Navajo police chief placed on paid leave over ‘internal matter’

By Felicia Fonseca
Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP) 4-08

The Navajo Nation’s chief of police was placed on paid leave during mid-April, but tribal officials wouldn’t say why.

Police Chief Jim Benally declined to comment.

Samson Cowboy, director of public safety for the tribe, said the issue is an internal matter and declined to discuss it further.

“When we do internal issues, we like to keep it that way, stick with the policy,” he said.

Benally will be on leave until at least April 15, and Cowboy said he then will assess whether to extend it. Capt. Ronnie Wauneka of Window Rock, Ariz., is chief in Benally’s absence.

Cowboy also declined to say whether a letter signed by six Navajo police lieutenants that accuses him of mismanaging the tribe’s Division of Public Safety is related to Benally.

Hope MacDonald-LoneTree, a member of the Tribal Council’s Public Safety Committee, said she thought the timing of the letter was “a little convenient.”

“Although they have some valid points in their letter, I hope this is not an attempt to reinstate the chief, who has caused some of these problems on his own,” she said.

The lieutenants’ letter, signed April 6, accuses Cowboy of causing discord and creating a hostile working environment within the tribe’s police department.

The lieutenants are asking that the issues be addressed immediately, that an independent investigation be conducted and that Cowboy be disciplined. They also threatened to file harassment charges and resign.

Cowboy said the accusations do not warrant an official investigation and that the lieutenants are not following protocol for airing grievances. Their complaints should have been addressed to police captains or Benally.

“I’m not their boss,” Cowboy said.

The lieutenants outlined 11 accusations in their letter that range from unstable management and leadership to a disregard for police department policies.

They also accuse Cowboy of secretively mismanaging federal and tribal funds, spending too much on an annual public safety conference to be held off the reservation and failing to abide by the chain of command.

Cowboy said the lieutenants are disseminating misleading information without establishing facts and calling for disciplinary action without substantiating wrongdoing on his part.