Kaye Dickson accomplished a great deal in her 28-year career with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, before being sidelined over allegations she still doesn't understand.
Dickson, a mother of two, worked her way up from dispatcher to acting captain. Her awards include a Medal of Distinction and Investigator of the Year. She has worked in corrections, patrol and even hostage negotiation.
So why did this highly-decorated woman spend more than a year sitting at home?
Administrative Leave with Pay
“They put me on administrative leave with pay. It’s like house arrest. You hear people talking about it, ‘Well, I wish I could have administrative leave with pay. Just sit home all day and get paid”, said Dickson. “It is extremely stressful to you and your family.”
In 2009, Dickson was put on administrative leave with pay while she was under investigation.
She was never officially charged with anything, but a press release on Pinal County Sheriff’s Office website states that she was put on leave “after a complaint was filed involving allegations of possible criminal wrongdoing as well as internal policy violations.”
Dickson said her case is just one example of Sheriff Paul Babeu unfairly disciplining employees and wasting taxpayer money.
“Can you give me papers to shred? Can you not give me envelopes to stamp? Can you not give me something to do?” said Dickson.
County policy states that whenever a sheriff's office employee is disciplined or fired, the employee can appeal the decision to a board called the Merit Commission.
“You can't just trump up charges on them and that's one of the things we looked at,” said Joe Robison who sits on the county’s Merit Commission. “I would say they were exaggerated.”
Robison is a critic of Babeu and his office. His term on the Merit Commission ended March 26, 2012, but the board asked him to stay on until a replacement is found.
Rise in Cases
The ABC15 Investigators reviewed records that show the bi-partisan commission has overturned more than 60 percent of the cases initiated by Babeu since he took office in 2009.
“The first year I was on the commission, Sheriff Vasquez was the sheriff and we didn't have any cases,” said Robison. Today, county records show there are about 20 cases.
Records also show Babeu is currently trying to fire three employees. They are all on paid leave.
In a bi-partisan vote, the Merit Commission reversed the three terminations. But, Babeu still won't let those employees work. The sheriff said he will appeal all the reversals in court.
This year alone, administrative leave cases cost Pinal County taxpayers $270,000 in salaries and an expected $450,000 in court costs.
And earlier this year, Babeu had a $1.6 million dollar deficit. He asked the county Board of Supervisors for money to help close the gap.
“I am thinking the whole time you are investigating me for misuse of county funds but I am sitting here getting paid a very reasonable salary to do nothing. Who is misusing county funds?” asked Dickson.
Dickson said she spoke out about discipline she considered unfair and other issues. “I couldn't work there and say nothing when things were going on that were inappropriate,” she said.
After she spoke out, Babeu launched an internal investigation of Dickson while she was on vacation. Dickson says she found out when her family saw it on the news.
Babeu asked the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office to conduct a criminal investigation of Dickson.
When that investigation turned up nothing, Babeu hired a private investigator at Investigative Research, Inc. The investigations into Dickson took more than a year.
“I can't think of a reasonable explanation why it would take 13 months to investigate me. I'd like to know how long they took to investigate the last homicide,” said Dickson.
Threat of a Lawsuit
Dickson was cleared of any wrongdoing. But that decision came after she threatened to file a lawsuit.
Dickson dropped the case. She says it wasn’t about the money.
“I've been with the county for 28 years. I grew up there,” said Dickson. “The county does not have a surplus of money sitting around.”
Dickson was offered her job back at the sheriff’s office, but she left to run Pinal County Animal Care and Control.
“Somebody needed to stand up to him [Babeu]. To let him know it was not okay. You cannot do this to people and get away with it,” said Dickson.
The sheriff's office turned down our requests for an on-camera interview.
In a statement, a spokesman said the sheriff’s office owed it to citizens to fully investigate Dickson. They also accused the bi-partisan Merit Commission of being "political" against their office.
PSCO issued the following response to questions pertaining to the Merit Commission and the investigation into Kaye Dickson:
The Pinal County Merit Commission until recently was led by Mr. Joe Robison who is the head of the Democratic Party for Pinal County. He was appointed to the commission