Investigation rules allegation against Pheil founded

Published 6:30 pm Friday, April 7, 2023

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The LaGrange Police Department has released details that led to the resignation of a high-ranking supervisor.

Former LaGrange Police Captain Mike Pheil resigned on March 2, 2023, amidst an internal investigation about an incident at a police supervisor training retreat on Nov. 11, 2020, at Banning Mills where he allegedly exposed himself to a female officer.

On Thursday, Mayor Willie Edmondson announced in a press conference that an outside investigation into the incident had been concluded.

“One of the things I promised when I came in is that we’ve got to be transparent, open for the citizen citizens of LaGrange because we want you to know everything,” Edmondson said. “A lot of things we could not touch base on. We could not say anything about it because we did not have the final findings, but we had an outside investigation done at the police department to get some findings from an independent agency and those findings have come back.”

Edmondson said he didn’t want to get into the details of the investigation at the press conference —which also included the announcement of the hiring of the new police and fire chief— but said the report would be available through open records. The LaGrange Daily News received the investigation documents Friday via an open record request.

In the investigation documents, Interim Police Chief Dale Strickland stated he was notified of an anonymous complaint on Feb. 27, 2023. The next day, Strickland met with Pheil, and he was placed on administrative suspension pending an investigation. Pheil tendered his resignation two days later.

Major Mark Tison, of the Rome (GA) Police Department Office of Professional Standards, conducted the outside investigation into the incident and concluded that Pheil had violated several LaGrange Police Department policies including those on professional image, on and off duty conduct, immoral conduct and conduct unbecoming an officer.

Pheil is alleged to have exposed himself to Sgt. Monica Peterson while at a social gathering at the Banning Mills retreat in Whitesburg in 2020.

Peterson told investigators that she and Pheil were having a casual conversation during an after-hours social gathering at the retreat. She told Pheil, who was wearing running shorts, that his shorts were too short and looked like female panties.

She said she noticed a bandage on his side, which he said was from surgery. Peterson said she asked to see his scar, thinking he would raise his shirt, but Pheil dropped his shorts instead. She said she then turned away, having not gotten a full view.

Peterson said she then told Pheil, “No. I was asking to see your scar,” and he dropped his shorts again far enough for her to see his genitals.

Peterson stated Sgt. Joshua Clower then grabbed her arm and pulled her to him saying he would “beat the [expletive] out of you if you do that again.”

Peterson told investigators she believed Clower was blaming her for Pheil’s actions but said she did not feel Clower intended to harm her, saying that is just the way he talks.

During the investigation, Peterson stated she did not complain about the 2020 incident and was not aware of any complaints about the incident until the anonymous complaint was filed. She said she didn’t tell anyone about the incident because of her prior experience, saying if complaints are made about another officer, you get “iced out.”

Peterson stated she previously reported an incident to Strickland and after other officers learned of her complaint, they stopped talking to her and slowly responded when she needed backup assistance, leading her to feel isolated.

Peterson told investigators she believes she is being blamed for starting the investigation into Pheil and that she has been labeled a mole. She added that if she were not a supervisor, she would not feel safe and would quit her job.

As part of the investigation, Peterson also alleged that she was called into Pheil’s office and he told her he had complaints about her and indicated she was a “cancer” to her shift.

Multiple officers at the incident reportedly consumed heavy amounts of alcohol, including Pheil. Peterson admitted to having been drinking but stated she was not intoxicated. She stated she believes Pheil was intoxicated.

Lt. Mark Cavender told investigators that he has no doubt both Pheil and Peterson were intoxicated based on their mannerisms and knowing them well. Cavender stated he does not drink, but he acknowledged others were drinking alcohol at the retreat.

After the investigation, Tison concluded that the preponderance of the evidence suggests that Pheil did expose his genitals to Peterson and that the allegations of misconduct against him were founded.

A total of 11 LPD employees were identified as being present at the retreat when the misconduct allegedly occurred. Nine current employees were interviewed and three observed Pheil pull down his shorts, one of whom reported seeing Pheil’s penis. Another officer reported seeing Pheil’s pubic hair.

A final employee confirmed seeing Pheil pull down his shorts but was not in a position to see Pheil expose himself. The facial expressions of Peterson and others led the employee to believe the exposure occurred.

Five additional employees did not witness any misconduct but learned of the incident from others.

Tison noted that his investigation did not delve into allegations regarding misconduct at the 2022 retreat at Banning Mills, which have been previously investigated. As part of that investigation, Pheil had been suspended three days for violations of the police department’s standards of conduct, specifically sections on professional image and conduct unbecoming of an officer.