Navajo police chief on administrative leave

Window Rock, Arizona (AP) 4-08

The Navajo Nation’s chief of police will be on administrative leave for a couple more weeks.

Chief Jim Benally was placed on leave during early April over what the tribe’s director of public safety, Samson Cowboy, called an internal matter. The standard five-day leave expired and Cowboy extended it until May 6.

Window Rock Capt. Ronnie Wauneka is filling in for Benally, who has been chief since November 2005.

Cowboy said his action was not a matter of discipline – he simply was following police procedures.

“Even though the person is accused of wrongdoing, we have to enforce the policy to protect those individuals that are accused,” Cowboy said. “At times, putting them on administrative leave is the best way to protect the individual.” 

 

Wauneka had filed a complaint against Benally, accusing him of harassment and creating a hostile workplace, making it difficult to do her job.

The Navajo Nation Labor Commission took up the complaint this past week and ruled in favor of Wauneka.

David Jordan, an attorney who represented Wauneka, said Benally would at times make sergeants or lieutenants the acting chief, disregarding the chain of command.

“It’s Chief Benally’s job to maintain and enforce the chain of command, and he was destroying it,” Jordan said. “It shows discord. It’s flatly humiliating to answer to someone who’s two grades below you.”

“Everyone should know who they answer to,” he added.

Navajo Department of Justice Attorney Emory McCabe, who represented Benally, said the chief conducted himself in a professional manner. Any actions Benally took were within his discretion as police chief and done to better the department, he said.

Benally testified during the hearing that he twice named sergeants as acting chief. He said he wouldn’t mind taking orders from a lower-ranking officer if that person was more experienced than him in a certain situation.

Jordan said Benally also reassigned some of the captains, including Wauneka, to community liaison positions, never changed their job description and then gave them low marks on their evaluations.

Benally said liaison duties are part of the captains’ jobs and that he gave them low marks because none of them met expectations.

Commission Chairman Casey Watchman announced the verdict and said a meeting to decide damages would be held soon.

 

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