Cops and Courts

Litigation continues in Dalton civil service hearing

Day two of the civil service hearing for fired Westover Police officer Aaron Dalton concluded Wednesday after Westover Civil Service Commissioners Justin White, Jessica Thompson and Robert Berryman heard over seven hours of testimony from six witnesses.

In continuation from Monday’s proceedings, more of Dalton’s former coworkers claimed they became frustrated with Dalton’s behavior, particularly toward coworkers, which they stated included things like sexual harassment, racially motivated slurs and comments, threats to get them fired and general bullying.

Westover Officer Justice Carver said Dalton “targeted” him as someone he did not like, constantly making harassing statements, calling him “stupid” and threatening to have him fired on multiple occasions.

“There was countless times that my career, that I had built myself, was threatened to be taken right out from underneath me just because someone didn’t like me,” Carver said.  

“I don’t know why he came at me, but from the time I started at the Westover Police Department to the time he was placed on administrative leave, I was targeted as an individual that he did not like.”

In addition to coworker conflicts, witnesses also discussed experiences with Dalton when patrolling or responding to calls, including questionable decisions to destroy tents and property at homeless encampments, the illegal search of a room at the Econolodge, and the January 2021 arrest of William Cox which resulted in a lawsuit for false arrest costing the city a $750,000 settlement.

The commissioners also heard from Westover Officer Dana Cowell, who was the first witness called by Dalton’s attorney Christian Riddle.

Cowell discussed “a culture of unprofessionalism, a culture of not doing the right thing” under the leadership of then-Chief Rick Panico in which very little discipline was seen for inappropriate behavior. 

He also described a locker-room type environment many of the officers, not just Dalton, engaged in that, in his experience, was “par for the course” and “standard fare” at most departments.

After Wednesday’s hearing Riddle said some of what was being said by Dalton’s former coworkers was “remarkably exaggerated” and he “was blown away at the level some of the other officers perjured themselves and the many times they were caught.” 

He made it clear that “It’s not our defense that Aaron Dalton never violated a single rule or infraction.  Our defense has always been that the climate there makes it unfair and unjustifiable for him to be terminated based on what he actually did. I think the picture is becoming more and more clear to them about what was really motivating this.

“The truth is that this case is just a small piece of what this whole thing is really about,” Riddle said,” and that will be developed much more fully in the litigation to come.”

The next day of the hearing is scheduled for March 24.