Panel demands removal of top cop

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times


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A spokesman for President Ben Shelly said Wednesday that Shelly will not remove Public Safety Director John Billison..

On Monday, the Council's Law and Order Committee called on Shelly to remove Billison, citing three reasons he is allegedly unfit for the post.

"This action on your part will be in the best interest of the Navajo people as well as members of our law enforcement community who deserve better," state Chairman Edmund Yazzie (Church Rock/Iyanbito/Mariano Lake/Pinedale/Smith Lake/Thoreau) and Vice Chair Alton Shepherd (Cornfields/Ganado/Jeddito/Kin Dah Licháá/Steamboat) in a two-page memo to Shelly. "It will also avoid further public embarrassment that may result from further legislative action in this matter."

If Shelly fails to remove Billison, the committee is prepared to introduce legislation that would rescind the Council's confirmation of Billison in April 2011, Yazzie and Shepherd wrote.

Under Billison, DPS allowed the insurance to lapse on over a hundred department vehicles, according to information provided to the committee by the Department of Risk Management.

Billison's signature is on a controversial diversion of DPS money from several sources to pay for a $57,000 salary bonus for a department official whose only distinction, according to the committee, was doing some of Billison's work for him. Some of the money had been budgeted for insurance premiums.

Committee members also pointed to accusations by DPS officials - still under investigation - that Billison thwarted a DPS investigation into his alleged use of his service weapon to threaten another player during a poker game.

Billison is also the subject of a protection order, extended multiple times, issued by Maricopa County Superior Court at the behest of a former girlfriend who alleges that he beat her on many occasions.

Shelly spokesman Erny Zah said Shelly was unavailable for an interview about Billison and the issues raised because "he's a very busy man," but said he would not fire the DPS director.

The Times also attempted repeatedly to contact Billison. On Tuesday, Zah said that he was trying to contact Billison for a response. At print time on Wednesday, Billison had not responded.

Zah said much of the information on which the committee based its position was in error or was exaggerated.

Police vehicles insured

In asking for the removal of Billison, Yazzie and Shepherd stated that "most recently," Billison placed the tribe at "significant financial risk" by failing to insure about 93 public safety vehicles, including 88 police units. ("93 DPS vehicles operating on expired insurance," Jan. 5, 2012)

Acting Police Chief Dwayne Billsie told the Times last week that the insurance paperwork had been filed on time and must have gotten lost when the tribe's financial offices had to relocate last fall.

Zah produced a report titled "Matrix/Summary of Events: Division of Public Safety Vehicle Insurance," that showed, he said, "The vehicles were insured. This report shows the process that DPS has taken and that it was done in a timely manner with the exception of a couple of districts."

The insurance coverage expired Oct. 1, and the matrix shows that it was renewed in stages over the last months of 2011. According to the cover sheet, of the 19 DPS departments, only two are still without vehicle insurance, Billison's office and Information Management.

Zah said there are no uninsured DPS vehicles on the road.

But according to a May 12, 2011, memo from the tribe's auto body shop to Property Management Department, there were uninsured police units on the road prior to Oct. 1.

A unit from the Shiprock District had to be sent to "salvage" because there was no insurance money to repair it after it was damaged in an accident.

The Shiprock police unit was among three tribal vehicles damaged in accidents last year that had to be written off as total losses because their insurance had lapsed, the committee was told.

Bonus for 57 CIs

On Dec. 13, the Law and Order Committee issued a memo that castigated Billison for rerouting budget monies to pay for the bonus of a single individual.

The memo stated that the justification for the $57,000 bonus for a criminal investigator was unacceptable because the "supposed accomplishments" of the person were part of Billison's job.

Zah, however, said the $57,000 was not for one person, it was to be divided among 57 criminal investigators.

Billison handled the bonuses according to tribal policies, he said, noting that the DPS employees never received their Christmas bonuses because the Law and Order Committee put a stop to it.

On Dec. 12, the Office of Management and Budget reported to the committee that $141,091.94 in the police academy repair and maintenance budget had been diverted into bonus and merit pay, personal travel, overtime and regular pay, technology, and "fleet" in July, August and September 2011, leaving the $165,000 academy building fund greatly depleted.

On Dec. 13, the L&O committee issued a memo directing OMB Director Dominic Beyal "to immediately stop all budget transfers, reallocations, modifications until $165,000 Toyei Police Academy Building Maintenance account is replenished and (the Academy is) reopened for operation."

Zah recalled that the training academy at Toyei, Ariz., had to be closed because it was infested with rodents, among other health threats.

Billison is working on the construction of a new building for the academy because renovation would far exceed the cost of new building, Zah said.

The committee also took a dim view of Billison's use of police overtime funds for bonus pay. It stated that during the fiscal 2012 budget deliberations, Billison advocated for more funding to pay overtime in the understaffed police department.

"Yet within the first (2012 budget) quarter, funds are being transferred from the overtime account for bonus pay," the committee noted.

Copies of the directive to OMB were sent to Shelly, Billison, Controller Mark Grant, Shelly Chief of Staff Sherrick Roanhorse, and Budget and Finance Committee Chair LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad/Newcomb/San Juan/T'iistoh Sikaad/Tsé Daa K'aan/Upper Fruitland).

The Law and Order Committee stated that it would be asking for a joint meeting with B&F to stop budget transfer "loopholes" involving merit pay and bonuses.

No comment

On Monday, Yazzie and Shepherd stated that another reason the committee is seeking Billison's removal is that he is both the target of a criminal investigation, and is alleged to have tried to stop it. ("Top PD official faces cover-up accusations," Dec. 15, 2011)

"Mr. Billison has been accused by the Crownpoint supervisor of Criminal Investigations of squelching that supervisor's investigative efforts into accusations of Mr. Billison's misuse of his service weapon and threatening a retired police officer," the committee leaders added.

Zah said Shelly declined to comment on this issue because the investigation has gone federal.

'Where's the privacy?'

And then there's Billison's woman trouble.

"Mr. Billison is the subject of multiple domestic violence protection orders out of Maricopa County," Yazzie and Shepherd stated in their memo to President Shelly. "In addition, according to the Maricopa County Court clerk, Mr. Billison has a presumably related case that remains open for adjudication." ("More allegations against police officials revealed," Dec. 21, 2011)

Zah emphasized that the multiple domestic violence protection orders were for one incident - the complainant had the original order renewed repeatedly, saying she was afraid for her life - and that Billison had not been convicted of anything.

Billison did not appear for the scheduled hearings in the case, according to the court records.

"In addition, this stuff was brought up in executive session during Billison's confirmation (by the Council)," Zah said. "It was thoroughly discussed in executive session. Why is the committee bringing out certain topics that were in executive session? Where's the privacy for Billison?"

The Navajo Times obtained copies of the protection orders from the Maricopa County Court, which were issued in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Billison was served with the protection order while he was serving as domestic violence victim advocate program supervisor under the tribal Department of Criminal Investigations.

The Council convenes its five-day winter session on Jan. 23.

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