Print Sergeant resigns after investigation
Written by Greg Ruland   
Wednesday, 29 September 2010 00:00

A telephone at Cottonwood Police Department that records outgoing calls from a land line situated in the booking area was used at least once to improperly monitor the call of a criminal suspect to her lawyer.

The action violated police department policy, broke the attorney-client privilege and caused the resignation of a Cottonwood police sergeant.

The investigation into Sgt. Darrin Harper’s violation of department rules resulted in his resignation Sept. 20, Cottonwood City Attorney Steve Horton said.

Harper will take a payment of $7,000 in exchange for his promise not to sue the city over the termination. He resigned to avoid being terminated for misconduct, Horton said.

Police officials knew for some time the telephone in the booking area recorded telephone calls, but could not specify how long. In violation of department policy, the telephone was not marked with a sticker warning those who used it that their call would be recorded.

Horton said his review of the case revealed booking phone conversations have been recorded and stored systematically for at least several months, but never reviewed.

“Many of the phone lines are recorded as a matter of course,” Horton said. “There is a phone line, however, that should not be recorded, which is the phone line in booking. The phone line was recorded, but we never had a problem with officers or anybody accessing or reviewing the calls.”

Most criminal suspects are escorted to a private room where they make calls using their own cell phone.

Criminal suspects are rarely, if ever, allowed to use the booking area telephone, Horton said.

Written policies approved Sept. 21 state criminal suspects are to be afforded privacy to use their own cell phones for calls or be escorted to a private land line that is not recorded.

If a criminal suspect wants to use the telephone in the booking area, they must be told the conversation will be recorded. The telephone in booking now bears the warning sticker, Horton said.

The discovery that police knew calls outgoing from booking were regularly recorded was one of several made during internal affairs investigations into numerous complaints about Harper.

Harper lost a week’s pay after a city personnel board ruled earlier this year he violated a crime victim’s Fourth Amendment privacy rights by illegally searching his car and luggage.

During his service in Cottonwood, Harper was the subject of nine internal affairs investigations, four of which were determined to warrant discipline, according to city records.

According to one complaint, Harper refused to allow a suspect to use the bathroom, a violation of department policy.

Another internal affairs investigation found Harper worked off duty outside city limits but did not make proper reports of his activities.

Council unanimously approved the settlement agreement at its Sept. 21 meeting.

Horton said the settlement saves the city the cost of conducting a second due process hearing and possible court action. The agreement provides certainty to both parties.

For Harper, the deal gives him 45 days worth of pay and allows him to inform future employers he resigned his position.

Final details of the deal remained to be worked out as of Thursday, Sept. 23, but Horton said he expects Harper to formally sign off by next week.

Harper was honored by the city at least twice for his work with area teens to reduce alcohol and drug abuse.