The weeks leading up to the demotion of Payson’s second-ranking cop came down to an anguished interview between Lt. Donald Garvin and his longtime friend and colleague, Police Chief Don Engler.
Engler had uncovered a pattern of drinking, cell phone “sexting,” affairs and a soap opera-like version of the private lives of a Payson police officer.
The allegations included Garvin’s affair with the wife of a Department of Public Safety officer, semi-nude photos of several women, use of a town cell phone, questions about several incidents in bars and Garvin’s relationship with a woman applying for a job as a police officer.
The accumulation of incidents prompted Engler in May to sit down for a difficult interview with Garvin, then second-in-command of the force and one of the most visible officers in town.
“You know,” said Engler near the beginning of an exhaustive interview that is detailed in a report produced by the Payson Police Department, “I have been thinking about this ever since all this started. And again, I am not trying to be a martyr or anything, but I have laid awake at night thinking about it, you know I want to be fair to you. I want to be fair to the department. I want to make sure that we are doing the right thing for the community,” said Engler.
“I apologize for you having to put in that time and effort,” said Garvin, who was then still hoping to get off with a temporary suspension instead of a demotion for his actions.
“I’m not proud of it, Chief, I am not proud of it. It’s another time that my personal situation is not where I would like it to be and uh, I don’t put blame on that because it doesn’t make me do all these things that are choices that I am making. To me the leaders are stable, in their relations, stable relationships and mine’s not,” Garvin said later in the interview.
Despite Garvin’s insistence that he’d made mistakes, but learned his lesson, Engler ultimately demoted him to a sergeant’s position — a decision an independent hearing officer and the town council have since supported.
Garvin said Wednesday he has no plans to appeal the town council’s Dec. 9 decision and added that he plans to stay on with the department.
“I work with good people, so absolutely (I will stay),” he said. “I am moving forward and I am going to do the best I can for my boss.”
Engler said the department as a whole is also moving forward after the ruling.
“I don’t foresee any problems,” he said with Garvin’s new position as administrative/ patrol sergeant.
As for Garvin’s old lieutenant’s post that will remain vacant for some time, Engler said.
When Engler initially demoted Garvin, he could have accepted the discipline and the $9,000 loss in pay quietly, but instead Garvin filed an appeal that guaranteed a 100-page investigative report would ultimately come out.
However, Garvin fought to clear his name from the swirl of rumors that has engulfed the department for months.
His attorney, Martin Bihn, said at last week’s hearing that Garvin was being punished harshly for private behavior that never came close to abusing his office.
Garvin won a partial victory in front of the independent hearing officer Ron McDaniel, who threw out a chunk of the case, including allegations he had abused a company cell phone by sending sexually explicit messages and charges relating to purportedly unprofessional behavior in local bars during off hours.
McDaniel concluded the town had no clear policy concerning private use of cell phones on which the town paid a portion of the bill.
So the case came down to allegations that Garvin had ignored warnings from Engler to avoid starting an affair with the wife of a DPS officer and then failed to tell the chief when the affair started anyway.
Garvin maintained that he started the affair when the woman told him that she was getting a divorce and broke it off when it became clear that she wasn’t leaving the marriage.
The second set of allegations upheld by the council and McDaniel related to Garvin’s relationship with a woman applying for a job as an officer.
That relationship included the exchange of sexually explicit messages and several evenings at his home watching movies. Garvin maintained that relationship took place during a period when the woman had withdrawn her application with the department.
Aside from the light the investigation shed on Garvin’s command abilities, the detailed investigation offers a glimpse into a police force beset by incidents in bars, affairs and a complicated cross currents that raise the issue as to whether police officers — especially their leaders — should be held to a higher standard when it comes to their off-duty foibles.
Engler’s investigation and Garvin’s demotion also bore witness to the deterioration of the relationship between two officers considered close partners and friends during the decades they worked their way up through the ranks of the Payson Police Department to finally fill the top two slots.
The deteriorating relationship with his boss dates back at least to an incident at the Mazatzal Casino in 2009 that foreshadowed the pattern of incidents to come.
In that incident, Garvin had been drinking when he took a golf cart used by the casino’s security staff without permission to take other people to their cars in the parking lot. Garvin himself later reported the incident to Engler.
In a 2009 memo, Engler gave Garvin credit for reporting the incident, but wrote that it had “the potential to tarnish the Payson Police Department. I understand this was what was seen as a funny, almost “joke” situation.
“However, … I want to make it clear that if there are any future incidents, with any semblance to this incident, that you will be disciplined seriously. If your desire is to be a leader within the department, it is incumbent upon you to not only model your professional life but also to model your private life to support your professional desires.”
That stern warning from Engler to Garvin, who had spent almost his whole life in Payson, cast its shadow across the next 18 months, as incidents accumulated.
Engler and the town’s attorney emphasized that warning and the importance of self-reporting in the way in which the subsequent incidents played out.
For Engler, Garvin’s lack of confession and his attempt to allegedly mislead the chief counted for as much as the actual incidents.