Henderson police leaders accused of trying to bust labor groups

Updated November 21, 2018 - 7:44 pm

Two Henderson police unions have accused department leaders of trying to bust the labor groups by threatening and discriminating against the organizations’ members.

The Henderson Police Officers Association and Henderson Police Supervisors Association filed the complaint with the state-run Local Government Employee-Management Relations Board on Nov. 16. Chief LaTesha Watson, Deputy Chief Thedrick Andres, the Henderson Police Department and the city of Henderson are named in the filing.

“What (Watson) is doing is trampling on these people’s rights and trying to break unions in the process,“ said Richard McCann, executive director of the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers, who is representing both unions.

The detailed complaint maps out accusations of leadership intimidating and retaliating against officers for being involved in union activities.

Attempts to reach Watson and Andres were unsuccessful Wednesday. The city said many of the claims in the filing are in dispute, without specifying.

“The City of Henderson values its employees and is committed to ensuring a safe and fair work place for all. The City maintains a strong relationship with its labor groups and works proactively to find pragmatic solutions to any concerns and issues that may be identified,” City Manager Richard Derrick said in a statement.

“The City is aware of the concerns outlined in the (Employee Management-Relations Board) complaint and is taking appropriate action to address these issues, but we will also not hesitate to defend the City and its employees against the allegations that have been made, many of which are in dispute.”

According to the complaint, in a June meeting, Andres told Sgt. Kevin Abernathy, president of the Henderson Police Supervisors Association, to separate work from union matters. Watson reportedly told Abernathy that she has a “mole” in the union and was being leaked information.

The next month, Abernathy received a notice that his conduct as union president was “blatantly disrespectful and unprofessional.”

Watson told Abernathy that his union-related activity “diminishes the very nature of what a law enforcement organization should stand for and set the example for society to follow,” according to the document.

“We set the standard. I will not tolerate this type of behavior and it should not occur again,” Watson is accused of saying.

Abernathy filed a written response to the notice last month, claiming the conduct that prompted admonishment was related to his work with the union, not his job in the department. He claimed that part of the admonishment was a threat toward his position as sergeant due to his role with the union.

Andres also had numerous conversations with Lt. Hollie Chadwick, secretary of the supervisors union, alerting her that her friendship with Abernathy “could be seen as detrimental to her career track,” according to the complaint. In June and July, Chadwick was denied assignments that the complaint says were part of an effort to prevent her from climbing the ranks. She was passed up to serve as an acting captain despite her “advanced qualifications,” according to the document.

In a meeting on June 19, Watson allegedly told Abernathy and Chadwick that they could not trust anyone in the department and should speak only to loved ones at home.

In September, then-Acting Capt. Edward Tyndall told Chadwick she needed to “start handling Abernathy or he was going to ruin her career,” the document reads. About the time of this meeting, Tyndall was promoted to captain.

In another instance, an officer claims she was denied a job with an investigative unit because of her position with the police officers union. The complaint also alleges that decision was made, in part, because the officer is a transgender woman “representing distinctly contrary social values and a lifestyle that conflicts with the religious values being touted by WATSON throughout the DEPARTMENT.”

The complaint also alleges Watson is violating state law by changing disciplinary procedures without engaging in bargaining.

Watson joined the department last November as an outsider and reformer from Arlington, Texas, where she worked as a deputy chief. Her arrival came months after former Chief Patrick Moers left the department amid controversy.

She has shrugged off complaints about her as being the result of employees unhappy with her aggressive pursuit of change. But McCann said resistance by department employees is not what the complaint is about.

“Change is fine, but there’s rules,” he said.

Neither the city nor the Police Department had been served with the complaint this week.

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

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