Last week, former Eloy resident and high school teacher Richard W. Cassalata sent a letter of intent to the city to sue and seek damages from the Eloy Police Department over what he considered a botched, and very prejudiced handling of domestic violence issues between him and his ex-girlfriend.
Back in 2010, Cassalata says he was involved in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic ex-girlfriend who “used the police to harass him.” Based on the false reports and constant police badgering by his ex-girlfriend, he added, it eventually led to his arrest under domestic violence.
At the time, Cassalata was a biology/chemistry teacher and JV- Varsity girls volleyball coach at Santa Cruz Valley Union High School. His arrest caused him to lose his job, and an inability to gain employment for another year and a half afterwards. The charge, which Cassalata claims “was based on an incomplete investigation that was based on gender stereotypes of domestic violence,” also voided his teaching credentials, rendering him unable to teach again.
After filing complaints and requesting an internal investigation over a year ago, several weeks ago Cassalata turned to Men’s Rights of Arizona to push the item further. Police Chief Bill Pitman did admit wrongdoing on behalf of several of his officers after looking into the matter this month in a letter sent to Cassalata Dec. 13, and offered disciplinary action as retribution for Cassalata’s stresses.
Officers responding had issued warnings to the couple after several times of being called out for false reports of domestic violence to ensure a quick police response, one of which was merely for his ex-girlfriend’s dissatisfaction with Cassalata’s housekeeping skills. Those officers clearly violated department policy, Chief Pitman said, “which prohibits an officer from threatening, suggesting, or otherwise indicating the possible arrest of parties to discourage future requests for intervention.” Also, while there was evidence Cassalata had indicated concerns about his safety as well as other domestic violence violations made by his ex-girlfriend, these concerns did not end up in many of the officers’ reports.
“There were two officers that we found issues with,” Chief Pitman told the Enterprise. “One had multiple issues we felt were a serious violation, and one of the officers had a very minor issue - and we’re dealing with that through our city policies on disciplinary action.”
But on Dec. 16, Cassalata reminded Chief Pitman of an incident when yet another officer had reportedly allowed his intoxicated ex-girlfriend to sober up at the Eloy station after aggressive behavior toward all responding officers, and then go home with her mother rather than sending her to the Florence County Jail for violating an order of protection. It is also indicated that the officer and the ex-girlfriend had known each other from work, and were friendly.
But according to the officer’s report, she had kept the woman under a close watch because she felt the woman’s past attempted suicide, level of intoxication, and frame-of-mind at the time put her in danger of hurting herself. After calling for mental health services for an interview, the woman was then sent home under her mother’s care with the blessing of another ranking officer. She also submitted a request to the Pinal County Attorney’s Office for review of charges for the couple having violated each other’s order of protection.
But along with Cassalata’s concerns about the latter officer’s handling of the case, he sent his intent to sue the Eloy Police Department this week.
The suit delineates his grievances as a victim of domestic violence and false reporting on several different occasions “where the Eloy Police Department failed to act reasonably and professionally to protect his rights, safety and enforce his order of protection.
“Eloy Police Department failed to investigate and take action on several false reports by [Cassalata’s ex-girlfriend] that eventually resulted in an arrest and loss of civil rights, termination of employment, loss of teacher certifications, loss of coaching position, Second Amendment Rights, loss of property (Glock 17), damaged public record and employment opportunities, emotional and financial distress,” the suit intent letter to city officials said.
Besides a request for monetary retribution from the city in the amount of $15,000 for the loss of his job and all associated professional rights, Cassalata’s suit requests all charges against him be dropped, that all officers involved be “harshly” disciplined, and that the department implement a “twice yearly training focusing on domestic violence investigation and enforcement using gender neutral strategies consisting of eight hours of training every six months” for officers on staff. It also requests that the Eloy Police Department review and implement new policies to include a supervisor’s approval on all domestic violence arrests and charges in future cases.
“We don’t make all the decisions here,” Chief Pitman said in response to the suit, and Cassalata’s request for an overturning of his prior charges. “Most of these matters were submitted to the County Attorney’s Office. Their decision-making process is not tied into ours.
“We prove a set of facts, and they decide what they’re going to do with those facts, and whether those facts are violating any particular statutes and law, and then they decide whether to prosecute.”
Cassalata has requested the suit be settled by Jan. 11, 2013, or else he will implement a more financially aggressive alternative.