Crime & Courts

Valley Center police chief resigns after sergeant arrested

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Valley Center Police Chief Mark Hephner has resigned after a police sergeant under his command was arrested on suspicion of sex crimes, City Administrator Scott Hildebrand said Wednesday.

Hildebrand also disclosed that Hephner took steps to monitor the sergeant – Thomas Delgado – after receiving information this summer that Delgado had been investigated over previous allegations. Those allegations involve Delgado’s behavior while giving a ride to a 16-year-old girl in his previous job as a Sedgwick County sheriff’s patrol deputy.

Hildebrand said Hephner contacted him Tuesday night to say he had done some “soul-searching” and was considering resigning.

The resignation is related to allegations against Delgado, Hildebrand said. Delgado, 49, resigned last week from the Valley Center department, the same day he was arrested by sheriff’s investigators on suspicion of official misconduct, rape, sexual battery and sexual exploitation of a child.

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Hephner hired Delgado in April 2014. Before Delgado’s hiring to work on patrol in Valley Center, the sheriff’s office had moved him from his patrol beat in southeast Sedgwick County to a job in the offender registration unit.

Hephner couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Hildebrand said it was Hephner’s decision to resign.

In an interview late Wednesday afternoon, Hildebrand said he didn’t fault Hephner for hiring Delgado. What the city administrator faulted Hephner for, Hildebrand said, was for not thoroughly reviewing a background packet on Delgado before hiring him.

Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter said Tuesday that the Valley Center Police Department never contacted the sheriff’s office to ask for Delgado’s personnel or internal files. Those files included a finding against Delgado involving a 16-year-old girl who rode along with him in his patrol car in 2011 after her father consented to the ride. The father told The Eagle that at the time, Delgado served as a mentor for his daughter.

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Hildebrand said that before the Valley Center police chief hired Delgado, he should have obtained all of Delgado’s background information but didn’t.

An internal sheriff’s investigation found that Delgado spoke inappropriately about sex while in his patrol car with the 16-year-old, Easter has said. Easter noted that the 2011 internal investigation of Delgado occurred before he was sheriff and that if he had been in charge, he would have ordered a criminal investigation as well.

On Wednesday, Hildebrand said Hephner told him that when he learned of that 2011 case this past summer, he went to Delgado and told him he was to do no more ride-alongs or have contact with children.

Hephner also checked on Delgado, who worked a night shift patrolling Valley Center, Hildebrand said.

Without knowing more, Hildebrand said, he couldn’t say that Delgado’s past would have disqualified him for the Valley Center job.

The city administrator said Hephner was put on leave in August or September after an audit found shortcomings in pre-employment background-check procedures and documentation of complaints. It was an audit of every police employee’s pre-employment background check, including Delgado’s, Hildebrand said.

Delgado has been released on bond while the sheriff’s office continues to investigate allegations that led to his arrest last week.

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