Cops and Courts

Termination of former Westover police officer Aaron Dalton upheld

The Westover Civil Service Commission released its final order regarding the fate of former Westover Police officer Aaron Dalton and will uphold the police department’s decision for termination. 

Commissioners Jessica Thompson, Justin White and Robert Berryman heard four full days of testimony during a civil service hearing held earlier this year to determine whether the department had just cause to terminate Dalton as a Westover Police Officer. 

Dalton’s original termination by the police review board was based on three allegations of misconduct, but the commission did not agree all three were grounds for termination.  

The first incident occurred on Aug. 25, 2019, after the arrest of William Cox. Dalton failed to supervise a subordinate officer to secure Cox’s cell phone which contained direct video evidence of the arrest. Patrolman Justice Carver testified that Dalton “chucked” Cox’s cell phone in the grass outside of the police station. Nearly two years after the arrest, the cell phone was found in the evidence room, but Cox ultimately won a lawsuit for false arrest costing the city $750,000. 

After hearing the evidence and testimony the commission found that the incident with Cox and his cell phone did not violate any policies of termination. 

The second incident in question involved the illegal search of a room at the Econo Lodge hotel on Aug. 26, 2020, during which Dalton was the highest-ranking officer. Police were seeking Travaughn Guerrant, aka “Taco,” who they believed to be at the hotel and who had an open warrant for burglary. 

Body camera footage from the arrest showed Dalton engaged in an illegal search of the room without consent or a warrant in spite of junior officers advising Guerrant of his rights prior to the search. Dalton ignored this and searched the room without consent and without a warrant. 

The commission found that while Dalton did conduct an illegal search and failed to properly supervise subordinates, the violations did not rise to the level of termination. 

The third allegation surrounded Dalton’s alleged “pattern of harassment, bullying, sexual harassment, racism, destruction of homeless people’s property, urinating on homeless people’s property, and other violations.”  

The other violations include public Facebook posts made by Dalton after he was suspended. The posts made derogatory statements about the Westover Police Department as a whole and false statements about individual members of the WPD. 

Many of Dalton’s coworkers, including WPD Secretary Christine Riley, Patrolman Andrew Cather, Trooper Isiah Harmon, Patrolman Michael Keeble, Sergeant Eric Mankins, Patrolwoman Chelsea Vohwinkle, Patrolman Justice Carver and Patrolman Zachary Feckso, testified to various incidents of racism and harassment by Dalton which created a hostile work environment. 

Several officers stated that they were afraid of Dalton and if he did not like you, he would target you. 

Westover Police Chief Joe Adams testified that in addition to investigating the accusation against Dalton, he investigated all of the accusations made by Dalton against other officers in the Facebook posts and found none of the accusations made by Dalton to be substantiated. He viewed them all as retaliatory. 

The commission found that Dalton “engaged in a pattern of abusive behavior during his tenure with the Westover Police Department dating from incidents in 2016 through his placement on administrative leave in August 2021 wherein Dalton conducted himself in a manner in which he harassed fellow officers, harassed coworkers.” 

The commission also found the statements posted by Dalton in a public forum were in violation of Westover city policy and policies of the Westover Police Department and would hurt the public trust in the police department. 

Posting clearly false statements that are meant to harm the reputation of the individual and the department is, in and of itself, an offense that justifies termination, the commission’s report stated. 

When considering the totality of the allegations made against Dalton regarding hostile work environment and harassment, the commissioners found sufficient evidence to support a termination for just cause. 

The commissioners determine the credibility of the witnesses at the hearing and a majority of the commissioners found that Dalton’s testimony regarding his explanations to WPD for his failures to comply with policies and procedures in each of the three incidents were not credible. 

In their report, the commissioners state that WPD established enough evidence to show Dalton harassed fellow officers and employees and made false and defamatory statements on public social media posts toward the department and individual officers. They also found that Dalton’s actions have damaged his credibility with peers, supervisors and members of the community, all of whom have been negatively impacted by Dalton’s actions. 

Ultimately, the commissioners affirmed and sustained his termination. 

Matt Thorn, prosecuting attorney for the City of Westover, said the commissioners upholding the original decision of the review board to terminate Dalton is the best possible outcome for the city and a good decision for police in general. 

“You can’t have an officer act in such ways and it’s so damaging to the reputation of any police force that it causes a negative view,” he said. “Westover citizens can hopefully live a little easier knowing that they are safer without having a menacing officer or one that has been found to harass others.” 

Thorn said while the commission found the Cox cell phone and illegal search incidents didn’t rise to the level for termination, they had to have considered those as factors in the overall decision — which comes down to Dalton not being fit to perform the duties. 

The Dominion Post reached out to Dalton’s attorney Christian Riddell to see if they planned to appeal the decision but did not receive a response by press time.  

Thorn said he believes Dalton’s side will likely appeal, but he doesn’t think it will matter. 

“Every single right that Mr. Dalton had was exercised to its fullest and there is absolutely no reason that they should contest this with an appeal,” he said. “The commissioners bent over backwards giving him room to get in evidence, to challenge evidence. I think they bent over backwards to give Mr. Dalton every single available right to make his case and, to be frank, his case was left wanting because it was insufficient.”