Council terminates Chief Campbell

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Following an internal investigation spanning roughly two weeks, the Liberty Hill City Council voted unanimously Monday to terminate Police Chief Maverick Campbell.

“I’d like to make the motion to terminate Maverick Campbell for cause pursuant to Section 13 of his contract,” said Council member Kathy Canady in her motion, which was seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Liz Rundzieher.

There was no discussion in open session and no other specific reasons given Monday for the termination.

The only comment following the vote was from Rundzieher, clarifying who was making the decision to terminate Campbell.

“This is a decision made by the Council and has nothing at all to do with the Mayor,” she said.

The Council did not identify specifically which portion of Section 13 in the contract was violated.

Section 13 of Campbell’s contract spells out the causes for termination, including “willful misconduct, gross negligence, dishonest or fraudulent conduct, or such other acts in bad faith which result in injury to employer.”

The other four causes included in the contract include theft or embezzlement, conviction of a felony, refusal to obey lawful direction by the City Council, and failure to abide by the rules and policies issued by the Council.

Not only did the Council not elaborate on the incident at the meeting for the public, but Campbell’s attorney, Tiger Hanner, told The Independent he and Campbell were never told the reason either.

“They never expressly said what the cause for termination was,” Hanner said. “The investigation focused on the matter in Atlantic City. As for anything else, we were never given any information there was some other reason.”

Since the March 1 meeting where the Council spent more than three hours discussing the issue in closed session, Hanner said no other information has been shared about the investigation or questions asked of Campbell as part of the investigation.

During the Monday executive session, City Attorney Tad Cleaves came out to talk to Hanner, Campbell and his wife in what Hanner said was “some brief discussion about whether we’d like to resolve the matter informally”, but he said there were no real negotiations.

But even after the back and forth, Hanner was not surprised by the Council’s decision.

“Based upon the behavior of the Mayor and several other people with the City, I wasn’t surprised,” Hanner said. “Obviously this was a breach of his contract. He has a contract that requires specific legal standards to terminate it and this does not qualify. We will look at and pursue all legal options regarding not only the breach of his contract but also the libel, slander that has been committed by various individuals with the City.”

While Hanner said all legal options are on the table, Campbell still wanted to send a message to residents in Liberty Hill.

“I want to say to the citizens that I appreciate all the support, I appreciate all the memories and allowing me to serve the community for almost four years,” he said. “It’s very heart-wrenching for me because I consider Liberty Hill my family. I treated Liberty Hill residents like my family and I was a very accessible chief. I made myself accessible rather than hiding in my office. I was always out and about.”

The incident
An investigative report by the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) dated March 2 was provided by the City of Liberty Hill on March 11 to The Independent in response to an Open Records Request. The report, with names redacted, details the specifics of an incident between Campbell and his wife, which city officials said was at the center of their investigation.

The report states that on the night of Feb. 23 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, two officers from the New Jersey State Police noticed a group of people at the casino’s security podium and offered their assistance.

That’s when they first interviewed Campbell’s wife about an argument that occurred between the two in the casino. She said her husband left the casino floor angry and that he had a firearm. Officers viewed the casino security video and observed the conversation between Campbell and his wife, and at the end of the conversation Campbell threw a chair and knocked over a trash can.

“He then departed, it should be noted that at no time did Maverick become physical with (Mrs. Campbell),” the report states.

Later, officers made contact with Campbell in his hotel room, asking him where his firearm was located and asked him to come to their office to “clear up some matters.” Campbell indicated his firearm was in the room safe and he went with the officers.

The report said Campbell was cooperative and provided the room safe combination to officers who then secured the firearm, telling Campbell it would be retained until the matter was resolved.

Campbell told officers his wife threw a drink in his face earlier in the evening and struck him.

Campbell’s wife indicated she did not want to press charges over the incident on the casino floor.

Campbell told officers he would sleep in a friend’s hotel room that evening. The next day, Campbell’s firearm was released to him and “due to the fact the victim did not wish to pursue the matter any further, this case can be considered closed.”

The reporting officer made no mention of alcohol use or alleged violence. However, a Supplementary Domestic Violence Office Report indicates alcohol was involved, and described the offense between the two as “harassment”.

Campbell was never placed under arrest or charged.

“I had a disagreement with my wife,” Campbell told The Independent. “It was a simple disagreement that got blown out of proportion. A lot of rumors started spreading and people reacted based on those rumors being factual. There was no violence, there were no charges.”

The City investigation
Mayor Rick Hall said in a March 2 interview the City was made aware of the Atlantic City incident by a call from the NJSP, a claim Campbell and his lawyer dispute.

Hanner said he confirmed with the NJSP that no call was made to the City, and a follow up confirmation by The Independent resulted in the same response from NJSP officials.

“Our information shows that the contact came from the police detective with the City, not from the New Jersey State Police,” Hanner said.

The Liberty Hill Police detective at the LEAD conference with Campbell was David Bonessi.

One of three statements made by department staff, however, indicates a call did come from the NJSP to the department.

Campbell and his attorney argue the incident was used as an excuse to seek his termination.

Hanner confirmed that in the course of the investigation, but prior to the Council taking up the issue at the March 1 meeting, efforts had been made to push Campbell out prior to the meeting being posted.

“The Mayor, at least four times, asked Maverick to resign his employment with the City,” he said. “Before there was any investigation conducted, before anything, he was advising Maverick to resign his job.”

Because he is a contract employee, Campbell can’t be terminated without a Council vote.

Rather than vote to terminate Campbell March 1, the Council voted 3-0-1 — with Gram Lankford abstaining and Steve McIntosh absent — to have Human Resources and Finance Director Becky Wilkins continue the investigation into Campbell.

As part of that investigation, Nick DeMauro, the Executive Director and CEO of LEAD was contacted by Hall. DeMauro sent a follow up e-mail to Hall at the conclusion of their telephone discussion.

“In follow-up to our brief conversation yesterday which you ended abruptly, I would like to reiterate that Chief Maverick Campbell is an active member of our Law Enforcement Advisory Board and presented at our Board of Director’s meeting which was held in conjunction with the 5th Annual 21st Century Drug & Violence Prevention Training Conference and Summit.

“We have no information of any conduct on Chief Campbell’s part that would interfere with his participation with our organization. If you become aware of any information to the contrary, please feel free to call me at any time. We are proud of our relationship with not only Chief Maverick Campbell but also with the Liberty Hill Police Department and we look forward to a long relationship with your community. On behalf of the Board of Directors I want to thank you for all you have done in support L.E.A.D.”

The City investigation included a written statement from Campbell to Hall on Feb. 27 where he verified – though in less detail – the circumstances of the incident in the casino between him and his wife.

The City requested the report from the NJSP on March 3.

Three interviews with Liberty Hill Police Department employees – with names redacted – were included in the investigative documents provided by the City to The Independent. Present for those interviews were Wilkins, Hall and the individual being interviewed, and the documentation provided to the newspaper consists of handwritten notes by Wilkins.

Wilkins would not confirm how many total interviews were conducted, and the City redacted names from all materials provided to The Independent.

One of the three reports provided details of the incident while at the LEAD Conference. Campbell said only he and Officer Bonessi attended the conference from Liberty Hill PD.

The statement begins with praise for Campbell, then says, “Per your request, this Internal Memorandum outlines recent events pertaining to Chief Campbell and the Law Enforcement Against Drugs Conference.”

The statement goes on to provide a timeline of interaction between the individual and Campbell Feb. 23 and 24, then referenced a text message sent to someone in Liberty Hill to “check in”. The individual claims to have been informed at that time of the incident between Campbell and his spouse the night before. The individual was then directed by someone with the City to leave the conference early and flew home Tuesday morning.

The other statements – taken on Feb. 28 – make a variety of claims regarding Campbell’s behavior as Chief while in Liberty Hill in response to 14 questions asked as part of the City’s investigation. Only the first question pertained to the incident in Atlantic City.

Other comments included claims about Campbell not being at work, being intoxicated while off duty, and heavy handedness with jobs being threatened and employees being told not to confer with other City staff. The statements cited “embarrassment” due to Campbell’s actions and “constant and ongoing fear” among employees. They also allege constant calls and text messages from Campbell at all hours of the night.

Past discipline
For his part, Campbell disputes the claims made in the statements regarding his absence from the office, consumption of alcohol and actions that created an uncomfortable work environment.

He said he has never been counseled or disciplined for any issues related to any of the claims made in the statements included in the investigation.

“I haven’t had any disciplinary action,” Campbell said. “All my evaluations are above board.”

His last evaluation was in April 2019 and his contract was renewed in May 2019. That contract, which went into effect June 1, 2019, included a $14,000 salary increase for Campbell to $125,384.26 annually.

“I haven’t been counseled or written up for anything,” Campbell said. “I’ve never been told any of my employees had an issue with me or anything like that. This sounds like to me they thought they had something and couldn’t get anything, and they trumped up other stuff. They were hoping there was an arrest.”

Power struggle?
Campbell said he “owns the mistake” he made in Atlantic City, but he contends the investigation has been an excuse to find a reason to terminate him for other reasons. He and his attorney point to what he calls increased involvement in the operations of the department by Hall and McIntosh.

“This has been a personal agenda of the Mayor and Mr. McIntosh from the beginning,” Hanner said. “The action was not based on the facts or whether it met the legal standard to terminate the contract. This was a personal matter for those two gentlemen and it’s been that way from the beginning.”

Campbell said the interest in the department dated back to Hall’s election in May 2018.

“Even before the election there was an expressed interest in the police department (by Hall),” Campbell said. “I didn’t think anything of it and even four to five months into him being elected there was an expressed interest I wrote off as being supportive of the department and wanting to get us the resources and personnel and staffing and equipment we needed.”

At the end of summer 2018 is when Campbell says the interest turned more toward increased input and control.

“Probably around August or September there was a little more showing up at the police department and more involvement,” Campbell said. “From then up until now it’s just gotten progressively worse and it intensified once he and (Steve) McIntosh started appearing and it came to a point where they were interfering with the overall day-to-day operations of the police department.”

He said the two elected officials were heavily involved in the budget and hiring process and other department operations from standard operations to investigations.

McIntosh retired from a sheriff’s department in Colorado.

“In the last six months it got progressively worse,” Campbell said. “It was as if there was some sort of very strange odd obsession with being involved with the police department and being involved in controlling what my decisions were even though that authority is given to me by the Council.”

Quick disclosure
The Council made its decision to terminate Campbell Monday and the City was willing to make available to the newspaper by Tuesday a redacted version of 14 documents related to the internal investigation in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Hall said the quick availability was due to anticipated questions.

“We’re making the assumption people will be asking questions, which they already have been,” Hall said. “We’re trying to get our packet put together with everything redacted from it today so we can have it in the next day or so for someone who wants to have information on this. What’s best for our community is to let the community know what’s happened so we don’t have the black eye anymore, that it’s a power play or whatever.”

The Independent has made 13 unrelated requests for information since Jan. 1 and to date, most of them have only been partially responded to or the City has sought to withhold the information.

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