Chief violated city personnel rules, report says

Sarah Muench and Jahna Berry The Arizona Republic Mar. 24, 2006 12:00 AM

A report released Tuesday concludes that Tempe Police Chief Ralph Tranter violated the city's personnel rules when he wrote a letter recommending probation in the sentencing of a councilwoman's son. The $15,000 investigation, completed by an outside attorney hired by the city, said Tranter used unethical conduct that impaired city employees' performance when he recommended probation in a letter on behalf of Colby Carter, 31, in a drug case Tempe police handled.

Tranter refused comment Tuesday but earlier said, "I do it as a citizen who is familiar with situations like these. There was no intent to intervene in the (police) investigation."

Colby Carter was arrested March 18, 2005, on suspicion of five felony counts involving growing and possessing marijuana. He faced up to three years in prison but was sentenced on March 3 to two years probation, four months work furlough and the minimum of 240 hours of community service.

The chief and Councilwoman Barb Carter have emphasized that Tranter volunteered to write the Oct. 4 letter, that it wasn't written on city letterhead and that he used his name but not his title.

On Tuesday, City Manager Will Manley praised Tranter's track record but would not elaborate on the findings.

"The report speaks for itself," said Manley, adding that because of the city budget process it may be more than a week until he makes a decision about possible discipline. "In the next few weeks, I will direct my full attention to this matter."

Mayor Hugh Hallman also heaped praise on the chief, who has served on the Tempe police force for three decades and has been chief for six years.

"Any department would be hard pressed to find a better chief of police," he said. "To me, this is a real human tragedy where real people are caught in the midst and are doing the best that they can."

Hallman said that Tranter was a believer in "full enforcement" of the law but valued rehabilitation, adding that Tranter had reached out to other members of the community who've battled drug addiction.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Barb Carter said that, "As parents our sole concern is for our son, as he takes responsibility for his actions and begins to rebuild his life."

She said her son's mistake is being exposed for political gain, and she said Tranter's "great leadership style embodies the humanity" which can and should be found in those who protect and serve.

Manley said he learned of the chief's letter when two city employees brought it to his attention in late November. According to the report, Tranter's role as a public servant is not limited to his time at work or the performance of his official duties.

The report said that although Tranter did not write the letter on city stationery or mention his official title, he knew of the risk that his job status would be discovered.

And even though he said he asked Carter's defense attorney not to mention his status, the lawyer did when he presented information to the county attorney.

The report also found that Tranter had never met Colby Carter until a lunch meeting with him and Barb Carter to discuss Colby's progress.

Although Tranter has said he has written other letters like it, he acknowledged in the investigation that during his tenure as chief he has never written another letter recommending probation on behalf of a defendant. He also told the investigating attorney that the firefighters' union and the police union support the councilwoman when he elaborated on the part of the letter that mentions Barb Carter.

Tranter apologized to Manley in December for the impact on the department.

"I obviously need to be more judicious in the future to avoid the detrimental effect this situation has on employee morale," he wrote. "For that I apologize to you and the members of the Police Department."

In a pre-sentence report to the court, 16 people, including Tranter and Barb Carter, wrote character letters on Colby Carter's behalf. Neither Tranter nor Barb Carter identified themselves as appointed city officials, but both recommended probation.

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