NEWPORT NEWS. Va. (WAVY) - Four Newport News police officers have found themselves on the wrong side of the law in the last year.
The charges range from driving under the influence to perjury to indecent liberties with a child. And, guilty or not, the police chief says all the accusations break down the public trust his staff works hard to build.
"We take pride in Newport News police," said Police Chief James Fox. "And, we know when something like the arrest of an officer happens, we know people are going to question us, question our trust, question us as an organization and I take that personally. It hurts."
The first arrest happened in September when two citizens accused detective Michael Poole of road rage, saying he pulled a gun on them in a restaurant parking lot.
"I was always the one, if something's going wrong [saying] 'Let's call the police,'" said the victim, right after the arrest. 'Now I don't know who to call."
Detective Poole, a 27-year veteran on the force, retired just before he was convicted of two counts of brandishing a firearm, meaning Chief Fox did not have to make the decision about Poole's future as a police officer.
"Everybody knows where I stand," said Chief Fox. "If you don't tell the truth, you're not going to work for us."
Officer Scott Mounger is accused of not telling the truth. A grand jury indicted him in March and noted significant discrepancies in his testimony in a DUI case. The irony is Mounger has set records for his number of DUI arrests with as many as 60 in one year. The case has not gone to trial yet, but Mounger, too, quietly retired.
"I don't wait to see what happens in the courts, because if you violate our rules and regulations, I'm going to deal with it," said Chief Fox.
But the police chief apparently gave officer Kevin Nichol a second chance. Nichol was caught driving drunk in James City County back in November. Despite his conviction, he is back on uniform patrol, but has to ride in the passenger seat because his license is suspended.
Officer Christopher Roush was also given a second chance, of sorts. He was acquitted of rape, sodomy and abduction charges in 2010. At the time, our cameras recorded him laughing outside the courthouse, relieved to hear the verdict read 'not guilty.' WAVY.com asked Roush, who then went by the alias Christopher Miner, what he was going to do next.
"First thing I'm doing is going home," he laughed.
But, his home on Harpersville Road is where Roush got into trouble a third time. A passerby called police, after seeing Roush naked on his front porch. The misdemeanor charges were initially dropped, but then upgraded this week. Roush now faces felony indecent liberties with a child and 12 misdemeanors for obscene sexual display and indecent exposure.
Chief Fox says every time an officer is charged with a crime the department reevaluates its policies and procedures.
"Did we miss something? Should we have seen this coming?" said Chief Fox. "We do, on every case, look at ourselves as an organization. Sometimes when this happens I get my team in and ask, 'Are we hiring the right people?' Most of the time, we are."
The chief personally interviews each officer and makes them recite the code of ethics. He says the screening process is so intense, it is hard to find applicants up to their standards.
"I think Chief is unique in that he wants the buck to stop with him and takes total accountability for anything that goes wrong in his department," said McKinley Price, Mayor of Newport News. "I think that's a very admirable position to be in."
When asked about the four arrests, Mayor Price called this an "unlucky" year. WAVY.com pointed out the city of Chesapeake has a similar size force, and only five arrests in the last five years. The mayor said he's not concerned because he doesn't feel the arrests indicate a cultural problem among police.
"Whether or not there is a culture that police feel it's okay to do something wrong...if we were to have that suspicion, then we would show concern," said Mayor Price.
And because the buck stops with him, Chief Fox knows the next officer arrest he deals with could very possibly be his last.
"The average chief of police lasts about three years," said Chief Fox, who has spent almost 10 years leading Newport News police. "As chief of police, I'm one incident away from being fired and I know that. All chiefs know that. I can be at home asleep tonight, something goes wrong that I've got to deal with, and I lose my job over it. I know that."
Officers have to go through lie detector tests, extensive background checks and one on one interviews with the chief before they are hired.
If they get charged with a crime, they are automatically put on administrative leave. The chief then determines whether the officer is on paid or unpaid leave.
The cases of officers Roush and Mounger are still going through the court process and have not been concluded.
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