YUMA, Ariz. - The Yuma Police Chief addressed the controversy surrounding the recent Yuma Police Department awards ceremony in a video sent out to all City of Yuma police officers, saying that City Administrator Greg Wilkinson was against the nomination of Sgt. Henry Valenzuela as Sworn Supervisor of the Year.
Sgt. Valenzuela, also known as the "Guy with a Calculator," has spoken out against the City of Yuma's financial decisions, specifically on the Pacific Avenue Athletic Complex.
Inside the "Minute with the Chief” video obtained by KYMA through a Freedom of Information Act request, Chief Susan Smith claimed that Sgt. Valenzuela was the only sworn officer nominated for the Sworn Supervisor of the Year award. She broke down the decision process in the video.
"Last week on Tuesday, the Chief, Chief Lekan and I received the nominees for the awards. We were notified that the awards committee had nominated Sgt. Henry Valenzuela for Sworn Supervisor of the Year. During my conversation with Chief Lekan, we recognized this was a very sensitive nomination. We determined that we needed to call our supervisor Greg Wilkinson so that he wasn't blindsided by this awards nomination or the award being given. We contacted Greg Wilkinson, the city administrator, and told him we had received a nomination nominated Sgt. Henry Valenzuela as the Sworn Supervisor of the Year. When we notified him of that, he said, ‘No it wasn't going to happen’. And so the chief asked him if we could offer him a lesser, such as Superior Performance, and again we were denied the ability to do that," explained Chief Smith.
Due to the conversation between the two chiefs and the city administrator, no award was given, according to Smith. “After we got off the phone, Chief Lekan looked at me and said, ‘Your supervisor, our supervisor, has given clear direction and we needed to follow it’. So, at that point, the nomination was not awarded to Sgt. Henry Valenzuela and he was the only sworn supervisor who was nominated for that award."
News 11 spoke on camera with Sgt. Valenzuela Wednesday night. He claimed he was not given the award as a form of retaliation by Administrator Wilkinson. "At the police department, I've done a very good job and other people obviously felt that. That's why I was nominated. But, I have also engaged in First Amendment, free speech activity outside of my employment," explained Sgt. Valenzuela. "The issue is that Mr. Wilkinson cannot separate what his employees are doing from what this private citizen is doing. Although I've worked very hard to keep those two things separate, he continues to commingle those two things and retaliate against me."
Valenzuela says he was called into former Chief Lekan's office to be told he would not be given the award. “He told me, 'Congratulations, you've been selected as the 2018 Sworn Supervisor of the Year, and the bad news is we won't be able to give it to you’. He said, 'As a matter of fact, we're not going to give it to anybody this year out of respect that you earned that position,'" explained Sgt. Valenzuela.
Valenzuela claimed this is not the first time Wilkinson has retaliated against him for being critical of Wilkinson’s work for the city.
"There was a criminal complaint [about] threats and harassment and Mr. Wilkinson filed the report in an attempt to get me arrested," explained Sgt. Valenzuela. "I was never questioned by the Yuma County Sheriff's Office, they wrote the report. They told Mr. Wilkinson that they do not believe any of the accusations rise to the level of a criminal matter, but they still forwarded it onto the county attorney, who then conflicted it out to the La Paz County Attorney’s Office.”
News 11 also obtained a nomination letter from YPD Detective Nathan Townsend, who believes Valenzuela should have won the award.
News 11 reached out to City of Yuma but they said they do not typically comment on issues involving personnel.
The Fraternal Order of Police Yuma Lodge #24 also weighed in on the matter and called the decision sad.
"My members should not have to work in fear of retaliation from City Administration. The Fraternal Order of Police Yuma Lodge will no longer stand for this kind of treatment against our membership. City Council and the Mayor should also not stand for this kind of behavior of their employee," explained Eric Eagan, president of the Fraternal Order of the Police Lodge #24.