outlined a series of specific allegations that he said could be considered criminal and should be investigated by outside law enforcement. He said that all his questions were based on conversations with others and that he had no firsthand knowledge of the situations. The allegations could not be independently verified by the Star-Tribune.
The questions Walsh outlined included whether:
- the chief instructed officers to submit false state or federal grant applications;
- the department hired officers or civilian employees even though they failed polygraph tests;
- the chief committed perjury while speaking under oath in a deposition;
- the department created or plans to create a program to access personal computers, without a warrant, through a link in the Casper Police Department website;
- the department used a similar program to access files on computers within the police department.
Walsh also outlined a series of concerns that he said might constitute a hostile work environment, many of which were also mentioned in the survey. Specifically, he said any investigation should also address allegations of inconsistent hiring practices and favoritism as well as criticism that city management and human resources failed to follow up on or resolve complaints made about the department.
Assistant City Manager Tracey Belser, who oversees human resources, said department staff had worked to address all employee concerns brought to their attention and disputed the FOP survey’s allegation that the city had ignored complaints.
Walsh specifically questioned what happened after a series of meetings between almost all of police command staff and McDonald during the spring of 2016 in which the officers outlined their concerns. The command staff later met with McDonald and Wetzel to discuss the concerns, but officers who were at the meeting said nothing ever came of their complaints. The meetings were also mentioned in two memos to the city from the Fraternal Order of Police.
“The details of the meeting with (Police Department) Senior Staff and the City Manager, approximately one year ago, should be scrutinized,” Walsh wrote. “What did the memo detailing complaints state and were any substantive actions taken to correct the issues? What concerns me is that the complaints could have been handled correctly and HR was possibly not allowed to address the issues.”
Walsh ended his letter by stating that an outside investigation would be in the best interest of the community and all involved.
“The longer this issue lingers it can only further erode the public trust in the Police Department, the Senior Leadership of the City and the City Council,” he wrote. “Currently there are a lot of emotions surrounding this situation and facts are what must be evaluated. I believe the details of the complaints must be investigated. It is fair and proper to those who made the complaints and it is fair and proper to the Chief of Police.”
Survey highlights problems
Wetzel’s leadership came under question in early April with the release of the survey, which described a toxic environment within the department. More than 20 current officers reported that they were actively searching for new jobs outside the department or contemplating leaving law enforcement altogether.
Those concerns, which prompted Walsh and Mayor Kenyne Humphrey to initially call for an investigation, were similar to those of seven current and former officers who spoke to the Star-Tribune. One said investigators and patrol officers were afraid to do their jobs aggressively out of concern they would be punished for small discrepancies or policies that didn’t exist before.
On Monday, results of a no-confidence vote held by the Casper chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police became public. Sixty officers, amounting to two-thirds of the force, voted against Wetzel’s continued leadership. In a letter to Wetzel, the group called on the chief to resign.
That letter raised three areas of concern related to Wetzel: his hiring practices, his “ethical leadership and practices” and his “failure to establish direction and vision for the department.”
Wetzel was named police chief in 2014 by then-City Manager John Patterson. He had previously served as a sergeant.