Cops and Courts

Dalton hearing concludes, decision still weeks away

The Civil Service hearing for former Westover Police Lt. Aaron Dalton, which began in late February, ended Monday after a fourth day of testimony before Westover Civil Service Commissioners Justin White, Jessica Thompson and Robert Berryman.  

The commissioners will now review all evidence and testimony before deciding whether Dalton should be reinstated to the department. 

While much of the testimony heard previously surrounded alleged civil rights violations, an illegal search and a “laundry list” of accusations from co-workers against Dalton, Monday’s hearing heard from city and police officials, as well as Dalton himself. 

Current Westover Chief Joe Adams said he knew there were internal issues in the department when he was hired in October 2020 and within one week was made aware of a petition signed by several officers against Dalton, who was on paid leave at the time. 

After a criminal investigation was completed by the state, Adams, along with Deputy Chief Scott Carl and city attorney Matt Thorn, began an administrative investigation into Dalton in May 2021. 

Adams said that while the individual offenses may not be grounds for dismissal, the totality of the accusations concerned him, so he wrote a recommendation to the then-Mayor Cranston Dave Johnson that Dalton should be fired. 

The chief said there are two parts to being a cop: making people safe and making people feel safe. Some of the accusations against Dalton, Adams believed, hurt public image of the department and put the public’s trust in jeopardy. If not fired, Adams said Dalton could be a “walking checkbook” for the city. 

Johnson testified that while he did ultimately sign the order for Dalton’s termination, he personally did not believe the officer should have been fired.  

“You signed something to fire him, or you didn’t, and he did,” Thorn told The Dominion Post after the proceedings. “He acknowledged that he signed it, took responsibility for it, but then when he was in front of his friend it seemed like he was hesitant to follow through. You either did or you didn’t.” 

Previously, former Chief Rick Panico testified that he did not use what he called outdated department policies and did not wish to deal with “he said, she said” issues. Johnson said at one point Panico told him, “the natives are getting restless,” in reference to officer conflicts. 

Dalton’s attorney Christian Riddell argued that since Adams and Carl used these policies that were said to have been ignored by Panico to conduct their investigation, it was not fair to Dalton since the policies were not enforced by the former chief. 

Finally, the commissioners heard from Dalton himself who claimed that, “If all of our officers were put under the same scrutiny I was, we wouldn’t have anybody working here.” 

Dalton said the majority of claims made against him from other officers and co-workers were flat-out lies and he was intentionally excluded from the department by punitive ostracization. 

The former lieutenant told the commissioners that the past three years have been a “long, dark, lonely path” while he waited to tell his story. The accusations have not only affected his career and reputation, but his marriage and family as well. 

“The people here are wrong – I just wanted to say that,” he concluded. 

After the proceedings concluded, Riddell said, “I feel good about the way the proceedings went. The people who were being dishonest, I feel, were exposed pretty obviously before the commission. It’s easy to misread the room, but I feel like the truth had its day.”  

“I’m very positive and hopeful that Mr. Dalton is going to be exonerated after this. And I hope that he can use that exoneration to put his life back together because what’s happened to him has been an utter travesty. They’ve taken this man’s livelihood, career, self-identity, they’ve taken it all from him. It’s a tragedy and it needs to be rectified and no matter what happens in these proceedings we are going to keep trying to rectify it.” 

Thorn feels equally confident that the city will prove its case.

“I feel pretty good about it. I think it was hard-fought all the way through. We presented more than enough evidence to meet the low burden of preponderancy evidence and I find it hard to believe that everyone else who testified lied and Mr. Dalton told the truth.” 

“The chief and deputy chief did a tremendous job,” Thorn said. “They were super professional the entire time and I think the commissioners have what I view as a relatively easy decision to make.” 

The attorneys will now have 30 days after receiving court transcripts to comb through thousands of pages of testimony and provide the commissioners with the facts they would like them to consider before making their decision.