A Wichita police officer allegedly involved in a hit-and-run accident was initially fired because the Police Department found she lied about how much she drank that day.
She was reinstated four days after her firing.
The attorney for Officer Tiffany Dahlquist says she “is herself the victim of police misconduct.”
She filed a formal complaint contending that the department unfairly and improperly handled an investigation of the alleged accident.
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Dahlquist’s employment with the city ended Thursday. “Due to the city’s handling of this case, she resigned,” her attorney, Jonathan McConnell, said Friday.
She has filed a complaint against the city with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is a first step in filing a lawsuit against the city. The EEOC investigates job-discrimination complaints.
The complaint offers the widest window so far into the contentious police investigation, from the officer’s perspective.
The police investigation into Dahlquist’s actions is a focus of a federal investigation in which FBI agents have delivered subpoenas to at least a dozen Wichita police, including higher ranks, according to sources and a court document.
The EEOC complaint, obtained by The Eagle, says that Dahlquist was:
▪ investigated “for an accident that never occurred.”
▪ fired after being accused of lying about how many drinks she had on the day of the alleged accident.
▪ told to fill out an accident report even as she protested that she wasn’t in an accident.
▪ reinstated four days after her firing by the city’s human resources department after police union representatives argued that her termination was not justified.
In an email Wednesday afternoon, department spokesman Officer Charley Davidson said that the “the city nor WPD can comment on personnel matters. This is a long standing practice.”
EEOC complaint summary
On Sept. 11, 2016, a 17-year-old driver called 911 to report that another car sideswiped her car near 13th and Maize and that the driver refused to pull over. She phoned in a description of the car and the driver and the license tag, which police traced to Dahlquist, records show.
According to the EEOC complaint filed by Dahlquist, it began with a false report.
On Sept. 11, 2016, “an individual filed a false police report claiming that Ms. Dahlquist made contact with her car while they were both driving, and failed to stop,” the complaint said.
The Eagle is not identifying the driver of the other car because she was a minor.
Her father gave this statement in response to claims that his daughter made a false report: “I would like to say that my daughter was the victim of a hit and run accident on September 11, 2016. She called 911 immediately after and gave a description of the vehicle that made contact with her vehicle, the license tag number, and a description of the driver. She was then instructed by the 911 operator to stop following, pull over and wait for the police to arrive.”
The father said the damage to the family’s car was minor. “The passenger mirror trim was unsnapped and the mirror was folded in,” the statement said. “I folded it back out, snapped the trim together and there was no noticeable damage.”
Dahlquist’s complaint alleges that the department violated its own policy by conducting “concurrent criminal and internal investigations into the matter.”
The complaint also raises a question of gender fairness: “All of the law enforcement officers involved in the investigation were male,” but none were investigated or disciplined for failing to follow department policy.
There was an issue over the amount of Dahlquist’s alcohol consumption on her day off.
A police sergeant compiled a report – with unrecorded statements – paraphrasing Dahlquist as indicating that she had one drink.
In the internal investigation – using a recorded interview done four days after the alleged accident – “she stated she had three (3) drinks and two (2) shots.”
The department “determined that she failed to be truthful, and fired her,” the complaint says.
Drink or drinks?
The seven-page, single-spaced complaint details how the police criminal and internal investigations unfolded:
The teen reported a hit-and-run at 5:56 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2016. Two officers went to Dahlquist’s home but didn’t contact her, records say.
At 8 p.m. that evening, “Sgt. Cooper, one of Ms. Dahlquist’s supervisors, called her to tell her that someone reported her as a suspect in a hit-and-run.” He asked her to immediately come to the Patrol West station. She complied, and “because she had been enjoying … evening drinks with friends, she had a sober friend drive her to the station.”
Paul Zamorano, a police union representative, called her before she went to the station and “advised that he knew what was going on and instructed her to fill out a Motor Vehicle Accident Report … . This did not make sense to Officer Dahlquist because she had not been involved in an accident,” her complaint says.
When she got to the station, she was a civilian – but Cooper didn’t read the Miranda warning, it says.
Cooper started the interview by telling her to fill out the accident report.
“She refused because she was not involved in an accident,” her complaint says.
When Cooper asked what she had done that day, it says, “She told him that she went to On the Border, consumed a Coronarita” and went to Colwich with friends. A friend drove her to the police station.
As Cooper interviewed her, an officer took photos of her car.
The next day, according to the complaint narrative, Dahlquist contacted Zamorano, the Fraternal Order of Police representative. He told her that at Patrol West, Capt. Givens would hand her the accident report to fill out.
“Again she was instructed to indicate that there was no damage to her car and she did not hit anyone. He said that she needed to do that within 24 hours of the accident. ... Again, Officer Dahlquist protested that she shouldn’t have to file a (accident report) because there was not (an) accident.”
Eventually, she “ended up giving in.” She filled out the report, saying, “I was informed I hit a vehicle. No damage to my vehicle,” the complaint says.
Dahlquist told her direct supervisor, Sgt. Paul Kimble, about the allegations Cooper made against her. He said he would “look into it” but could not give her any more information.
On Sept. 13, two days after the reported accident, Dahlquist learned from Kimble that the department had started investigations. One investigation was to determine whether she committed a crime. The other investigation would determine if she violated policy or standards.
Dahlquist then contacted a criminal defense attorney.
After she came to work, Capt. Clay Germany told her that photos the officer took of her car the night of the incident “were of too poor quality,” so a detective would retake the images. She agreed.
The detective, identified in the complaint as “Detective Amy,” “not only took pictures of … Dahlquist’s car, but he proceeded to manipulate her side mirrors, and rub on the exterior,” her complaint says.
Germany, the captain, told Dahlquist that the crime lab was being requested to take photos for “better documentation.”
“She protested, but was told the inspection would be limited to the exterior of her vehicle,” the complaint said.
A crime lab investigator took photos “with Detective Amy continuing to hold measuring tape against the car. Officer Dahlquist was then told she could begin her shift.”
On Sept. 15, Detective Lance Oldridge gave her notice of an internal investigation.
The notice told her that “the accused criminal conduct was … ‘Members of the Department shall not commit acts that constitute a misdemeanor crime or be convicted of a misdemeanor crime’.”
Sgt. Bart Brunscheen, the union representative, “noted that it was highly unusual for an internal investigation to commence prior to completion of the criminal investigation into the same matter,” the complaint said.
During the Sept. 15, 2016, interview, Dahlquist said that while at On the Border “she ate, had three drinks, ordered a fourth but couldn’t finish it, and that she bought shots for everyone. She states that of those that she ordered, she had two,” the complaint said.
A footnote says that she was “never investigated for driving under the influence at any time on September 11, 2016, nor were there any allegations of that sort. The allegation was that she hit a car and didn’t stop, and ultimately there was insufficient evidence.”
‘He seemed surprised’
On Sept. 28, the narrative says, Deputy Chief Troy Livingston called Dahlquist and told her that the case had been presented to the District Attorney’s Office, which found a lack of evidence for a charge. Prosecutors were considering the question of whether there was criminal damage to property in the accident, meaning whether it was intentional.
Livingston also told her that she could contact the union for representation in the internal investigation that “would begin,” the complaint says. When she told him the internal investigation had already started, “he seemed surprised,” it says.
On Oct. 25, 2016, Oldridge – the detective doing the internal investigation – spoke to her in an “unprofessional tone,” and she told a supervisor he acted unprofessionally.
A little over a week later, Lt. Moore and Sgt. Nicholson interviewed Dahlquist for “an investigation into Detective Oldridge.”
“Sgt. Nicholson told Officer Dahlquist that the Chief of Police had concerns about why such a minor accusation was investigated so aggressively, and outside of well-established Department protocols. He asked Officer Dahlquist if she had any idea why Detective Oldridge would go on such an offensive against her, but she had no idea,” the complaint says.
Oldridge’s attorney said Friday that his client conducted investigations following all laws and regulations.
The attorney, Daniel Giroux, said in a written statement that Oldridge filed a written complaint with the city about “improper behavior by multiple departmental members.” City Manager Robert Layton hired an “outside investigator” to look into Oldridge’s complaint.
This past May, Oldridge testified – in an unrelated lawsuit against the city over a police shooting – about a hit-and-run incident involving an off-duty officer. According to a transcript of his testimony, Oldridge said that his supervisors covered up misconduct by the off-duty officer. He said she was suspected of driving drunk in a hit-and-run accident. His testimony didn’t identify Dahlquist by name. But circumstances described by Oldridge match the incident for which Dahlquist was investigated.
On Jan. 3 at the station, Dahlquist got a letter telling her that the internal investigation allegation was sustained – “that you departed from the truth when you described how many alcoholic drinks you drank.”
Another letter told her that she faced major discipline such as leave without pay or termination and that she was entitled to a due-process hearing.
She was told that she would continue to patrol her beat.
A week later, Jan. 10, Dahlquist met with union representatives to review information gathered in the internal investigation, and she saw “errors in the report Sgt. Cooper made” after meeting with her on Sept. 11, her complaint says.
One error, it says, was Cooper saying that she had one drink, a Lime-a-Rita. She “doesn’t remember if she said ‘one drink’ or ‘drinks’ but she does know she reported she drank a Coronarita.”
Union: Firing not justified
On Jan. 11, her due-process hearing was held in the police chief’s office. Because of the dispute over what Dahlquist said to Cooper, a decision was postponed.
“Officer Dahlquist was told to keep doing good work and that she would continue working her beat,” the complaint says.
On Feb. 8, a union representative told her that the human resources office was looking into her situation.
The next day, the representative told her that she would be fired on Feb. 13.
On Feb. 13, she drove to Patrol North, turned in her gun, ammunition, city identification card, police badge and firearm tactical light. A letter told her she was being terminated as of 5 p.m.
The letter added: “On September 11, 2016, you were reported to be involved in a hit and run accident. During the subsequent investigation it was determined that you departed from the truth.”
On Feb. 16, three days after her termination, Dalhlquist met with human resources and police officials and union officials.
Livingston, the deputy chief, said that the city fired her “because she made a statement to Sgt. Cooper that she had a drink, but in the Professional Standards Board interview, she said she had three (3) drinks and two (2) shots,” her complaint says.
Union reps contended that her firing wasn’t justified.
The next day, Feb. 17, a union representative called Dahlquist and said that human resources “had overturned the termination and that Ms. Dahlquist would be reinstated immediately.”
Contributing: Amy Renee Leiker of The Eagle