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Acting Henderson police chief’s mission: Stability and calm

Thedrick Andres is preaching a culture of collaboration and inclusion after stepping in as Henderson’s acting police chief in March.

He takes the helm during a turbulent time for the Henderson Police Department, rising to become the city’s top cop as former chief LaTesha Watson was placed on paid leave.

City officials fired Watson about a month later, forcing Andres to stabilize a police department that, for the second time in less than two years, lost a chief amid controversy.

After Andres took office, Deputy City Manager Bristol Ellington tasked him with repairing relationships with the police unions, firming up department policies, collaborating with other city departments and regional law enforcement agencies, and bringing calmness and civility to the Police Department.

“We just want to focus on healing that department and working with the men and women of that great department to move it forward,” Ellington said.

And so far, Andres has delivered, he said. Ellington also said there are no immediate plans to recruit a permanent chief.

“From the moment that I was a street cop to working through investigation, I’ve always as a police officer understood the value of working very closely with our officers,” Andres said on Monday during his first sit-down interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“What I bring to move our organization forward is just that. I bring my commitment, my energy every day to the workforce to continue to ensure that we have a premier police department for a premier community.”

Healing old wounds

Watson’s departure came after a rocky relationship with the unions and several internal investigations into her conduct. Just before she was placed on leave, investigations found she violated policy by failing to comply with Ellington’s orders and by telling union leadership that conversations at executive board meetings would be reported to her.

Since she left, Andres said he has reached out to the unions to find common ground and ask for monthly meetings. He said he will always have a “lean-in posture” with the labor groups.

“I am a very pragmatic man,” Andres said. “I understand that when you work together, it takes time. And time and all relationships are done through good faith.”

Rick McCann of the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers said his members are willing to work with Andres moving forward.

But McCann also expressed concerns about the acting chief, citing unclear department policies, a sluggish disciplinary process and a lack of meaningful collaboration.

Ellington said finalizing policies is a high priority for the department, and that the policies are still being revised to address union concerns.

Andres’ relationship with the labor groups has been contentious at times. In November, two police unions jointly filed a complaint against Watson and Andres, alleging union busting.

The acting chief would not discuss the complaint, which is pending with the Local Government Employee-Management Relations Board. Watson was dropped from the complaint this week.

“I believe in my track record at the organization,” Andres said. “I believe in what I’ve done at the organization and that process will have to take care of itself.”

History in law enforcement

Watson recruited Andres to serve as deputy chief in Henderson starting early last year. He previously served at the Arlington Police Department, where Watson also served before joining Henderson.

Those close ties make McCann wary of how much Andres can do to move the department forward, but Ellington said he asked the acting chief to meet with employees in the department.

“He has baggage because he was hand-picked by the last chief, but I think he’s doing a great job,” Ellington said.

Andres came to Southern Nevada with a controversial past.

Last year, the Review-Journal cited a lawsuit’s claim that in 2014, Andres, while off-duty, fatally shot a man in Texas after a fight that began on a party bus moved outside and escalated.

Andres said on Wednesday that the allegation is inaccurate. He said someone yelled an insult at him on the bus but he did not respond. “When I exited the bus, I was brutally beaten,” he said.

Andres said he was knocked out, but ran for his life to his car when he regained consciousness. He was attacked again, he said, and a man tried to take his gun. Talking about the shooting feels like being revictimized, he said.

Andres also said an independent law enforcement agency conducted an investigation into the shooting and cleared him. He was investigated but not charged by a grand jury in 2015. The lawsuit filed against Andres in 2016 was dismissed in March.

In a statement, Javier Trujillo, the city’s director of government and public affairs, said that during Andres’ hiring, officials were fully aware of the shooting and that Andres acted in self-defense and was cleared of wrongdoing.

“City leadership considers this matter a non-issue,” he said.

Andres said the event gave him important perspective.

“There’s not many law enforcement officers that become a victim,” he said. “And I got to look through the eyes of a victim.”

Andres began his law enforcement career in the early 1990s at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, he said. Before joining the Arlington Police Department, he served on the New Orleans Police Department, where he helped respond to Hurricane Katrina.

The response to that devastating event taught him the importance of building relationships and being a leader who cares, he said. It’s a lesson he said he brings to his leadership approach today.

“I think that is the most important thing,” he said.

Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.

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