Cottonwood fires police chief after 4-month leave

Stephen Gesell's employment as Cottonwood police chief has been terminated. (File photo)

Stephen Gesell's employment as Cottonwood police chief has been terminated. (File photo)

COTTONWOOD – Stephen Gesell has been terminated as Cottonwood’s police chief as of Thursday, Sept. 14.

Gesell had been on paid administrative leave since the afternoon of May 11.

"Though I never would have predicted what has transpired over the last four months, I am honored to conclude a fulfilling 34-year law enforcement career serving this community,” Gesell said in a statement. “I have no regrets and find solace in knowing I’ve never let my personal interests compromise the oath I’ve taken to heart.

“I’ve dedicated my adult life to doing what I can to contribute to the greater good. I am unwaveringly confident that the truth has a way of finding daylight. That will inevitably be the case here."

City Manager Scotty Douglass said the procedure took four months because it was “very comprehensive” and he wanted to do a “careful examination” of the facts and witness statements. In Cottonwood, the city manager is responsible for hiring, firing and disciplining city employees.

Douglass said that over his entire career, “this has been the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make.”

“At all levels, City of Cottonwood staff are held to a high standard of accountability, ethics, trustworthiness, service to the community, and respectful treatment of their co-workers,” a statement from City Hall read. “It is the City Manager’s responsibility to ensure that all violations of employment policies and/or procedures are diligently examined, and if substantiated, to take appropriate and necessary action.”

Cmdr. Chris Dowell will continue to serve as acting police chief, a position he has held since June. During that interim period, the Cottonwood Police Department has been on a timeline to meet stipulations laid out in an agreement with the Arizona Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division resulting from a complaint from a serving officer.

Douglass said those stipulations have been met.

The case with the AG’s office revolved around a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Cottonwood City Council discussed the case in closed session two days before Gesell was put on administrative leave by Deputy City Manager Rudy Rodriguez. Douglass started his job three days after Gesell was placed on leave.

Gesell was hired as police chief in 2016 by then-City Manager Doug Bartosh, who had been Gesell’s chief in the Scottsdale Police Department. Before being hired in Cottonwood, Gesell was police chief in San Luis Obispo, California. He resigned from that position after being placed on administrative leave by the city manager.

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