Hearing officer reinstates Denver cop accused of having sex…
A former Denver police officer fired for having on-duty sexual liaisons with a fellow officer and for punching her lover when the relationship fell apart should be reinstated to her job, a Denver Civil Service Commission officer has ruled.
Stephanie Southard should return to her DUI unit or a comparable position, said Hazel E. Hanley, the hearing officer.
In her order, Hanley repeatedly questioned the credibility of Nathan Sanchez, the officer with whom Southard had been having an affair and who was a witness during an internal investigation and a July appeals hearing.
Hanley found that Sanchez’s version of the affair and assault were not believable and, therefore, the Denver Police Department did not have grounds to fire Southard.
“He acted like a scriptwriter, making everything up as he went,” the order said about Sanchez. “The Hearing Officer finds that no sexual misconduct occurred while Southard was on duty. Moreover … this Hearing Officer does not credit Sanchez’s version of any disputed fact.”
It is unclear when Southard might return to work.
The Denver safety manager can appeal the ruling. If that happens, then Southard would remain unemployed while the appeals process takes its course.
“We are disappointed in the hearing officer’s decision and will confer with the city attorney before deciding how to proceed,” safety manger Stephanie O’Malley said in a statement to The Denver Post.
Southard was fired in April for sexual misconduct on duty and lying about it. She also was suspended for 15 days for punching Sanchez.
Sanchez, who resigned from the department, and Southard had an affair between the fall of 2011 and June 2013. The two sent secret messages through a word game app on their phones and would meet at each other’s homes for sex, the hearing officer’s order said.
According to earlier police disciplinary reports, Sanchez’s wife discovered a text message between the two, forcing Sanchez to end the relationship.
Sanchez was on routine patrol in a marked squad car a few days later on June 20, 2013 when he saw Southard, who was also on duty, following him in her own police cruiser, the disciplinary reports said.
The two officers pulled into a parking lot on the 4600 block of East Alameda Avenue, where Southard reached into Sanchez’ car and struck him in the face, according to the disciplinary report. She later took her gun out of the holster, held the gun to her face and head as if she was going to shoot herself, the report said.
During the internal investigation, Sanchez said the two had sexual trysts while on duty.
But Southard denied having sex while on duty and she denied pointing a gun to her head, according to her testimony during a July appeals hearing.
The hearing officer found Southard’s account more credible, saying she never wavered in her version of what happened.
“She answered embarrassing questions with grace, poise, and clarity,” the order said.
Meanwhile, Sanchez “slouched at the hearing,” and spoke softly, Hanley wrote in her order.
Hanley cited instances where she found Sanchez’s testimony did not match facts in the case.
For example, Sanchez had explained to internal affairs investigators how the two had sexual encounters in her squad car. However, Hanley decided it would be physically impossible given the cramped space and the layers of Southard’s uniform, including her gun belt and the equipment attached to it.
As for the gun-pointing incident, the hearing officer determined that Sanchez made it up in an attempt to convince his wife that the affair had ended.
“Sanchez is an inveterate liar,” Hanley wrote in her order.
Sanchez previously had been suspended from the Denver Police Department for lying and his dishonesty had to be disclosed in every case where he was called to testify in court, Hanley wrote. She questioned why internal affairs investigators accepted his word over Southard’s.
Southard previously pleaded guilty in Arapahoe County to harassment and domestic violence. Southard received a deferred sentence that allows the charges to be expunged if she complies with several court orders.
Although a mandatory protection order had been served to Southard, she had negotiated a deal with prosecutors that would allow her to use her service weapon, said Michelle Yi, a spokeswoman in the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Noelle Phillips: 303-954-1661, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/Noelle_Phillips