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String of complaints filed against Henderson police chief

Henderson police Chief LaTesha Watson was the subject of several city investigations last year, records obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal show.

Five internal complaints about Watson and the department include accusations of the chief making her employees read religious materials to prepare for a meeting and harming morale with her management style.

Some of the specific complaints were unfounded, but other findings show signs of turbulence in the department. Littler Mendelson P.C. was retained by the city in September to investigate all five complaints.

In one complaint, the investigating firm determined that it was “more probable than not that there is a serious morale issue amongst supervisory personnel at HPD.”

Investigators reached that conclusion after more than one person reported that Watson’s management style is unprofessional, harassing and demeaning, according to the report.

Watson could not be reached for comment, but has acknowledged that her decisions are not always popular. However, she has insisted her employees are seeing a level of fairness and consistency they have not seen before.

The chief’s supervisor, Bristol Ellington, who serves as Henderson’s chief operating officer and deputy city manager, declined to discuss personnel matters in depth, but said that the string of complaints do not affect his confidence in Watson.

“With change, you’re going to find that people are not happy,” he said. “Some people are, and some people aren’t.”

Watson told investigators and has said publicly that complaints against her are the product of a small group of disgruntled employees.

“At this point, that does not appear to be the case,” the report reads.

Religious reading

Some of the claims filed with the city appeared in a complaint filed months later by a pair of police unions with the state-run Employee-Management Relations Board.

One such complaint came from more than one person who reported being offended because Watson required them to read a chapter of a book with religious references before attending a meeting.

Watson told investigators she assigned the reading for the leadership principles it covers. The firm determined no religious discrimination occurred, however, Watson’s order violated the spirit of the of city’s harassment-free workplace policy.

“There was no legitimate business reason for the use of the chapter as other secular leadership materials are readily available,” the report reads. “Moreover, use of the chapter could easily lead employees to believe that Christian principles were expected to be used and/or were favored.”

Unfounded complaints

In another accusation that also appears in the union complaint, Bridget Ward, a transgender police officer, complained that she was denied a specialized assignment because of her gender identity. The law firm determined her complaint was unsubstantiated.

According to a separate report, the firm found no specific policy infraction, but determined department leadership created “significant issues” by muddling the role of Henderson’s human resources department in the police agency.

More than one person alleged that the songs and vignettes featured in the Police Department’s lip sync challenge video in September were inappropriate. One employee who emailed a complaint to Watson’s chief of staff was later counseled about the message by a police executive.

Although the law firm did not find a policy violation with the lip sync video, it did determine that it was “highly problematic for the City that the counseling took place at all.”

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

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