Las Vegas Sun

September 19, 2018

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Metro tightens net in overtime probe

An investigation into the possible abuse of overtime pay has landed one Metro lieutenant on paid leave and has led to the demotion of a deputy chief.

Narcotics Lt. Sean Donnelly has been on administrative leave since April 21 pending an Internal Affairs investigation into accusations that he manipulated overtime payments, Sheriff Doug Gillespie said Thursday.

Gillespie also confirmed that Bob Chinn, his appointed deputy chief in charge of homeland security, has been demoted to captain because of information that came out during the ongoing investigation.

Chinn was captain of Metro's narcotics bureau during the period in which Donnelly has been accused of abusing overtime.

Donnelly, 47 and a 24-year veteran of Metro, recently announced plans to retire in July. Metro employees must clock 25 years with the department or reach age 50 before they can retire without affecting their pensions.

Chinn, a 27-year veteran of Metro, is on vacation until July 2. When he returns, Gillespie said, he'll become captain of Metro's McCarran International Airport bureau. The demotion will mean a pay cut. Neither captains nor deputy chiefs get overtime.

Attempts to contact Chinn on Thursday were unsuccessful.

The Internal Affairs investigation began in late February after another narcotics lieutenant, then an acting captain, brought the overtime allegations to the attention of Metro officials, Gillespie said.

Donnelly said he believes a policy dispute is at the core of the investigation. The lieutenant has been accused of getting overtime pay for reviewing search warrants on his days off by summoning officers to his home, a practice that isn't inappropriate, he says. Two judges who regularly review narcotics search warrants live near Donnelly, and the lieutenant argues it made sense for officers to make the trip.

Donnelly earned just over $14,000 in overtime pay in 2006, according to police records. So far this year, he has earned $4,700 in overtime.

Donnelly said he is choosing to retire now because of the stress the investigation has put on him and his family. He said he has begun taking prescription medicine to control anxiety.

"I'm choosing not to go through the stress," he said.

The investigation will likely be concluded within 30 days, after which Metro officials will determine whether policy violations have occurred, Gillespie said. Until then, he said, he cannot discuss specifics.

Gillespie wouldn't rule out criminal charges.

"I don't think that it would be a secret to anyone that Sean is being investigated," Gillespie said. "The investigation is not over yet, so I'm not drawing conclusions. I'm not pointing fingers."

Sources within Metro said Donnelly has been accused of abusing "callback time" or unscheduled overtime, either by waiting until his days off to perform certain tasks or holding officers after hours to force overtime. Under police policy, any unscheduled overtime nets the officer a minimum of four hours' overtime pay.

Abusing callback time also could inflate an officer's pension. Overtime that is scheduled does not count toward an employee's pension investments, but unscheduled overtime - callback time - does.

There are also allegations that representatives of the Police Protective Association, the local union, are embroiled in the investigation, although Gillespie could not confirm whether Internal Affairs officers have questioned anybody from the union.

Union Executive Director Chris Collins would not comment because of the ongoing investigation.

The sheriff called the circumstances of the investigation unusual, although it comes at a time when Las Vegas city officials are examining increases in overtime payments. Finance Director Mark Vincent told the Sun in April that officials were studying patterns of overtime and callback payment, trying to understand how city overtime payment soared from $3.1 million in fiscal 2001 to $17.2 million last year.

In Clark County, overtime increased from $11.8 million in fiscal 2002 to $28.2 million last year.

These increases have led officials to question whether overtime is getting out of hand.

Metro, which is funded by both government entities, has seen a 98 percent increase in overtime payments since 2001. Last year it paid its employees $19.1 million in overtime, almost $4 million of which was reimbursed by special-event promoters.

If a person is found guilty of fraudulently receiving overtime pay, the department will try to recoup the money, Gillespie said.

Rank-and-file police officers are grumbling that if Donnelly is found guilty, he won't be fairly punished. Officers familiar with the investigation have suggested that Donnelly is a Metro "insider" and is therefore being allowed to escape punishment with an early retirement. Gillespie disputes this and points to the lieutenant's administrative leave and the demotion of Chinn as evidence he is taking the situation seriously.

"Our investigations do not end when people retire," Gillespie said. "Tenure and popularity do not trump misconduct."

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