Six months after the investigation was completed, the city of Goodyear provided a copy of the investigation of former Deputy Police Chief Justin Hughes.
The investigation found Hughes turned a minor matter into a “debacle”—and violated department policy, turning the issue of undercover officers using unauthorized license plates into something that “went beyond the realm of reasonableness.”
After a complaint was filed against Hughes, the city placed him on paid suspension in October.
On Jan. 8, the report by investigators Susan Segal and Donald Conrad was delivered to the city of Goodyear. The city refused to provide a copy to the West Valley View, stating Hughes was on personal leave.
Hughes applied for short-term disability and disability retirement. On June 25, his disability claim for the period between Jan. 11 and July 11 was approved.
After learning Hughes retired from the city July 10, the West Valley View again asked for the report. It was provided July 14.
According to the report, “This investigation was conducted to determine the veracity of four allegations of possible misconduct by Hughes. Those allegations of misconduct include the following: 1. Dispatching a Neighborhood Enforcement Team to locate his wife. 2. Using the resources of the city of Goodyear improperly. 3. Hughes’ interactions and conduct in connection with the alleged conduct of civilian employee Susan Petty and Goodyear Police Officer Kyle Cluff. 4. Placing his personal interests ahead of the best interest of the city and the Goodyear Police Department.”
On Oct. 1, a Goodyear officer pulled over a NET van using an unauthorized license plate. The matter was discussed at a meeting Oct. 2.
“The officers found this to be amusing that we pulled over our own officer,” Lt. Scott Benson stated in a memo to Hughes.
According to an Oct. 3 memo Hughes wrote to Sgt. Justin Bayer of the Professional Standards Unit, Hughes said he was directed by then-Police Chief Jerry Geier to talk to Sgt. Jason Mattie about the plate: “Chief Geier informed me that he had talked to Sgt. Mattie a few weeks prior and advised Sgt. Mattie to not put a plate on the (undercover) van other than the assigned government plate. …
“Lt. Benson stated during the briefing, Officer Cluff made mention that it was a policy violation for NET to be using an unauthorized license plate.”
Hughes wrote that he questioned Cluff and Petty individually, asking them if they had discussed the improper license plates. Both denied it—separate investigations found both violated department policies by being untruthful about their discussion.
According to the Hughes report, “The most difficult aspect of this investigation is attempting to understand why Deputy Chief Hughes thought it necessary to question Officer Cluff about communicating with Ms. Petty. We can only conclude that it was either poor judgment or that there was some ulterior motive that we have not uncovered. If, as Hughes says, he was concerned about breaking the chain of command, the inquiry could have been a very short one. Hughes’ continued questioning of Cluff was an investigation in search of misconduct …
“… there was no adequate reason for Hughes to take a situation in which there had been no misconduct and turn it into a debacle wherein the jobs of two people are now imperiled. Hughes used poor judgment in escalating the issue, which was only peripheral to the real issue at hand.”
The investigation found the conversation between Cluff and Petty was not inappropriate: “Petty has responsibility for arranging for undercover plates and undercover identification.”
The investigation found fault with the manner in which Hughes questioned the two.
“In all, the intensity of Hughes’s questioning of both Cluff and Petty seems both out of proportion to the issue at hand and went beyond the realm of reasonableness and relevance to the underlying issue. The broader issue should have been why was the van still being driven with fictitious plates—not who told Geier or who lied to Hughes. The untruthfulness of Petty and Cluff cannot be condoned, but it obscures the real issue.”
Cluff, who resigned in January, also applied for disability.
FBI agent search
The investigation found other allegations against Hughes were unfounded.
The allegations—which also played a crucial role in the Geier firing—stemmed from Hughes requesting assistance in finding his wife. After not being able to reach her, he said he worried she was being harmed by a gang member who had threatened her.
According to the investigation, “Mikaila Hughes was employed as an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and assigned to the investigation of gang related criminal activity. Before April 3, 2019, it was known that certain gangsters had issued a death threat on Mikaila along with a bounty of $350,000. When, on April 3, Mikaila failed to respond to repeated attempts to contact her while she was meeting a person she called the ‘Godfather,’ Deputy Chief Hughes became convinced that she had been killed or kidnapped.”
Justin Hughes was on family medical leave (FMLA) at the time. According to the investigation, he asked Mattie to help him find his wife.
Mattie and members of the undercover team went to west Phoenix and found Mikaila, who was not harmed.
The investigation concluded Hughes did not abuse his power by requesting the search for his wife:
“Though his rank was that of Deputy Chief, on April 3, 2019, Hughes was treated like a Goodyear citizen victim by the other officers. While he may have been a high ranking official in the department at the time and he made the request of the department to engage in the search, he exercised no authority on April 3.
“The decision to proceed was not one that Hughes made. Everyone understood that he was irrational and emotional and that he could not take a part in the exercise of police authority on that date.”