The termination of a Cochise County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) detention officer who refused to sit for a polygraph examination earlier this year during an internal review about the former jail chaplain convicted of sexually assaulting inmates was officially changed in June to a resignation after the employee appealed his firing, the Arizona Daily Independent has confirmed.
Oziel Aleman received a notice of intent of termination on Feb. 4 after he failed to take a polygraph ordered by CCSO Chief Deputy Thad Smith. The polygraph concerned a statement allegedly made by two women victimized by Doug Packer, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence for sexually abusing six female inmates in his jail office.
After Packer’s arrest, Sheriff Mark Dannels ordered an administrative investigation. It was during that review that investigators learned the two victims reportedly told a CCSO detention sergeant that Aleman told them he previously advised supervisors of concerns about Packer’s conduct.
Aleman was questioned by investigators three times and insisted he did not make such a statement. The women were not interviewed about the matter because they are currently suing Cochise County for the abuse they suffered.
The discrepancy about what may have been said led Smith to order Aleman to report for a polygraph examination on Jan. 31. The next month Aleman was terminated after he failed to comply with the order.
Public records show the grounds for Aleman’s termination were violations of numerous county and sheriff’s office rules. He then appealed through Cochise County’s Merit System process and on June 29 the parties appeared before hearing officer James Riley, a former judge with the Cochise County Superior Court.
The hearing was expected to last two days, but the parties informed Riley of a settlement at the end of the first day’s testimony. The settlement resulted in a reversal of the termination action so that Aleman, 49, could resign instead.
Although Aleman testified at the hearing, the key witness was Smith, the number two person in the sheriff’s office.
Smith testified that when he made the polygraph order he had “no reason to believe” Aleman had been dishonest. He also had no reason to believe Aleman may be subject to disciplinary action as a result of the polygraph results.
Instead, Smith testified, the polygraph was necessary to address the discrepancy in Aleman’s statements and that of the two women who claimed Aleman said CCSO supervisors were previously alerted about concerns with Packer’s conduct.
“Certainly a statement like that needs to be fully vetted and investigated,” Smith testified, adding that it “was critical” to determine whether such a statement was made. “If in fact that was said, then we need to know why that was said and to whom it was said.”
Under Arizona Revised Statute 38-1104D, an employer of a law enforcement officer can require submission to a polygraph examination when differing statements are received during an investigation “and reconciling that difference is necessary to complete the investigation.”
According to Smith, sheriff’s office employees take an oath which requires them to abide by all policies, including one which requires cooperation with internal reviews.
“It’s tied to the expectation that all employees will completely and fully participate in every administrative investigation so that we as law enforcement can get to the foundation of a particular event, and be able to capture as much as possible the facts and circumstances that surround (the event),” Smith testified.
Smith told the hearing officer that if the county did not terminate Aleman for his refusal to obey a lawful order then other employees might believe they did not have to comply with orders or policies with no serious consequences.
Aleman, however, contended he -not Packer- was the target of the investigation in January 2020, nearly one year after he purportedly made the statement to the victims. As a result, Aleman claimed the sheriff’s office was required to comply with ARS 38-1104A which requires advance written notice before any interview can be conducted if the employer “reasonably believes” the interview could result in the employee’s suspension, demotion, or dismissal.
The notice must inform the employee “of the alleged facts that are the basis of the investigation, the specific nature of the investigation, the officer’s status in the investigation, all known allegations of misconduct that are the reason for the interview and the officer’s right to have a representative present at the interview.”
Aleman testified he later changed attorneys and offered to sit for the polygraph, but the sheriff’s office was no longer interested. Instead the county moved ahead with termination.
Now that Aleman has resigned, he is not eligible for rehire by the county.
Public records show Aleman’s sister, who was also a CCSO detention officer, told investigators she advised a supervisor in late 2014 or early 2015 about “concerns” with Packer’s conduct with female inmates. However, there is no record that any CCSO staff members actually witnessed any inappropriate physical or sexual contact.