Copeland Investigations LLC

Copeland Investigations LLC determined many of the misconduct allegations against the Buckeye Police Department lacked specificity, were not in violation of city policies or provided no supporting facts. (West Valley View file photo)

Two years after an anonymous letter accusing the Buckeye Police Department of misdeeds was sent to the media and city officials, an independent investigation firm hired by city of Buckeye officials has released its findings.

Copeland Investigations LLC outlined its results in a 27-page report to the city of Buckeye on February 14, accompanied by its 5,000 pages of supporting evidence that were reviewed by the West Valley View. Buckeye officials released the package to the public June 5.

The letter claimed misappropriation of government funds, altered crime statistics and a hostile work environment.

The investigation determined many of the allegations contained in the letter lacked specificity, were not in violation of city policies or provided no facts to support the allegation.

However, Copeland Investigations said it agreed with some of the allegations including the improper recording of crime statistics.

During the course of the investigation, four Buckeye police staff members were disciplined: Chief Larry Hall, Sgt. James Virgadamo, Lt. Gary McGeough and Lt. Charles Arlak. (See accompanying sidebar.) The West Valley View is attempting to contact the four staff members involved.

“We are confident under the current leadership of Chief Hall, Buckeye will continue to maintain the highest professional standards and services to our residents,” city officials said in a released statement.

“Corrections to the sustained allegations were made and the department is successfully moving forward.”

Conflict of Interest

The anonymous letters intimated Hall and McGeough’s ownership involvement in Blue Knights Securities, a private investigation services company, was a conflict of interest. Copeland Investigations wrote it believed that to be true.

According to the Arizona Corporation Commission website, McGeough and Hall are shareholders of Blue Knights Securities Group, the report said. When the articles of organization were filed on June 12, 2013, Hall was the assistant chief of police for the city of Buckeye. A year later, when a statement of change of statutory agent was filed, Hall was the Buckeye police chief and McGeough was still a sergeant.

The report states Mark Mann, who was the Buckeye police chief,  knew of the business and approved of it, Hall and McGeough reportedly told investigators.

Hall also used official department email and city time to conduct Blue Knights’ work, the report said. According to the report, Hall ignored complaints and warning signs and through his neglect allowed crime statistics to be inaccurately reported.

Arlak exhibited “gross incompetence” and failed to provide proper oversight resulting in inadequately reporting criminal activity in Buckeye and artificially lowering crime rates, the report said.

Toxic Work Environment

Copeland Investigations reported Virgadamo bullied and harassed fellow sergeants and staff, created a toxic work environment, and “disrupted the good order and efficiency of the Buckeye Police Department.”

He wasn’t the primary focus of the investigation but, the report said, “Sgt. Virgadamo’s behavior became impossible to ignore.”

Within the report are emails in which Virgadamo exhibits what is called a negative attitude. In one email he complained about his subordinates, describing them as “entitled young millennials who never had any standards or expectations from anyone, including their helicopter parents.”  

One email from Virgadamo referenced in the report shared, “Then we have some helicopter supervisors and a helicopter lieutenant that lead the same way with their T-ball style of supervision, micromanaging and hovering over people holding them by the hand making sure they are happy and content and all their needs are being fulfilled so everyone gets a trophy.

“The idea that a five-year officer…can sit in the same room as a lieutenant and voice his opinion on how things should be run absolutely baffles my mind.”

Copeland said Virgadamo later admitted to having a lack of respect for others. Virgadamo snapped at polite requests or the concerns of coworkers, the report said, continuing Virgadamo’s responses “could often best be described as verbal warfare. He was condescending, belittling and patronizing, continually reminding his peers that he considered himself superior to them.”

In another email, Virgadamo told one of his peer sergeants, “Just because you passed the sergeant’s test or are a sergeant on the SWAT team doesn’t mean you know it all. Maybe on the SWAT team your (sic) the top dog, but when your (sic) on patrol your (sic) just like a rookie sergeant like it or not.”

When interviewed as part of the investigation, Virgadamo initially acknowledged his emails were inappropriate and that he possibly created dissension when he interfered with other sergeants’ squads, the report said. He then quickly diverted the attention away from his actions, providing a list of reasons other sergeants had resented him, it added.

Unbecoming Conduct

In this report, then-assistant chief Hall was also accused of “unbecoming conduct at an accident scene,” which was sustained, the report said. On February 18, 2015, while at the scene of a single-vehicle accident and in the presence of his subordinate police officers, Hall violated policy when he took at least one photo of the nude, male driver, who was wearing high heels, Copeland Investigations said.

“The picture was not taken for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and was shared with at least one individual outside of the police department,” the report said.

Hall admitted taking a photo at the scene and showing it to his wife before deleting it, Copeland Investigations said. He insisted the photo was only of the vehicle and depicted only part of the victim’s leg. Hall offered no legitimate law enforcement reason for taking the picture, it said.