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Interim chief won't discipline captain

The captain in a memo lambasted the Pinellas Park city manager and other officers. The city is hiring an investigator.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000


PINELLAS PARK -- The interim chief has apparently declined to discipline a police captain who blasted the city manager's leadership and attacked the honesty of officers who had complained about mistreatment in the Police Department.

The lack of a formal reprimand for Capt. Bob Hempel distressed some. They also questioned the captain's ability to continue functioning as a manager in a department already wracked by turmoil.

Hempel wrote an eight-page memo last week to Pinellas Park City Manager Jerry Mudd that blamed him for the problems in the Police Department. Hempel said Mudd's leadership needed to be examined and improved.

Hempel criticized several officers in the department, characterizing them in various ways from dangerous to liars to incompetent. He also disparaged the outspoken wife of one officer and objected to the handling of another officer's discipline by Mudd and Tom Owens, the head of the city's personnel department.

Interim police Chief Dorene Thomas declined to discuss the matter. She said that the city is hiring an outside investigator to look into issues surrounding Hempel and others in the department. It would be inappropriate, she said, to comment on any of that until the investigation is over.

Mudd, however, conceded that Thomas had "talked" with Hempel about his memo. The difficulty, he said, is making sure the city did not tread on Hempel's right to free speech. At the same time, Hempel made many serious accusations against fellow employees.

"I would say that there was a discussion, and there was a serious discussion, and it was appropriate," Mudd said. "There was no formal reprimand. That's my understanding."

That amazed police union representatives.

"I'm rather surprised he has not been disciplined," said Bill LauBach, executive director of the Pinellas County Police Benevolent Association. "I think if any other person in that Police Department wrote what he wrote they would have been disciplined. . . . I am surprised that no sanctions were taken against him for what he said."

LauBach added, "My opinion would be that his ability to command those people has been permanently impaired. . . . He's calling them all liars. You cannot characterize those you command as liars and be an effective leader."

Craig Heneveld, one of the officers Hempel attacked in his memo, said he was hurt by the allegations against him and his wife, Beverly, a former Pinellas Park police officer.

"The people underneath the captain . . . to take hits like this from him. It's just unconscionable, I think," Heneveld said. "There's no way that he can walk downstairs through the rank and file and not feel funny, I think."

The memo, Heneveld said, was not only hurtful, it was also full of "lies."

One of those concerned Heneveld's wife. Hempel had alleged that Mrs. Heneveld "could not complete" the city's field training officer program and was "deemed unsuitable for police work."

Heneveld showed a copy of a memorandum dated Jan. 18 in which Tracey Schofield, who was head of the field training officer program, informed Hempel and others in the department that Mrs. Heneveld had completed the program. The memo showed her being assigned to a day-shift patrol position.

That memo, Heneveld said, proved Hempel lied about Mrs. Heneveld's abilities.

Heneveld went on to criticize Hempel and his leadership.

"I think there's only one cancer in that Police Department and that's Capt. Hempel," Heneveld said. "He only leads by domination and fear."

In the past six years, Heneveld said, the department has lost between 70 and 80 officers. That's a complete overturning of the department's staff. That turnover, Heneveld said, began at roughly the same time Hempel took over his administrative position.

"We lost a lot of good officers," he said. "It will take years to get that back, to get that education back, to get that understanding back."

Heneveld, who is leaving the department in October for a job with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, predicted a "mass exodus" from the Police Department.

"It's because of the administration," he said.

Heneveld said he was not referring to Thomas. Selecting Thomas to lead the embattled department, he said, was a good move.

Hempel declined to comment. He said: "I'm not going to really get into that. You can do the research into what I said in the memo and you can draw your own conclusion."

Hempel's memo came at a time when the department was already torn by allegations of sex, age and race discrimination and harassment.

Three female officers had filed state and federal complaints alleging they had been sexually discriminated against and harassed. Two men had filed union grievances alleging there was a "hit list" of officers targeted for firing based on their ages and willingness to speak out.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found there was reason to believe the city violated the civil rights of one of the three officers, Shirley Atherton Marsh, by discriminating against her because of her gender.

Police Chief David Milchan had resigned after Mudd suspended him without pay and accused him of threatening the city manager and waving a finger in his face. Milchan has denied the charges.

Milchan has since waged an external war of his own against Mudd. He has written letters to the editor, given interviews and released memos attacking Mudd and his leadership. Most recently, he wrote a seven-page memo that he faxed to Mudd and others and handed out at Thursday's Tampa Bay Chiefs Association luncheon criticizing the city manager's leadership and his plans for the city.

As for that most recent memo, Mudd said, "It appears that Mr. Milchan has been confused on many issues lately. I believe it would be unkind and therefore inappropriate to respond to his letter."

In the meantime, the City Council has agreed to pay about $50,000 for a morale study of the department. Last Thursday, council members agreed to spend up to $10,000 for a retired judge to investigate the allegations of the hit list and other issues surrounding it.

Mudd said the judge could be named as early as Monday.

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