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Dalton civil service hearing continues in Westover

A month after Westover Civil Service Commissioners Justin White, Jessica Thompson and Robert Berryman heard the first two days of testimony in the civil service hearing for former Westover Police Officer Aaron Dalton, the third day concluded Friday after nearly eight hours of witness questioning. 

As in previous days, much of the discussion focused on the January 2021 arrest of William Cox, which resulted in a lawsuit for false arrest costing the city a $750,000 settlement. A separate incident, during which excessive force was used Andre Howton — costing the city another $350,000 — was also heavily discussed. Dalton was involved in both situations. 

Video of an illegal search of a room at the Econolodge, during which police discovered a large amount of fentanyl, was shown throughout the testimony of Westover Officer Zachary Fecsko. Fecsko claimed he questioned the search at the time, but followed the order of ranking officer, Dalton. Due to the illegal search, the charges against the suspect were dropped, letting a suspected dealer back on the street. 

Fecsko, who was on the stand for nearly five hours, also corroborated the testimony of previous officers who accused Dalton of making sexually inappropriate comments in the office, violating civil rights, targeting civilians and creating a hostile work environment, amongst other complaints. 

The officer, who said he was one of two officers who circulated a petition around the department regarding concerns about Dalton, also discussed experiences with Dalton when patrolling or responding to calls, including questionable decisions to destroy tents and property at homeless encampments. 

Several of the witnesses have mentioned making complaints about Dalton to the former Westover Police Chief Rick Panico, but little was done to address their concerns. 

Panico, who first placed Dalton on administrative leave in 2020, took the stand on Friday saying while he was chief he was “mission oriented” — meaning as long as the calls are answered and the people are served he didn’t care about little “he said, she said” things.  

“I was surprised at how readily Chief Panico admitted that he did not at all care about the culture and environment in the office – didn’t pay attention to it,” said Dalton’s attorney Christian Riddell. “I think that is very supportive of our case of all those allegations which is that there was essentially a culture of inappropriate statements.  

“The idea that we would single this man out and terminate him for that reason is mind blowing. I think our side of this case is becoming clearer by the day and I’m hopeful that the commission will make the right decision in the end,” Riddell said. 

Attorney Matt Thorn, who is representing the city, said at this point the question is: Who do the citizens of Westover want on their police force?  

While the city has not yet rested, Thorn said he feels that the process has been completely fair from the beginning.  

“Chief Adams and the Deputy Chief and myself to some degree, investigated this matter over a very long period. Interviewing every single officer including Mr. Dalton several times,” Thorn said. “I think the Chief and Deputy Chief made an informed decision and in doing so are trying to make the right decision for the citizens of Westover and now we just sit back and rely on the commissioners to make whatever choice they decide based off what we hope is a fair process.” 

The hearing will continue with continued testimony from Deputy Chief Scott Carl. That hearing is currently scheduled May 8.