Mesa deputy city Attorney Alfred Smith confirmed to 12 News Wednesday that Mesa police Lt. Rick Van Galder submitted his resignation on Tuesday. 12 News obtained the findings from the department’s internal affairs investigation, which reveals a discipline of termination but indicates that Van Galder resigned before the disciplinary process concluded.
Van Galder was arrested by Gilbert police Feb. 12 on suspicion of drunk driving. When the lab results were returned, the lieutenant’s blood alcohol content was 0.306, almost four times the legal limit.
No member of the Mesa Police Department “has ever been arrested for a super extreme DUI with a BAC (blood-alcohol content) of .306 or more,” wrote Cdr. Anthony Abalos.
Lt. Rick Van Galder set the record with his super extreme DUI this February.
Gilbert police body camera footage shows Van Galder was belligerent and tried to get professional courtesy from the arresting officers throughout the process. He belittled and berated arresting officer Josiah Saladen and the rookie cop Saladen was training, Gonzalo Dominguez. He told them that he would retire the following day and asked them to park his car and let him walk home.
When asked during the internal affairs investigation if he attempted to use his position with the Mesa Police Department to persuade the Gilbert officers’ decision, he stated, “No.”
According to the report, Van Galder left a voicemail message for the Gilbert lieutenant assigned to watch his processing that night about a week after his arrest. Van Galder said he told him, “He was sorry this was how they had to meet, he was sorry their department had to deal with it, he harbored no ill will toward anyone, and that they were just doing their job.”
Records show Van Galder told internal affairs investigators that he made a “huge mistake” and was “embarrassed by the poor choice” he made on Feb. 12 and takes full responsibility for his actions.
Van Galder accepted a plea offer from Gilbert city prosecutor Cathy Bohland for super extreme DUI and was sentenced July 29. He served three days in the Scottsdale City Jail and was on court-ordered house arrest for 11 days. The police department was still conducting its internal affairs investigation into the matter after serving Van Galder with pre-termination paperwork several weeks ago.
Records further show allegations of conduct unbecoming of an officer related to his “passive aggressive behavior throughout the stop,” his DUI arrest and a management policy violation were all sustained.
During the internal affairs investigation, Van Galder admitted he and his wife, Teresa, a homicide detective for Mesa PD and two friends went golfing at the Kokopelli Golf Club in Gilbert. He admitted that the group started drinking by having a “screwdriver” and that he had beer throughout the day buying them from the “beer cart lady.” He then admitted that he’d been drinking the night before in Scottsdale and had “spent the night there” and may have had “some residual in me.”
When his wife Teresa was interviewed by Mesa internal affairs investigators, she confirmed they’d gone to Scottsdale the night before and “stayed over” because they were going to do some “bar hopping.” She too, indicated they both had some residual that carried over from the night before.
After 18 holes of golf, he admitted to getting behind the wheel and going to a bar and grill. He admitted to having one drink there, his wife confirming they each had a “tall 20 oz. Bud Light.” Then Van Galder stated he got behind the wheel again and drove to a pizza restaurant. He told the investigator he did not have anything to drink there, and also that he hadn’t eaten anything that day. Van Galder then got behind the wheel once more to drive home when he was stopped by Gilbert police. He still had more than five miles to go before reaching his driveway.
A July 16 memo written by assistant chief Tony Filler to chief John Meza is damning, despite the fact that his attorney Kathryn Baillie referenced two other officers who were arrested for DUI but kept their jobs.
She said this was an opportunity to discipline Lt. Van Galder but not destroy him and asked for them to consider his “stellar” service record. She indicated she understood that her client’s level of intoxication was a concern. She referenced two occasions where Last Chance Agreements were drafted, that of Joseph Van Galder, Rick’s brother who was arrested for DUI in Chandler a few years ago. The other officer she referenced was an “Officer Francis,” whose first name was not in the report. The brother’s arrest was previously confirmed for 12 News by Mesa police detective Steve Berry. Baillie said she believed each member received 180-hour suspensions along with community service.
Despite all this, Filler wrote, “The facts of this case are not in dispute nor is Lieutenant Van Galder’s service records or contributions to the Mesa Police Department.”
His erratic driving that day was a “clear threat to public safety” and constituted an aggravating factor. He made three separate decisions to drive after he golfed and was intoxicated. Though he discussed with his wife other ways of getting home, he got behind the wheel regardless, which also constituted an aggravating factor. His blood alcohol content was well over three times the legal limit, Filler wrote. That, too, was an aggravating factor.
In a scathing conclusion the memo states: “The totality of the circumstances surrounding this investigation are egregious and for that I hold Lieutenant Richard (Rick) Van Galder accountable. I recommend he be dismissed as an employee of the Mesa Police Department.”
Facing termination, on Tuesday, Van Galder submitted his letter of “retirement” to police chief John Meza.
“I have had a long and prosperous career and I have proudly served the citizens of Mesa for 23 years,” it read in part.
But in an email, Smith tells 12 News that Van Galder submitted his “letter of resignation” on Aug. 16 and officially left city employment as of this date.
So, did he resign or was he forced to retire or he’d be fired?
Van Galder’s letter of retirement appears to lend some insight into his situation.
In what may be a parting shot, without naming names, Van Galder listed examples of other sworn officers on the Mesa police force who were charged with DUI or alcohol-related incidents but were not demoted or terminated for an off-duty offense. He punctuated the silence by writing that one is the current “officer of the year” and was recently promoted to commander. That same commander, he wrote, is also the reigning “leader of the year” recipient.
Mesa police Sgt. Diana Williams tells 12 News the department is required to notify the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board anytime a sworn officer separates from an agency. AZPOST, which certifies peace officers in this state could suspend or revoke Van Galder’s certification which would render him unable to work for another police agency.
Van Galder has previously declined to speak with 12 News about his case. His attorney Jeff Van Norman, previously did not respond to an email we sent him either.