An arbitrator has ruled that a whistleblowing lieutenant with the Clark County School District Police Department was wrongly fired and accused of dishonesty.
The arbitrator, Sara Adler, found this week that the department mishandled the firing of Lt. Dan Burgess, who was among several officers working undercover with the FBI to expose corruption within the department.
“There is no proof of the claimed dishonesty, so there was not just cause for his dismissal,” Adler wrote in a 10-page decision.
She said the department came to its conclusions without even interviewing Burgess on the allegations, something she explained she has never seen in her 30 years as an arbitrator.
Burgess, 44, was a key source in a June 19 Las Vegas Review-Journal story revealing alleged misconduct by the internal affairs detective who investigated him. The misconduct, which also included allegations unrelated to Burgess’ case, was bared in a secretly recorded conversation between the detective, Christopher Klemp, and John Maier, another school district officer who cooperated with the FBI.
Klemp, who could not be reached for comment, has been reassigned from the internal affairs unit and is facing an internal investigation stemming from his comments on the recording.
Burgess, a veteran of 12 years on the school district police force before his 2015 firing, said he was pleased with Adler’s findings.
“Although I am happy with the arbitrator’s decision, the unfortunate thing is many other officers and citizens of Clark County have fallen victim to the … behavior of the internal affairs unit for years,” he said. “I hope this decision will assist in bringing integrity back to the Police Department.”
His lawyer, Adam Levine, added: “The arbitrator clearly found Detective Klemp’s investigation to be fundamentally flawed and in violation of Nevada’s Peace Officers Bill of Rights. I don’t know which is worse: his incompetence or the fact that the district attempted to defend it.”
Adler did not say in her opinion whether Burgess should be rehired at the Police Department. She ordered both sides to discuss an “appropriate remedy” and report back to her.
“If you fire somebody without just cause, they get their job back,” Levine said. “The only question is whether he comes back as a lieutenant or a sergeant.”
Levine said the school district took the position that Burgess was on probation as a lieutenant, and the attorney said that position violated a collective bargaining agreement.
Melinda Malone, a spokeswoman for the school district, offered a different opinion of what lies ahead for Burgess.
“The arbitrator was dealing with one aspect of the case,” she said. “That one aspect was ruled in his favor, which requires the district to provide back pay for the remainder of his probationary contract.“
Adler made no reference to back pay in her decision.
Burgess was among at least four school police officers who cooperated with the FBI following a 2009 party attended by department employees that allowed underage drinking. A young drunken driver who left the party struck and killed UNLV honors student Angela Peterson. Since her death, Burgess and company have been fighting to expose an administrative cover-up of the presence of officers at the party.
He broke his cover in October 2014 and informed the department of his secret activities, as Klemp prepared to launch an investigation into what he believed was the lieutenant’s inappropriate access to jailhouse calls involving the young drunken driver. The FBI dropped Burgess as a confidential source after he went public.
Burgess insisted that he obtained recordings of the calls and mailed them to the FBI as a result of his cooperation agreement with the bureau.
But Klemp solicited a letter from the FBI that said it did not direct Burgess to obtain the recordings and did not receive them. Burgess was fired from the school police department in March 2015 after Klemp’s investigation concluded he was dishonest about what he did with the recordings.
NO CHANCE TO EXPLAIN
In her decision, however, Adler said Klemp did no further checking into whether Burgess lied about sending the recordings to the FBI — including giving Burgess a chance to explain in an interview his side of the story.
The procedural failure figured prominently in her decision to overturn Burgess’ dismissal, Adler wrote.
In Klemp’s case, the school district has acknowledged he is under investigation, but it has not shared any details.
Following an independent investigation of Klemp, the district attorney’s office informed the Police Department in August that his comments on the secret recording — in which he repeatedly stated he would lie under oath — were “more than inappropriate.”
“His statements should not go without review and subsequent punishment,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Jessica Walsh wrote.
Klemp also may have improperly revealed details of the internal investigation of Burgess to Officer Maier and instructed Maier to blame the leak on a police union activist, the recording shows.
During his 90-minute conversation with Maier, who is still with the department, Klemp made no secret of his disdain for Burgess.
Contact Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.