When fellow police officers heard Assistant Chief Scott Stephens say he wanted to “go home and get a rifle” after hearing of his impending demotion last December, they feared it might be more than an idle threat.
After all, they knew Stephens had recently purchased a used submachine gun from the department’s armory and that he felt embarrassed, betrayed and cast aside by a City Hall administration that once praised his leadership abilities. Within hours, new Chief Frank Straub discussed the possibility of sending officers to Stephens’ home to confiscate his firearms collection, but decided against it in part because of concern it could trigger a violent backlash.
New documents released this week to The Spokesman-Review provide the most detailed glimpse yet of the tense days leading up to the decision to place the former interim chief on paid leave after his reported threat to go “postal.” Stephens, whose name is redacted from the documents, drew more than $50,000 in pay while on leave during the four-month investigation and settled out of court for $190,000, agreeing to leave the department and drop his legal claims against the city. He continues to deny any wrongdoing.
Of particular concern to the department in the immediate hours after the reported threats was the submachine gun, the documents show.
The MP-5, part of the department’s SWAT team arsenal, is used by law enforcement agencies around the country, as well as by military, security and intelligence forces. The report states that Stephens “owns several guns.”
“Chief Straub and I discussed whether we should send officers to (Stephens’) residence to retrieve his weapons,” wrote Assistant Chief Craig Meidl in his report on Stephens’ behavior following his troubling comments. The two men decided against it because of “the possible violence that may occur if confronted with officers trying to take his weapons.”
Still, they “spent several minutes discussing a strategy for getting (Stephens’) firearm from him in a manner that was safe for us.”
Monique Cotton, a police department spokeswoman, would not respond to questions about the investigation but did say the department “allows officers to purchase used firearms from the department and retain their firearms upon retirement.”
Used firearms are not sold to the public.
Words such as “devastated,” “prideful,” “bitter,” “disgruntled,” “forlorn” and “mortified” fill the investigatory documents, telling of an ambitious 27-year career at the department that came to an end when Straub took over as police chief and Stephens lost the position he had temporarily held but long coveted.
The report describes the new chief’s holiday party – three days before the reported “postal” remark – when Stephens approached Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, who is described as a “confidante and friend” to Stephens. DeRuwe said Stephens was “very upset … and felt there were ‘claw marks’ on his back from Craig Meidl, (Cmdr.) Brad Arleth and (Business Services Director) Carly Cotright in their climb to the ‘top.’ ”
At an “Admin potluck” a couple of days later, DeRuwe and other officers saw Stephens become “very distraught after watching Craig Meidl and Chief Straub interact during lunch.”
The following day, the new chief informed Stephens that he would be demoted to the rank of captain.
“He approached me in my office, nearly in tears,” DeRuwe wrote of the events on Dec. 19. “He commented that he was going to go home and get a rifle. He paused and said he didn’t think anyone would blame him for going ‘postal.’ … He caught my look of surprise and responded ‘It’s not like I’m going to kill any children.’ ”
A few hours later, DeRuwe told Meidl of Stephens’ behavior, and he convinced her to tell Straub.
About 7 p.m., Capt. David Richards called Stephens after Meidl asked the longtime friend of Stephens to gauge his emotional state.
“I could tell by his voice that he was ‘down,’ ” Richards wrote in a report. “I said something to the affect that it didn’t sound like he was going to pull a ‘Columbine or anything like that.’ ”
After the nearly 12-minute conversation, Richards reported to Meidl that he believed Stephens was not violent. “I didn’t believe there was a cause for concern.”
The next day Straub confronted Stephens. Stephens denied he’d threatened anyone.
“I would never say anything like that,” Stephens said, pounding his fist on the table at each word. Straub placed Stephens on administrative leave, seizing his holster and firearm, ID cards and badge.
Bob Dunn, Stephens’ attorney, said Stephens “unequivocally” denies the allegations. He contends that the release of the investigatory file opens up the city to new legal claims.
“Our understanding of the agreement is that they couldn’t release any of the personnel file because it was so one-sided,” Dunn said.
Stephens never got a chance to “rebut” the allegations in the file, Dunn argued. Stephens wants to be done with the issue, but Dunn said he’d gladly pursue a new claim.
“I relish the opportunity to put them on the stand. I get up every morning hoping for the opportunity to question mayors and police chiefs,” he said. “But I’ve never heard anybody from the city say they want me to start cross-examining them and pistol-whipping them with questions.”