Employees accuse former University of Texas at Dallas police chief of ethics violations

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by BY HOLLY K. HACKER / The Dallas Morning News

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:47 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 12:21 PM

The former police chief of the University of Texas at Dallas ran personal errands in her state-leased sport utility vehicle, several employees allege. They say she ordered employees to drive her family to the airport for vacations, and to do work for her consulting businesses.

Those accusations of ethical - and potentially criminal - violations are the first clues to what may have happened in the university's police department that resulted in Chief Colleen Ridge's resignation and the firings or forced resignation of three other employees.

The university will not discuss the allegations, citing the ongoing investigation, but documents show it has forwarded the case to the Collin County district attorney's office for possible criminal prosecution.

So far, the investigation has yielded no charges or arrests, but it has lots of people pointing fingers.

Ridge, who was placed on leave in April and resigned in May, denies the allegations. Meanwhile, some of the other disciplined employees say they were wrongly fired or forced to resign after they made the allegations.

University documents sent to the employees indicate they were disciplined for not reporting the problems sooner.

Four commanding officers and a civilian employee filed the complaint April 14. They allege that Ridge, among other things:

Used her state-leased Honda Pilot for trips to the grocery store and other personal errands.

Ordered the assistant chief to make copies and presentations for Ridge's consulting business.

Had several car accidents while running personal errands and charged repairs to the university's insurance.

Used her position to develop a police software program with her husband, then marketed it to other universities.

Charged or had the assistant chief charge unauthorized items, such as flowers and holiday gifts for employees and others, on UTD credit cards.

Other allegations depict low morale. For instance, officers objected to the "Brass Pig Award," created by Ridge and given at an annual awards banquet to the officer "with the most embarrassing mishap of the preceding year." When officers asked that the award not be given at the banquet, "Chief Ridge lashed out and said starting in 2009 there will no longer be an annual award dinner."

Ridge referred questions to her lawyers and said she filed a lengthy rebuttal to the complaint against her.

"Ms. Ridge denies any and all allegations of impropriety and wrongdoing, and, in particular, any allegations of wrongdoing from her fellow officers," said Christine Powers, one of her attorneys.

Powers said that Ridge has received consistently strong performance reviews, including one just a month before the investigation opened.

Two days after the complaint was filed, the university placed Ridge on leave; she resigned the next month. Then, in early June, the university placed four more employees on leave: Assistant Chief Debra Marable, Officer Ryan Ballard, guard Tammy Grigg and administrative assistant Mary Spradlin.

The university fired Marable and Ballard in mid-July. Among the reasons given: Marable knew but failed to report that Ridge misused state resources for personal benefit. And officials said Ballard signed off on inaccurate or false fuel and mileage reports for Ridge's vehicles.

Both deny the allegations and are appealing their terminations, said their attorney, Dan Wyde.

Wyde, who is also representing Grigg, who resigned, said his clients have been unfairly punished.

"They simply were doing what their chief was ordering them to do. To blame Ballard, Grigg and Marable is to basically ignore who's truly responsible for the chief's conduct," Wyde said.

Spradlin remains on paid leave. A spokesman for her lawyer, John Charles Hardin, said he had no comment because it's an ongoing investigation.

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