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APD’s Deadly Sexcapades

APD’s Deadly Sexcapades

Whether it's due to stress of the job or ready access to guns, cops kill themselves at a higher rate than the general population

Extramarital Affairs are Taking Their Toll at APD

Nationwide, the National Police Suicide Foundation puts officer suicides in the 400-a-year range

Copyright ABQ Free Press

BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI

In July 2013, then-Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz sparked a storm of criticism when he publicly dismissed extramarital affairs among APD officers as “nature at play.”

“You’ve got young, good-looking folks that do this job,” Schultz said. “That’s our target group of employees – 20-, 30-, 40-year-old men and women. We ask them to stay in good shape. There’s nature at play.”

Schultz later backtracked, but the damage was done. And whether he really was dismissive of the extramarital affairs or not, one thing is clear: Cheating among cops can be deadly.

Since 2007, four people have died – two APD police officers, one APD civilian employee and the wife of a former officer – in connection with APD extramarital affairs. Two officers and the civilian employee committed suicide after being confronted about their affairs. The fourth, Tera Chavez, wife of former APD officer Levi Chavez, either killed herself or was murdered.

The Destructiveness

Of Affairs at APD

Tera Chavez, 26, died of a gunshot wound on Oct. 21, 2007, in her Los Lunas home. Her husband, then-APD officer Levi Chavez, was indicted on charges of murder and tampering with evidence in connection with her death. During Levi Chavez’s 2013 trial, testimony showed that he had several mistresses, two of them APD officers. Tera Chavez was having an affair with an APD officer in the months before her death. The case made headlines for the number of affairs that were going on between and among APD officers. Levi Chavez was acquitted of the charges on July 16, 2013. Levi Chavez was fired from APD shortly after his indictment. On July 2015, Chavez said he had been accepted into the University of New Mexico’s School of Law.

APD civilian employee Annette Ayala, 49, stabbed herself in the neck on Nov. 12, 2008, in her Northeast Heights home. Ayala was director of APD’s gym. According to the police reports at the time, Ayala’s husband, Joseph Ayala, “continued to make statements about how his wife admitted to having an affair just a few days ago. … He was very concerned about information concerning an infidelity of Annette’s becoming public knowledge.” Sources told ABQ Free Press that Annette Ayala was having an affair with a high-ranking member of APD.

 

APD officer Monica Werley, 29, killed herself on March 28, 2009, after becoming involved with her then-sergeant, Fernando Aragon. At the time, both Werley and Aragon were married to other APD officers. On Jan. 20, 2010, Aragon and his wife, Georgianna Aragon, filed for a restraining order against Werley’s husband, Bruce Werley Jr. They didn’t want Bruce Werley to come near them at police headquarters at 400 Roma NW in Downtown Albuquerque. In his response to the request for the restraining order, Bruce Werley offered some details of the involvement between his wife and Fernando Aragon. “Between November 9, 2008, and November 20, 2008 – a period of 11 days – there were over 400 text messages sent between Plaintiff Fernando Aragon, and Monica Werley, many of which were sent during non-business hours,” Bruce Werley said in a court document. “On November 21, 2008, Plaintiff, Fernando Aragon, informed Defendant, Bruce Werley, that he had had inappropriate communications with Monica Werley. … The communication between Plaintiff, Fernando Aragon, and Monica Werley placed stress upon the marriage between Monica Werley and Defendant, Bruce Werley. … In March of 2009, Monica Werley committed suicide leaving as her survivors, Defendant, Bruce Werley, and their two daughters.” Fernando Aragon was promoted to lieutenant in July 2010, 15 months after the subordinate he was having an affair with killed herself.

On Feb. 10, 2013, APD Det. Veronica Ficke, 34, called 911 to report that her husband, APD Sgt. Patrick Ficke, had hit her in the face with a cell phone and punched her in the left temple at their Rio Rancho home and that he had threatened to kill himself. Veronica Ficke left the house and met police at a nearby Walgreens store. The couple had been arguing about Patrick Ficke’s alleged affair with a local TV news anchorwoman, the police reports said. “Pat took his two middle knuckles and hit me on my left temple,” the police reported quoted Veronica Ficke as saying. “He then told me, ‘I’m going to [anchorwoman] to fuck her.’ He began to yell at me calling me [a] ‘fucking jealous bitch’ over and over again.” Patrick Ficke was charged with battery, false imprisonment and child abuse. The charges against him were dismissed in May of this year by a judge who said the case had taken too long to go to trial. Patrick Ficke resigned from APD shortly after he was charged in 2013.

APD officer Dylan Faeth, 28, shot himself in the head on Feb. 16, 2015, in his Northeast Heights home. According to the police report, Faeth’s wife, Andrea, told police, “She and Dylan had been arguing. Specifically, Andrea caught Dylan texting another female the day prior. Andrea confronted him and Dylan advised her there was nothing going on … he was simply texting this other (unknown) female as she wanted to become a Police Officer. Andrea felt she could no longer trust him and told Dylan she did not want to be with him any more.”

It was in the late 1990s or early 2000s when an APD sergeant learned that his wife, also an APD officer, was allegedly having an affair with a high-ranking member of APD. One day the sergeant parked his squad car near the other officer’s home and waited. When he saw the other officer’s unmarked car drive by, the sergeant put on his squad car’s lights and pulled the other vehicle over. When the driver rolled down his window to talk to the sergeant, the sergeant punched him in the face and told him to stop seeing his wife. The sergeant then went back to work. The higher-ranking officer showed up to work the next day with a black eye. He never said a word about how it happened, but everyone knew.
Friday-Saturday, Dec. 4-5, 10:30 p.m.

“Nature at play” isn’t exclusive to Albuquerque. Sex and affairs have devastated the Oakland Police Department and four other Bay Area police departments. At least 28 officers from various area departments are alleged to have had sex with a now-18-year-old prostitute who is the daughter of an Oakland PD dispatcher. Two people, an officer and his wife, have committed suicide in connection with the scandal. In June, the Oakland department went through four police chiefs in 10 days as the city’s mayor, disgusted with the scandal, fired them.

The Oakland sexcapades occurred under the eyes of a federal court judge and federal monitor overseeing the Oakland PD’s reform process since 2003.

APD’s problem

The issue of affairs at APD resurfaced in early August when the wife of APD Sgt. Anthony Sedler called 911 to say she believed her husband had shot himself after she confronted him about an affair she charged he was having with a female APD officer.

After the confrontation, Sedler’s wife, APD Sgt. Amy Sedler, told 911 dispatchers that her husband had stormed out of their Albuquerque home while threatening to kill himself. She told dispatchers that while she was talking with her husband on her cell phone, she heard a gunshot and then gurgling sounds, which made her believe her husband had shot himself.

Sedler apparently didn’t shoot himself and apparently was trying to scare his wife. However, whether he has returned to duty, been placed on administrative leave, or is receiving counseling – all of that information is being withheld from the public. APD has refused to answer four inquiries from the ABQ Free Press about Sedler’s status.

The Sedler case, however, reopened questions about what is going on at APD in terms of extramarital affairs, and what, if anything, the department is doing to prevent them and the destruction and deaths they can cause.

Amy Sedler told police that she had gotten information that other APD employees were having affairs with the same woman she accused her husband of seeing. APD has refused to answer the newspaper’s questions about those alleged affairs. It also has refused to discuss what, if anything, it is doing to prevent officer suicides. It also refused to comment on what it is doing to ensure that officers are treated or counseled for emotional health issues that come with the job.

Police suicides

Whether it’s the stress of police work or ready access to weapons is not known, but police officers commit suicide at higher rates than the U.S. population at large. In fact, more cops die annually by suicide than are killed by criminals, according to two national organizations that have attempted with mixed success to track officer suicides.

Exactly how many cops kill themselves each year isn’t known because there are no uniform reporting standards and police departments often try to hide or cover up officer suicides.

Nationwide, the National Police Suicide Foundation puts officer suicides in the 400-a-year range, which would mean a rate of 53 suicides per 100,000 officers. But another advocacy group, the Badge of Life organization, says the number is much lower, with a rate of 14 to 17 suicides per 100,000. Regardless of which number you believe, the rate of police suicides is higher that the suicide rate among the general population, which is approximately 11 per 100,000 persons, according to a Badge of Life report.

“The 141 suicides we verified in 2008 were almost three times the number of officers killed by felons,” a recent Badge of Life report said. “Yet for every officer who commits suicide, there are a thousand more officers still working and suffering from extreme stress or from work-related trauma.”

According to Robert Douglas, executive director of the National Police Suicide Foundation, “The number one reason why officers commit suicide is a breakdown of the family unit, and part of that is the extramarital affair.”

In denial

Douglas said that cops, who are good at giving orders on the street, are often terrible at talking to family members or anyone else about their problems.

“We have been taught how to address crisis situations at work, but [police training] academies do not teach communication skills in relation to families,” Douglas said.

Ron Clark, executive director of Badge of Life, said that while almost all police suicides are blamed on marital problems, no formal studies have been done.

“The only way you could find that out is if you could get law enforcement agencies to do forensic autopsies,” which include detailed examinations of officers’ mental states, Clark said.

Clark added that cops have not just stressful jobs but traumatic ones as well. The trauma of seeing bodies mangled in car wrecks, murdered children and of having to deal nearly every day with people at their worst takes a terrible toll.

“Most people agree that being an officer is probably the most dangerous psychological job you can do for 20 or 30 years,” Clark said. “The tip of the iceberg is the suicide. The real issue is the emotional wellness of officers.”

Both Clark and Douglas agreed that almost no U.S. police department properly addresses the police trauma and suicide issue.

“There are 18,000 police agencies in the U.S., and we think that less than 3 percent of those agencies have police suicide awareness programs,” Douglas said. “Most of our 18,000 agencies are doing nothing.”

Corrosiveness

Former APD officer Tom Grover, now a lawyer, said that affairs between cops, especially between supervisors and subordinates, have a destructive impact on police departments because they can lead to favoritism, a collapse of morale and an erosion of discipline. Officers can be promoted, or see their careers ruined, depending on with whom they are having an affair, Grover said.

Couple in bed, legs and sheets“It can lead to disparate treatment, which can have a ripple effect. If there is a relationship going on laterally, or between supervisors and subordinates, someone can get deferential treatment, and in law enforcement, there is nothing more toxic than disparate treatment,” Grover said. “What do people say when they see an institution that doesn’t enforce its rules evenly?”

Grover also said that APD needs to acknowledge that its officers commit suicide, not hide from it. He said that in the years when he was an APD cop from 2004 to 2011, he heard of “six to eight [APD] officers who took their own lives” during that period.

APD has a fraternization policy that “relates to prohibited personal relationships between Department employees of different ranks and positions. Fraternization involves improper relationships, ranging from overly casual relationships to friendships to romantic relationships,” the policy says.

Couple embracingThe policy lays out the dangers of fraternization: “When fraternization occurs between employees of different hierarchical pairing, it can potentially undermine the chain of command, order, and discipline.”

Grover said that while police departments can’t explicitly prohibit officers from having sex with each other, they can make it embarrassing and potentially costly for an officer’s career. APD personnel, he said, should be required to self-report to their superiors affairs they are having with other officers or other department personnel. That way, supervisors can decide whether to transfer people to different units or shifts to avoid controversy or conflicts of interest.

Eventually, most affairs in a police department become common knowledge. If an officer hasn’t previously reported it, he or she could be disciplined for lying, Grover said. Untruthfulness is grounds for a department to move to revoke an officer’s law enforcement license.

Former APD officer Mark Bralley (who sometimes shoots photos for this newspaper) said that cops having affairs with each other is a problem that should be addressed, but he added that it would be difficult.

“The only problem in developing a police force,” Bralley said, “is that we only have the human race to recruit from.”

What’s needed

The first thing police departments can do to address officers’ emotional health problems and suicides is to acknowledge that problems exist, according to a 2014 report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, “Breaking the Silence on Law Enforcement Suicides.”

“In a profession where strength, bravery, and resilience are revered, mental health issues and the threats of officer suicide are often ‘dirty little secrets’ – topics very few want to address or acknowledge, the report says.

“But our collective silence only compounds the problem. By ignoring the issue, we implicitly promote the unqualified expectation that police must, without question, be brave, steadfast, and resilient. Our refusal to speak openly about the issue perpetuates the stigma many officers hold about mental health issues – the stigma that depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide are signs of weakness and failure, not cries for help.”

The report notes that four things are needed immediately to address the problem: A change in culture that acknowledges mental health issues, early warning and prevention protocols, training, and effective response protocols.

APD’s Behavioral Sciences Support and Service Unit is charged with the task of crisis intervention in SWAT situations and with counseling officers who have been involved in shootings. It also provides “other services as needed, including, but not limited to, outreach to officers regarding available services; proactively offering services to supervisors and officers, such as wellness programs and de-stigmatization of psychological illness; consultation; and supervisory training regarding behavioral warning signs and behaviors.”

APD also has what it calls a Peer Support Program that is supposed to provide peer-driven emotional support for personnel “during and after personal or professional crisis; or serious illness or injury.”

We don’t know how those programs are working because APD refused to respond to this newspaper’s questions about them. The department also did not respond to a request for an interview with APD Chief Gorden Eden.

Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press. Reach him with news tips at dennis@freeabq.com.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.
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  • Anonymous
    September 10, 2016, 7:22 am

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2xf-r-erxY

    REPLY
  • Valeria
    September 14, 2016, 5:26 pm

    This should not even be an article especially without the families consent. It’s bad enough they had to live with their loved ones taking their own lives and then to have to read something like this is not ok!!!!

    REPLY
    • Norman@Valeria
      September 15, 2016, 10:34 am

      Valeria, just when is it OK? Should we continue to bury our heads in the sand and ignore officer suicides and extra marital affairs? How many deaths have to occur before we stop hiding it and speak openly about this problem? I for one am glad the Free Press had the courage to produce this column, no one else in Albuquerque will report on this until another death. If we don’t discuss it, the problem will never be fixed. Hello Eden? Hello Berry?

      REPLY
      • Valeria@Norman
        September 15, 2016, 1:22 pm

        It’s not for the "press" to comment on or speak out about it!! Their not saving anyone’s life by writing an article like this! It’s bullshit that people think it’s ok to read about this and judge what they know nothing about except for what they read in reports. And to write about people and the pain they’ve been through without their consent is even more bullshit!!!!! @Norman

        REPLY
        • Norman@Valeria
          September 15, 2016, 9:56 pm

          Valeria, if you don’t think police officers committing suicide is a story that should be reported and discussed, then get ready to accept more suicides. If you don’t think a police officer, having an extra marital affair and then discharging his firearm is something the public deserves to know about, then get ready for more craziness. If these were "citizens" you would have no problem with the press reporting it, but when they carry a badge and gun we are supposed to cover it up for them. It’s a good thing that you are not in journalism. People need to know what is going on with THEIR police department. Yeah, there is a concept, they answer to us, we pay their salary, they serve us. When this type of horrible behavior happens, the public needs to know, whether they like it or not. I am tired of people turning a blind eye and then expressing all sorts of sadness when an officer commits suicide. The light of day will save lives, whether you like it or. But don’t worry, Chief Eden and Mayor Berry believe the same way that you do, that the public doesn’t deserve to know.

          REPLY
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