Bellevue police chief to be reinstated after yearlong paid leave

September 12, 2018 GMT

The Bellevue police chief will be back at work later this month, after collecting $122,409 while on paid leave amid a battle with the city’s police union.

Last year Mark Elbert received a no-confidence vote from the Bellevue police union and was placed on leave. He will be reinstated as chief of police on Wednesday, according to a press release sent out Tuesday by the city’s attorney, Patrick Sullivan.

Elbert will be using vacation time for a “previously scheduled event,” so his first day of work will be Sept. 20, the release said.

Elbert, 49, was paid and received full benefits and health insurance from the city since he was placed on leave, according to information provided by the city.

The city’s release offers few explanations as to why the chief’s leave lasted so long, saying “it is not the policy or practice of the city to release information regarding personnel issues, including the disposition of any disciplinary investigation.”

[Read more: Bellevue officials offer few answers about police chief’s nearly 11-month paid leave totaling $108,285 ]

Elbert asked to be put on leav e after members of the union delivered a 72-1 no-confidence vote on Sept. 13, 2017, citing a pattern of “dishonest and deceptive conduct.”

That night, the union put out a press release making several allegations against the chief. Among those allegations were that the chief instructed members of the department to deceive other members of the department and that he had tried to coerce union members to change the results of qualifications testing and evaluations.

The union said it had audio recordings of the chief instructing a member of the department to hide information from other department members and the city.

Elbert said at the time that the allegations were fabricated and included “gross mischaracterizations” but asked to be put on leave.

Elbert’s attorney, Ted Boecker, issued a statement Tuesday saying the chief is grateful that the “extremely taxing process is over.”

“Despite months of leaks and attempts to disparage Chief Elbert’s character by certain parties, he respected the process, fully cooperated with inquiries and allowed the investigation to continue without personal public comment,” the statement said. “Although the investigation drug on much longer than Chief Elbert ever imagined, now that there has been a final resolution, he looks forward to returning to work.”

Gary Young, an attorney for the union, said the union will hold a press conference regarding the matter on Thursday but otherwise declined to comment.

The chief’s statement noted that many of the allegations raised against him were reviewed by the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, and the commission determined that there was no merit to the complaints and that his actions were within his authority as chief.

In May, the commission ruled that there was insufficient evidence to permanently ban Elbert from law enforcement.

In their statements, Elbert and Sullivan both said an investigation had been done by the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office. The city said the investigation found “many inconsistencies, lies and misunderstandings of the facts.”

In copies of the recordings obtained by The World-Herald, Elbert can be heard agreeing to allow a sergeant who had been seeking special accommodation to remain on an eight-hour shift and not have to answer his phone after hours.

In exchange, the sergeant can be heard agreeing to drop the formal request he made to the city and not to tell his lawyer or the city why it was being dropped.

Elbert’s statement said the sergeant had thanked Elbert and did not formally complain for months following the recorded meeting.

“Chief Elbert is a decorated police officer and has risen through the ranks like very few have,” Sullivan wrote in the city’s statement. “His management style is not for everyone, as is the case of every leader, but he has served professionally and in the best interest of the officers of this city, sometimes at the detriment of his own well-being.”

Elbert became chief in 2013. He replaced longtime Chief John Stacey, who retired after a series of controversies. Stacey was on leave for a month before deciding to leave his position.

When Stacey left, the city paid him more than $1.4 million for things like unused vacation time and sick leave. He later sued the city, challenging the amount he was paid for unused sick leave, and the city settled for an additional $16,000.

The Bellevue Police Department currently has 94 sworn officers, two captains, five lieutenants and 17 sergeants, according to information from the city.

World-Herald staff writer

Alia Conley contributed to this report.