Ariz. cop reinstated after demotion over 'sexting'
Officer was demoted after she took sexually explicit videos and sent them on her cellphone to a subordinate officer
By Darren DaRonco
The Arizona Daily Star
TUCSON — The demotion of a Tucson police officer who shared provocative videos and a photo of herself has been reversed.
Tucson's Civil Service Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to reinstate Diana Lopez to lieutenant from her current position as sergeant.
The commission also approved back pay for Lopez, dating to the day of her demotion in November 2012.
However, the commission may still file an appeal over a Superior Court judge's ruling that she be reinstated.
Lopez was demoted from lieutenant to sergeant after she took sexually explicit videos, and a provocative photo of herself wearing her police uniform shirt. She sent them on her personal cellphone to a subordinate officer with whom she was in a relationship, a Tucson Police Department internal affairs investigation showed.
That officer then showed and shared them with other officers, according to a departmental report.
The department had maintained that Lopez violated several regulations, professional standards and its code of ethics.
In May, the commission had asked Superior Court Judge Charles Harrington to reconsider his ruling that reversed Lopez' demotion.
Harrington denied it.
Harrington had ruled in favor of Lopez, saying the department lacked a policy warning staff members against making and sharing sexually explicit materials with someone they are in an exclusive relationship with.
During Wednesday's meeting, Lopez fought through tears to describe how the process has taken a toll on her and her family.
"I have lost 21 months with my son for working night shifts," Lopez said. "I have suffered from the betrayal more than you know."
Despite Tucson police officials saying they would work on clarifying the rules, Lopez said nothing has changed.
"There's a rule for everything. There's a rule about what color of hair tie I wear. There's a rule about what color shirt I wear," Lopez said. But "it's still unclear at the Tucson Police Department what is covered under this and what is not 21 months later."
City Attorney Mike Rankin said TPD was still looking at various options to amend its policies.
After the commission reinstated Lopez, it met in a closed-door session to consider whether to appeal Harrington's ruling.
When they reemerged, they approved what was discussed during the session but did not reveal what course of action they would take.
Civil Service Commission attorney Barry Corey said it could be days before he can reveal what they actually approved behind closed doors.
Lopez' attorney, Michael Piccarreta, said the commission's actions have perplexed him ever since it asked judge Harrington to reconsider his ruling even though the city council accepted it.
"This has been one of the weirdest, quasi-judicial commissions I've ever seen," Piccarreta said.
He said the commission overstepped its authority as a body designed to hear complaints between the city and its employees over personnel issues by interjecting themselves into a legal battle.
If it does move forward with an appeal, the "rogue" commission would only succeed in wasting even more taxpayer dollars, Piccarreta said.
The city has paid $49,574 for the commission's legal costs accrued so far over the Lopez proceedings, city records show.
TPD Chief Roberto Villaseñor declined to comment.
The Tucson police union said it would continue to monitor how the commission proceeds.
"We're disappointed it took the commission this long to arrive at the right decision," said Jason Winsky, director of government affairs for the Tucson Police Officers Association. "We hope they don't waste any more taxpayer dollars" by pursuing an appeal.
The commission denied awarding her attorney's fees up to $10,000 for expenses incurred before the civil service commission.
The matter of attorney's fees regarding Lopez's Superior Court appeal is still being determined by a judge. In that instance, a judge could award her up to $15,000, Piccarreta said.
Copyright 2014 The Arizona Daily Star
McClatchy-Tribune News Service