A former Wapato police chief was fired with cause in May after an internal investigation found evidence that he had attempted to intimidate witnesses into changing their statements, lied under oath and involved himself in an investigation where he had a clear conflict of interest.

But his personnel records will indicate that he resigned. He also will walk away with $125,000 to settle an employment claim he filed against the city through the police union.

As with many of the city’s dealings over the past few years, it’s complicated. It’s so complicated that an investigator with the state’s Labor and Industries Department, assigned to look into the case, added a separate “background” section to the standard form.

Michael Campos, a police officer whose career with the Wapato police department started in 2005, was appointed to serve as the city’s police chief by then-Mayor Dora Alvarez Roa in August 2018 during a controversial time.

Alvarez-Roa and then-City Administrator Juan Orozco made headlines when a state audit reported eight egregious findings of gross misappropriation of government resources and unlawful activity, including violations of nepotism and ethics policies and the state’s open public meetings act. The city also faced numerous lawsuits from former employees alleging retaliation and harassment, including several police officers who chose to resign.

Campos was named in several of the former officer filings, alleging in part that he had worked with Orozco to use the police department to harass citizens. The appointment also was controversial because Alvarez-Roa had terminated Police Chief Dominic Rizzi without cause and appointed Campos, whose civil service rank is that of a police officer, over the department’s only acting sergeant at the time.

Alvarez-Roa received less than 10% of the vote in the 2019 election, and Keith Workman was elected mayor. Shortly after taking his oath of office, Workman demoted Campos to his civil service rank. He placed Campos on paid administrative leave in December pending an investigation, the details of which were undisclosed at the time.

Documents recently obtained by the Yakima Herald-Republic through public records request revealed that Campos was terminated with cause May 29 by recently-installed Police Chief Nolan Wentz. The documents also show that Campos referred his situation to the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or DOSH, shortly after, alleging his termination was tied to concerns he had brought up about the police station during a public council meeting.

But that’s not what the investigation showed.

An investigation

In November 2019, as acting police chief, Campos approached the Wapato City Council with concerns about the police station, a more-than-100-year-old building that he said was infested with birds and rodents and was otherwise unsafe for officers working there.

In June 2020, he told DOSH in a standard “whistleblower complaint” form that he believed his termination was “politically motivated” and that he was demoted, placed on administrative leave, investigated, and ultimately fired in retaliation for raising those concerns, according to the document. The employment discrimination investigator closed the case after his investigation found “insufficient evidence” to support Campos’ discrimination complaint.

The investigation records, provided to the newspaper through a public records request, revealed previously undisclosed details about Campos’ employment and termination. The report states that the city’s current police chief, in an interview, said he fired Campos “for committing acts of serious misconduct unrelated to the report he made about the Wapato Police Department building.”

The inspection report notes that a former Wapato police officer approached Workman on Dec. 4 with allegations that Campos had lied during the officer’s unemployment hearing before the state Employment Security Department. The officer also alleged that Campos had intimidated witnesses during an investigation into former Mayor Tony Guzman and also was involved in drafting an incident report that led to Guzman’s arrest — at the request of Orozco — in violation of state law, department policy, and an existing conflict of interest.

Campos and the police union did not respond for this story. But in a four-page letter from Campos to the police chief, dated May 28, Campos denied the allegations brought against him. He said he was “appalled” by the city’s treatment of him, called the independent investigation “incomplete and quite frankly biased,” and contested claims that he had used his position for personal gain.

“I did not utilize my position to secure any special privileges, receive any gift or compensation, reward or gratuity,” Campos wrote. “I did not disclose confidential information for any personal gain or benefit.”

Details about Campos’ responses to the allegations also were included in the Labor inspection report.

The state investigator said in the report that Campos “denied that he is guilty of the acts he was accused of committing” during his Loudermill hearing — part of the due process requirement when employees are facing discipline. The investigator also noted that Campos said he had “made every effort to remove himself or minimize his involvement” with the Guzman situations but was “acting under the directives of Orozco,” who had “directed him to oversee, monitor, and supervise the investigation” despite being informed by the city attorney that doing so created a conflict of interest, according to the documents.

Regarding attempts to intimidate witnesses, the investigator noted: “Campos said that he did not intentionally lie in his testimony … he simply did not remember his involvement.” The investigator also wrote that Campos had tried to downplay the allegations by challenging the “character” of Workman and the reporting officer “and placed the blame for the situation on Juan Orozco.”

The officer resigned in 2018 and has an active lawsuit against the city, alleging Campos and Orozco retaliated against him when he refused to comply with directives he believed were unethical. The case is waiting to be scheduled for a jury trial.

The city hired the Menke Jackson Beyer law firm to conduct an internal review, which found that Campos had involved himself in the Guzman investigation although he knew there was a conflict of interest, had attempted to intimidate witnesses into changing their statements, and had lied under oath in the administrative hearing, according to the investigator’s report.

“Campos claims there are political motives for some of the actions taken … however, he ignores the overwhelming evidence that he is in fact guilty of the offenses alleged by the city,” the investigator wrote. “Campos’ misconduct consists of criminal violations, regardless of whether he is referred for prosecution.”

Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic said his office has received information from the Wapato Police Department relating to the county’s Brady list — a list typically compiled by a prosecutor’s office or a police department with the names and details of law enforcement officers who have had sustained incidents of untruthfulness, criminal convictions, candor issues, or some other type of issue placing their credibility into question.

Brusic said his staff is reviewing Campos’ situation and the findings from the law firm’s investigation. Campos will “most likely” be added to the Brady list, Brusic said.

He added that only his office and the state Attorney General’s office have the authority to find someone “guilty” of criminal convictions. For that to happen, Wentz would have to refer charges to Brusic or the attorney general for review, and those agencies would have to independently verify criminal acts had been committed, Brusic said.

Wentz said the city does not plan to refer charges, citing a settlement agreement the city has reached with Campos and the police union that also limited what he was able to say.

A settlement

The investigator’s report noted that Wapato had sent information to the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission indicating Campos may have committed “disqualifying misconduct” that could result in the termination of his peace officer certification.

The commission informed the newspaper that Campos’s certification, as of Dec. 21, 2020, was “under review.”

The union for Wapato police officers, Teamsters Local 760, filed a grievance on Campos’ behalf that challenged his termination. In written correspondence to Wapato’s police chief that the newspaper received via public records requests, the union raised issues about Campos’ pay and also cited that the city’s internal investigation exceeded the 120-day period allowed by the collective bargaining agreement. The city, in response, noted that the pandemic and initial difficulty finding an investigator had stalled the investigation’s start by more than a month.

Campos also filed a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The union, and Campos, agreed to drop those claims when the city of Wapato signed off on a $125,000 settlement during a December council meeting.

Teamsters and the employment commission did not respond to requests for a copy of the employment complaint, so the details remain unknown. The settlement document mentions the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. But a Nov. 12 document from the EEOC, also disclosed via public records request, said that the agency was “unable to conclude that the information obtained established violation of the statutes.”

Under the settlement’s provisions, city personnel records will indicate that Campos voluntarily resigned from his position. The city’s mayor will respond to employment verification requests by stating the dates Campos was employed, the positions he held, and the compensation he received. The city also won’t contest Campos’ claims for unemployment benefits.

Campos, in return, agreed to waive his claims against the city and to not sue Wapato in the future over his employment or termination.

The settlement notes that everyone involved, if asked about the settlement, can say only that “the grievance was settled on terms that both sides considered fair” and that neither party admitted to violating contracts, collective bargaining agreements, or existing laws.

A public records request to the city of Wapato turned up Campos’ resignation letter, dated Oct. 21.

“This letter will serve as a formal notice of resignation. I regret to inform you that I will be terminating my employment, as a police officer, with the Wapato Police Department. It has truly been an honor to work for the City of Wapato. I would like to thank the citizens of Wapato, for the great opportunity of allowing me to serve,” the letter reads in full.

Reach Lex Talamo at ltalamo@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @LexTalamo.