Former police captain discusses ridding APD of 'corrosive commanders' in lawsuit against city

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Kevin Vandegriff, a former Anchorage Police captain, is on the stand Tuesday as a significant witness in the wrongful termination lawsuit filed against the Anchorage Police Department and the Municipality of Anchorage by a former SWAT commander.

Lieutenant Anthony Henry was fired in April of 2015, months after the city received a 97-page report alleging Henry blew the cover of an undercover drug informant who worked as a recruiter in the Alaska National Guard.

Henry argues the firing was retaliatory and that the report -- known as the "Brown Report," named for the city-hired, outside investigator who compiled it -- is deeply flawed.

[READ MORE: KTUU wins document quest, revealing former Anchorage police chief mishandled internal affairs inquiry]

Vandegriff worked closely with the outside investigator in researching allegations that Henry and Mark Mew, the police chief at the time, may have covered up or interfered with criminal investigations of members of the Alaska National Guard, and that they may have interfered with sexual assault investigations with some connection to the Alaska National Guard.

Previous testimony in the case indicates many of those allegations were not substantiated. Meanwhile, there is disagreement over whether a witness's identity was actually blown, and if so, by who.

[READ MORE: Former National Guard chief takes stand in lawsuit against city]

The Brown Report is the culmination of a years-long campaign against Henry, according to his attorneys. They point to workers' rights cases settled favorably for Henry and another officer through the city's Office of Equal Opportunity as proof that retaliation had previously occurred.

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[Court testimony reveals 'corrosive police commanders' amid 'very tumultuous period']

Vandegriff sparred at times, albeit politely, with Meg Simonian, one of Henry's attorney's, who spent the morning questioning Vandegriff as the jury listened.

Vandegriff often would not immediately answer Simonian's questions, instead, posing questions back to her, asking for clarification, often with raised eyebrows and a rising intonation.

Other times, Vandegriff would offer statements, as with one about whether another police officer, Jack Carson, had filed complaints against Henry.

"You act like he is targeting Tony Henry, and I feel that that's not correct," Vandegriff said, explaining that he felt Carson's complaints weren't personal, but strictly centered on policy and procedure.

Carson had raised whether Henry was improperly covering up another officer's alleged decline in performance, attributed to symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis. That officer -- Jason Whetsell -- had served on APD's SWAT, Special Assignment, and K9 units, with Henry as his commander.

"I did not sustain a complaint against Tony Henry, correct," Vandegriff told Simonian regarding one the internal affairs investigations he'd headed against Henry. "The executive summary made clear that Tony didn't know about Jason's medical condition, as was suspected."

But Vandegriff also testified that "it was not appropriate for him (Whetsell) to continue to carry a gun and a badge," citing an interview he'd conducted with Whetsell in which Whetsell, struggling with his diagnosis, confided doubts about his abilities to be an officer, doubts Whetsell did not share with higher ranks.

"You can see that there was no malice against a young man who happened to develop a disease," Vandegriff said, to again distance the investigations from being motivated by personal attacks.

On the stand, Vandegriff revealed he'd attended a conference, at APD's behest, aimed at educating employers on how to deal with toxic employees. Toxic employees were those considered to be angry with and disrespectful of higher-ups, and who filed many workers' rights complaints.

It was an idea then- police Chief Mew seemed interested in. In an email shown in court, Mew described the tactic as "ridding police organizations of corrosive commanders."

In the email, Mew continued "...I was not protecting Tony, and was willing to use any means to deal with him I could come up, no matter how unusual, as long as it wouldn't backfire on the department."

Vandegriff further explained that the employer strategy he learned for dealing with toxic employees was aimed at "fairly and legally" dealing with an employee who is angry, challenges command and is disrespectful. The final tactic is to offer a "buyout," as offering retirement and a settlement would ultimately be less costly than ongoing legal battles associated with alleged unfair treatment, Vandegriff said.

"Before Jason Whetsell, he (Henry) wasn't a toxic employee, right?" Simonian asked.

Testimony is expected to continue throughout the day.

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