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13 Investigates questions Pueblo mayor’s appointment of controversial police chief

Noeller Gradisar
Pueblo Police Department/KRDO

PUEBLO, Colo. (KRDO) -- A day after announcing his controversial appointment of Steven Noeller to be Pueblo's next police chief, Mayor Nick Gradisar sat down with 13 Investigates to explain his decision.

Noeller was at the center of an internal investigation earlier this year after 10 complaints, including claims of discrimination, intimidation, and bullying, were filed by Pueblo police officers.

13 Investigates obtained the executive summary of Denver-based law firm Hoffman, Parker, Wilson, & Carberry's investigation into Noeller, which was completed on April 2.

The report noted "numerous examples of Deputy Chief Noeller being difficult to work with, having a temper that is not productive in the workplace, and treating various individuals differently than others, and in many cases treating them poorly," according to the executive summary. The report described Noeller's leadership style as divisive. 

The city has repeatedly denied 13 Investigates access to the full investigative report and its findings, citing attorney-client privilege. When asked why that wasn't public information after taxpayers paid $14,000 for the investigation, the mayor said it was a personnel matter and releasing it could have a "chilling effect" on employee complaints in the future.

The commission, who helped select finalists for Pueblo's police chief job, did not see the full report, according to Mayor Gradisar. Gradisar did send it to the city council on Thursday to review before they vote to confirm Noeller as Chief of Police on August 9. 

KRDO: Walk us through the process that the city used to search for the police chief.

Mayor Nick Gradisar: Well, we opened it up to a nationwide search. I decided early on when Troy Davenport announced his retirement, that we would do a nationwide search. Civil Service did the search; they put it out on those avenues that they believe would get responses from the most qualified people. So, that's how the search was conducted. 15 people, I think 15 or 16, submitted applications to be chief of police. I put together a group of individuals to review those applications and select some finalists. And most of those individuals were, with the addition of a couple of more, ended up being on an interview committee that interviewed those finalists and made recommendations to me. So three names were recommended to me for the chief position. And I talked to all of them and made my decision.

KRDO: What were you looking for in Pueblo's next police chief?

Gradisar: Well, I was looking for somebody that could be a leader. Obviously, somebody that has integrity that has, or could quickly learn the culture in Pueblo. Pueblo is a unique place, and I wanted to make sure that we had somebody that would be the best possible fit for the city of Pueblo.

KRDO: You appointed Steven Noeller; you recommended to the council that that's who you would like to see as the police chief based on the interviews based and the process. What was it about him that you said, this is the guy for the job?

Gradisar: Well, he had widespread broad community support. Evidence by letters of recommendation and phone calls to me from members of the community, whose judgment, I respect and trust. He had support from members of the department, saying, 'hey, this would be a good fit. He would be a good leader for the City of Pueblo.' And in the end, I decided that an internal candidate and the situation was the best. Not that the external candidates weren't highly qualified, but I didn't feel like there was a need to bring somebody in from the outside and sort of bring a new culture or new ideas to the police department because I think it's been operating pretty well, all in all, so I didn't want to disrupt that if it wasn't necessary. Sometimes, you got a problem in a police department, you have to bring somebody in from the outside, but that wasn't the case here.

KRDO: We've obtained a copy of that executive summary after 10 complaints were filed harassment or, you know, discrimination, bullying, those types of allegations; the law firm that you hired to do that investigation found that there were no civil rights violations by Steven Noeller. However, they did find that he broke city policy, police department policy and that his leadership style was at a minimum divisive. So how did that investigation factor into your decision to name him police chief?

Gradisar: Well, I took it into consideration. I took into consideration the nature of the complaints. And let me be clear that I have read the earlier reports that Chief Davenport did. I have read the 110 pages that the law firm did, and viewing them in their totality, I determined that there was nothing in there that would disqualify Chris Noeller from being the chief of police.

KRDO: When you read through that the leadership style is at a minimum divisive, what does that say to you as a leader in this community?

Gradisar: Well, it says he has a lot to learn, and he has learned, and Troy Davenport has talked to him about that has tried to mentor him. See, these complaints started at about the time he got to be Deputy Chief. You know he supervised 146 people. I think you got three or four that really have issues and problems with him. So that's a pretty good record, I would say. You know, in any kind of leadership position, you try your best to make everybody happy. That's not possible. Sometimes, it just doesn't work out. Chris Noller has indicated to me, he's willing and able to work with anybody in that department, and I believe him. And I hope for people that have filed the complaints will offer him the same gratitude.

KRDO: With that being said, we have current officers who say that they don't feel like their complaints were taken seriously. They say that Noeller leads by fear. They think he's a racist. They're afraid to go to work because of how he demeans them. What do you want to say to those officers who are making these allegations?

Gradisar: Well, what I would say is, you know, I learned pretty early on, the boss might not always might not always be right, but the boss is always the boss, and I think they need to learn that. That, you know, you don't have to like it, you have to work for him. And obviously, if anything illegal is happening, which was thoroughly investigated and determined not to have been happening, it'll be dealt with. So, they're just gonna have to either figure out how they're going to get along with the chief or decide they're gonna go somewhere else.

KRDO: The report did find policy violations. Was Noeller ever disciplined for those?

Gradisar: Well, I am trying to think whether those are personnel matters. Troy Davenport, when he did his investigation, took whatever action he thought was necessary with respect to the allegations that were made, and most of the allegations are the same that were, were the subject matter of the law firm's investigation. So, I think if Troy Davenport felt that disciplinary action was necessary, he did it.

KRDO: Pueblo has a large Hispanic population here. How can that population trust him as chief of police when they don't have the full story?

Gradisar: Well, they have the results of the investigation, which thoroughly investigated the allegations of discrimination and found that they were without merit. So, if any of the officers feel that way, and I have talked to the officers. I talked to each of the officers that were involved in this before I appointed him as the interim chief, and I said to each one of those officers, if as the interim chief, you see that he's engaged in any of this behavior you think is wrong, you got my number. Call me. None of them have. They've obviously been talking to you, and I noticed that they haven't appeared on camera, and I think there's probably reasons for that.

KRDO: In a statement to us, you called the allegations against him baseless. Can you explain a little bit about why these allegations are baseless since you've seen the report?

Gradisar: Well, baseless, they're petty; some of them were petty.

KRDO: But you said baseless. . .

Gradisar: Well, the attorneys found them baseless; some of the allegations, there wasn't any evidence that he had discriminated against anybody because of the race or age or sex.

KRDO: What do you want the public to know about Steven Noeller? Because there's kind of a little bit of mystery with not seeing that report or not specifically hearing the allegations.

Gradisar: There's not any mystery at all. There's not any mystery. Everybody knows Steven Noeller in this community, three or four people are just running, and they obviously have your ear. You're trying to make as much hay as you can about it, but the council knows Steven Noeller, the public I believe knows Steven Noeller. And so, I think he'll be confirmed as chief of police.

If you have a story or lead you want our team to investigate, email us at 13investigates@krdo.com



    

Chelsea Brentzel

Chelsea is an investigative reporter for KRDO NewsChannel 13. Learn more about Chelsea here.

Comments

4 Comments

  1. I love how they tried to turn this into a race issue, what is wrong with out society. From what I have read this has never been a race issue, sounds like they have 3 or 4 crybabies being held accountable for their actions and now they are upset they have to be held accountable. Good luck Chief Noeller, git rid of those who are trying to ruin the PPD.

  2. Instead of asking Gradisar why he promoted a guy who might make a bad boss, they should also be asking why the last chief, who was very popular and doing a great job, suddenly left. Might just be because the mayor himself is also a horrible boss.

  3. Blaming the individual complainant employees that utilized the proper procedures to voice their grievances of their divisive leadership to then be demeaned and advised to move on if they don’t like the toxic environment only shows how caustic this agency really is currently. No wonder most of these agencies like PPD are having a hard time hiring from their own communities. Their own communities see how their government leaders and elected officials allow this corruption to, not only exist, but is fostered and valued as a positive skillset by the Mayor of the city. This problem is systemic, and will not be fixed until these government leaders stop listening and following the wills of the corporations and lobbyists of their communities and start listening “to the people”. The problem is the elected officials get paid better by the lobbyists than what they receive from the people. Which is why lobbying and a 2-term limit should become standard and violations of these should be criminalized with heavy fines, fees and jail-time.

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