The president of the Nevada Highway Patrol Association is on administrative leave in a move association officials described as a vendetta.
Stewart Handte, an 18-year veteran trooper based in Reno, was told the Public Safety Department headed by Dick Kirkland was beginning an internal affairs investigation into his conduct. His badge, gun and patrol car were taken from him on Christmas Eve.
NHPA Director Gary Wolff described the alleged "crimes" as absurd.
"First, he's accused of disseminating confidential information," said Wolff.
The confidential information consists of a list put out by Kirkland and NHP Col. David Hosmer bearing the names of 41 troopers described as "habitual repeat sworn employees."
Wolff refused to reveal any details but said the troopers named on the document described it to him as "a hit list."
The complete document reportedly details complaints that have been filed against the officers. Nowhere on the list does it say the document is confidential.
Wolff said the second charge against Handte is that he was "spreading rumors about Kirkland leaving state service." There has been a rumor circulating for some time that Kirkland was frustrated with constraints on the Public Safety director's post and was considering leaving after Jan. 1.
"I don't know how talking about that would be a crime," said Wolff.
The third issue involved an incident in which one of four officers at a pizza parlor in Reno failed to pay his bill before leaving. Handte was one of the four but apparently not the one who forgot to pay.
Wolff said the trooper involved overlooked the bill as he left the restaurant to respond to a call.
"When he was made aware, he went back immediately and paid the $2.65," said Wolff.
Wolff said the situation is another example of Kirkland's hostility toward Handte that began when the association complained to the attorney general and governor about the director's abrasive management style.
After an article appeared about that Sept. 8 meeting, Kirkland sent Handte a letter Sept. 11 ordering him to appear for a meeting with Kirkland and his staff the next day "for the purpose of insuring that we can get to the heart of the issues."
While that letter said Handte wasn't under investigation -- "at this point" -- it said an investigation might be ordered depending on what happened at that meeting.
That meeting was called off at the last minute. More recently, Handte and other troopers have been summoned to their commanders' offices and asked who was spreading the list of "habitual repeat sworn employees."
Calls to Kirkland were referred to Public Safety public information officer Kim Evans, who said she had no information and could not discuss a pending personnel case. She agreed to present a series of question topics to Kirkland but, after doing so, said there would be no comment.
She said Kirkland told her to say that "no one is authorized to comment on any aspect of this, even sideline issues." She said any comments would have to wait until the personnel issues were resolved.
Evans said that was according to instructions from the Attorney General's Office, which will represent the department in any legal action.
Handte also has been told by his lawyer to make no comment on the situation. His lawyer has asked that the trooper be reinstated to active patrol duty.
Teamsters Local 14 Executive Secretary Gary Mauger in Las Vegas described Kirkland's conduct as "incredible." He said Handte and the NHP Association have their full backing.
"Teamsters always have been there for their members," he said. "We prided ourselves on that and we're not going roll over now."