City: Fired officers’ relationship affected BCPD

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — City leaders say a romantic relationship between two high-ranking Battle Creek Police Department officers who were recently fired created a negative work environment and affected job performance for at least one of them, documents show.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday obtained nearly 100 pages of documents that detail the city’s investigation into former deputy chief Jim Saylor and former inspector Maria Alonso. The two were placed on paid administrative leave in March and fired last week.

In the documents, city leaders say the officers misrepresented how serious their romantic relationship — which violated department rules — had become. Alonso and Saylor argue former chief Jackie Hampton and former city manager Ken Tsuchiyama had given their blessing to the relationship.

But the city says it created problems with others in the department, who told city leaders they felt uncomfortable — including Alonso’s ex-husband, who is an officer. Some officers were concerned the situation could turn violent.

“Everybody is carrying guns. I mean, we got a real life domestic occurring in front of us. Eventually the honeymoon is going to wear off and somebody is going to snap,” one officer said, according to the documents.

“{W}e had concerns that something might happen at the station. It wasn’t taken lightly among us. These things can turn deadly and… [redacted] never said anything about doing something drastic like that, but people get emotional in situations where it involves people that they have an intimate relationship with, and concerns,” another said.

According to the documents, Saylor and Alsonso’s attorney Michael Pitt said the ex-husband had a responsibility to act professionally. If there was a safety concern, he argued, the department should have taken action against the person they were concerned about, not Alonso and Saylor.

Some officers also said they had problems with Alonso, but did not feel comfortable making a complaint, the documents said.

In regards to their job performance, the city said Saylor spent a lot of time in Alonso’s office, often joking around and talking about personal issues instead of department business. It was obvious enough that a city employee doing work in the police department commented on it, the documents say. The city said that caused Saylor to miss meetings and fail to follow up on requests that may have played a part in Battle Creek losing a bid to provide public safety services in Springfield.

The document also lists three high-profile cases in which the city claims Alonso did not did not perform at the level expected of her:

  • She allegedly violated city policy by deleting video recorded during an investigation into thefts in the women’s locker room. The deleted video caused a problem as the city worked to respond to FOIA requests about the investigation. A CD of the videos was later found in Alonso’s desk, but had the wrong case number on it, the documents said. The city is facing a federal lawsuit by female officers who say they were secretly recorded in various states of undress in the locker room during the investigation.
    Alonso’s attorney said she had spoken with the chief and he approved of her deleting the videos, but the city said it was against department policy and she should have known that.
  • She allegedly violated city policy by having two inspectors ask questions of an officer (who is the mayor’s son) during an internal investigation and having the deputy chief sit in to witness one of those questioning sessions.
    Alonso’s attorney says it is a common practice for two inspectors to ask questions, and that Saylor sat in at the chief’s request when the deputy inspector was not available.
  • She allegedly conducted a poor investigation and misrepresented statements of an expert while looking into an internal complaint against an officer for excessive use of force. The city says Alonso’s report shows she is not fit to hold the position of inspector and that she would have at least been demoted.
    Alonso’s attorney disagreed, saying that suspect pleaded guilty and served jail time for his crime. He said the city sought him out to pay a $31,000 settlement even though he had never filed a complaint against the department.

Pitt pointed out that Saylor and Alonso have clean service records with no history of discipline. If there were job performance problems, they would have been presented at the time they occurred, as is city practice, Pitt said. Under city rules, discipline is supposed to be progressive, but they were fired for their first infraction.

Saylor and Alonso are suing the city, Mayor David Walters, Interim City Manager Susan Bedsole and Interim Police Chief Jim Blocker. They say the manner in which they were fired ruined their careers and publicly defamed them. They say they are targets of a vendetta by Walters because they recommended last year that his son, a BCPD officer, be fired.

Pitt also says his clients’ rights were violated because they were not given access to the statements made against them.

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