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Henderson police covered up colleague’s DUI, internal probe claims

Updated February 15, 2024 - 7:15 pm

Henderson police officers conspired to cover up a car wreck involving an off-duty co-worker, but police Chief Hollie Chadwick ignored recommendations to fire them and reinstated them after a long, expensive leave, findings in city records claim.

The previous police administration, under Chief Thedrick Andres, recommended that Sgt. John Bellow, officer Marissa Myers and officer Katherine Cochran, who was suspected of driving intoxicated, be fired for lying and falsifying a police report, records in the monthslong internal investigation showed.

Instead, Chadwick, who previously served as Cochran’s captain in the problem-solving unit, reversed the termination recommendations, internal affairs records obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal show. She issued minor discipline in the case.

The revelation of reduced discipline in the DUI cover-up comes after a Review-Journal investigation exposed that Chadwick cleared another officer, Kevin LaPeer, who was accused of racism and untruthfulness.

Chadwick, who fled from a reporter who wanted to ask her about LaPeer, and other city officials declined to be interviewed about the DUI cover-up investigation.

Instead, Chadwick provided a statement that said she was addressing incomplete cases from the prior administration. She said several internal investigations at the department contained “multiple discrepancies that deviated from best practices” but did not provide specifics.

Michael Hemperly, a witness at the scene of the April 18, 2021, crash in the Inspirada neighborhood, said the incident was especially dangerous because many children play and walk in that area.

“We need our police officers,” he said. “But they should be disciplined just like anybody else in the private sector, especially when tax money is paying their salaries.”

The Henderson Police Department’s repeated problems raise concerns about its overall culture and discipline, according to one policing expert.

“It is abundantly clear to me that the honest officers of the Henderson Police Department are operating within a deeply entrenched culture of corruption,” said retired Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Stephen Downing, who reviewed the case at the Review-Journal’s request.

HENDERSON POLICE INVESTIGATION

Last year, the Las Vegas Review-Journal received a tip about a Henderson police investigation into an alleged DUI cover-up involving one of their colleagues. The newspaper requested 911 calls and other documents from the event in April. A reporter was told the 911 calls were not retained. The crash report was released later that month.

In July, the Review-Journal requested the internal affairs case after receiving a tip that officer Katherine Cochran wasn’t charged with DUI and that she and three other officers were back at work. It took the city six months to provide the records associated with the case.

Those records included 911 calls, which the department initially said were no longer available. The city also released body camera footage, which the department initially denied due to “employee and civil litigations.”

The alleged DUI cover-up is only the latest problem that the Review-Journal uncovered at the Henderson Police Department. The newspaper has also reported the following stories:

— Henderson residents paid nearly $5 million in overtime to run the city’s understaffed jail during the past three years. Officers have also eschewed mandatory rest periods and worked two weeks or longer without a day off on dozens of occasions. Surveillance footage and internal reports obtained by the Review-Journal show that officers sometimes failed to heed department policies while guarding inmates at the Henderson Detention Center. The police union and city sued the newspaper in an attempt to get it to take down or modify video from the jail, but the city dropped out of the case and paid a settlement to the newspaper. The union’s case is ongoing.

— Henderson Police Chief Hollie Chadwick cleared the disciplinary record of a police detective accused of hurling a racial slur and urging the killing of Mexicans and Black Lives Matter protesters.

— Henderson officers with years of sustained citizen complaints, allegations of sexual misconduct or criminal arrests were allowed to work for years after the incidents and some were promoted.

— A sexual harassment investigation forced out former police Chief Patrick Moers, but city leaders concealed the reason for his ouster and misrepresented the nature of his separation. The decision to classify Moers’ departure as voluntary was costly to city taxpayers — it allowed him to cash out more than $163,000 worth of unused paid time off. If Moers had been fired for cause, he would have collected nothing.

— In 2010, then-Sgt. Brett Seekatz kicked a motorist suspected of DUI five times in the head. The driver was disoriented and suffering a diabetic episode and later sued police, costing taxpayers almost $300,000 in settlements. Seekatz has faced about 50 misconduct allegations stemming from 20 different incidents in his career. Investigators found he violated policies during 11 of those events, including when he threatened to shoot a suspect through his apartment door during a gun charge arrest in 2019. Despite his troubles, Seekatz was promoted in 2016 and his most severe punishment was a written reprimand, records show.

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Bellow, Myers and Cochran were on administrative leave for about a year and a half, costing taxpayers about $385,000, records show. Bellow and Cochran did not return requests for comment. Myers hung up when the Review-Journal called her.

Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers Executive Director Andrew Regenbaum said there was no proof of a cover-up and called the investigation a “sham” orchestrated by the previous police administration. He provided no evidence to support his claim.

“It was not an easy scene to handle, but they did do their jobs,” he said. “Chadwick was only fixing what was done wrong. It’s not about someone who just doesn’t discipline people.”

The details of the crash and subsequent discipline are being reported in this story for the first time. The Review-Journal requested records about the incident after a tip, but it took the department six months to produce the internal affairs documents.

Crash at the park

Officers responded to the crash at Aventura Park around 8:30 p.m., less than 10 minutes after a white Audi A4 ran through a stop sign, drove onto the sidewalk and struck a street sign before stopping on a bed of rocks, records show.

Officers found Cochran standing alone next to her vehicle. Multiple witnesses told police she appeared to be drunk or intoxicated, and one 911 caller reported that she saw the Audi swerving. No one was injured in the crash.

But the police report documenting the crash doesn’t contain any of those details. The information was only revealed months later during the department’s internal investigation into the matter.

The initial report also doesn’t mention that Cochran called 911 just three minutes before her Audi crashed. In audio obtained by the Review-Journal, Cochran identifies herself as an officer and reports seeing a speeding black SUV. The internal affairs report states she was slurring her words while talking to the dispatcher.

Investigators also learned that Lt. Brett Seekatz and Lt. Christopher Aguiar, who was Cochran’s sergeant at the time, were notified of the crash but never reported it, records show. Both supervisors declined to comment for this story. Seekatz’s own career has been filled with misconduct allegations, including kicking a motorist having a diabetic incident and multiple internal affairs complaints, the Review-Journal previously found.

At the scene of the wreck, Cochran told officers her girlfriend had been behind the wheel, internal affairs records show. Then she called another friend, who came to the scene and claimed he was the one driving, the records state.

None of the witnesses saw who was driving the Audi. However, they told officers that Cochran was the only person they saw near the wrecked sedan, and none reported seeing anyone leave the scene.

“She’s standing outside of the car pretending she’s not the driver,” witness Adolfo Lopez said in his 911 call. He said Cochran appeared “very intoxicated.” Lopez did not return requests for comment.

‘Stab another officer in the back’

Officers should have focused on Cochran as a suspect in a DUI investigation, the internal affairs report states.

Instead, an officer who offered to conduct sobriety tests was told to leave the scene. Officer Patrick McCarrick later told internal affairs investigators that Sgt. Bellow berated him for trying to “stab another Officer in the back,” records show. McCarrick declined to comment.

Internal affairs investigators rebuked Bellow and the other officers for allowing Cochran to “meander” nearby as they interviewed witnesses and spoke among themselves, records show.

“This is not how Police Officers are trained; to allow potential suspects of a crime to stand close to witnesses of the crime,” Sgt. Jeffrey Bott wrote in the 118-page internal affairs report. Bott, now retired, declined to comment.

Cochran’s friendship with Myers also was scrutinized in the report.

The two went through the police academy together. At the scene, Cochran made a hand gesture that prompted Myers to mute her body camera, records show. Myers told Cochran that they “need to make it look less suspicious,” according to the report. She later drove her patrol car to Cochran’s house.

Myers admitted to creating a “false alibi” that Cochran was sleeping in the Audi’s backseat at the time of the crash while her friend Donovan Reyes was driving, the report states. Myers also muted her body camera while talking to Reyes at the scene, which raised suspicions among internal affairs that she was hiding something, records show.

Phone records show that Reyes called Cochran dozens of times that night – including at points when he was supposed to have been driving her home, investigators found. They also pointed to Cochran’s emergency call just minutes before the crash and her initial insistence that her girlfriend was driving as discrediting her alibi.

Reyes, who declined to comment, hired an attorney and also did not talk to internal affairs, records show.

Cochran denied driving or asking her friend and co-workers to cover for her. She told investigators that she had been drinking on Fremont Street that day and had no memory of what happened before the crash.

Because of Myers’ friendship with Cochran, officer Angelo Gomez served as the primary investigator. But Gomez, an inexperienced officer who had just finished field training, received no direction and was repeatedly left out of conversations with Myers and Bellow, records show.

Gomez, who declined to comment for this story, barely spoke to Reyes at the scene, the records state. He wanted to cite him for leaving the scene but told investigators that Bellow told him not to.

“That was what he felt raised the hairs on the back of his neck,” investigator Bott wrote after talking to Gomez.

Despite finding the situation “fishy,” Gomez still completed his report with information from Myers and Bellow, then-Deputy Chief Michael Blow wrote in October 2022.

In April, while serving as interim chief, Blow found that Gomez did not follow body camera policies and failed to thoroughly investigate. He received training and a written reprimand.

Blow, who originally recommended firing the officers, declined to comment. He left the city in June after receiving nearly $200,000 in severance pay.

Harassment claim starts probe

Internal affairs began investigating the case in December 2021, after a police officer filed a sexual harassment complaint against Bellow.

The officer alleged that while training her to be a sergeant, Bellow talked about “taking care of Officers.” He explained how he led Cochran to understand that she needed a driver to “appear back on scene,” according to her complaint.

She reported that Bellow also tried to urge her into helping a “buddy” of his who was involved in a road rage shooting, records show. Charges were never filed in the case. Chadwick later determined that Bellow did not follow body camera policies.

She also found that Bellow violated the city’s policies on sexual harassment and abuse of supervisor duties. The city paid the alleged target of his harassment a $7,500 settlement, records show.

After reviewing all three cases, Chadwick recommended that Bellow be demoted. Assistant City Manager Jim McIntosh upheld her decision. Bellow has denied all the allegations against him. He is challenging his demotion through an arbitration process set for the summer, according to Regenbaum, the NAPSO union director.

Chadwick found Cochran’s conduct unbecoming and put her on probation for a year. Myers received the same probation and was found to have violated policies regarding body camera footage and attention to duty. Her conduct also was found to be unbecoming, records show.

The chief’s decision in this case contrasts with her recommendation that former union president Gary Hargis be fired. Hargis left the scene of a crash in October 2022 and was suspected of DUI, records show.

When it comes to the public, Henderson police have called for more traffic enforcement.

Deputy Chief Jonathan Boucher sent department-wide emails in January after four serious crashes, including one in which a DUI suspect killed a mother and her two young sons. Boucher called the crashes a failure that is “unequivocally unacceptable.”

“Can we honestly look at ourselves in the mirror and say we are doing our very best concerning traffic enforcement?” he wrote.

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on X. Erickson is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing.

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