Credibility concerns triggered Heidt firing
Heidt was exonerated in a 2010 internal affairs investigation where his account carried heavy weight because videotape from his squad car could not be recovered. But both his actions and his characterization of them came under sharp criticism in a followup investigation three years later, after the department discovered the tape was viewable after all and did not support his account.
A report from that investigation cited “inconsistencies between what actually happened and what Sgt. Heidt reported,” terming it a matter “of great concern.” It concluded his description of Hipolito Aranda as “combative” was “wholly unwarranted by the situation.”
The three authors said, “We discussed the inconsistencies and were unwilling to ascribe intentional deception or lying to Sgt. Heidt’s statements. We did note that the poor credibility of his testimony in this case is extremely troubling even if not deceitful.”
That finding subsequently led Noble to have Capt. Jason Alexander of the Woodburn police conduct an independent investigation into the impact that might have on Heidt’s ability to survive defense challenges to his credibility in future cases, the newly released records show. Alexander authored a report that led District Attorney Brad Berry to issue a formal notice to the local defense bar about Heidt’s credibility issue, and his municipal court counterpart to announce she would not be able to rely on Heidt’s testimony, the records show.
With that, Noble opted to terminate Heidt’s employment.
The documents were requested by the News-Register under Oregon’s public records law. The city declined, citing personal privacy issues, but the News-Register appealed to Berry. Berry ordered their release, ruling the public interest outweighed personal privacy concerns in the high-profile case.
Noble did not spare his own department from criticism, the records show.
In a June 6 letter notifying Heidt of his termination, the chief said the department “lacked an adequate check and balance” in its system for reviewing use of force by officers — something he pledged to rectify. He said he found the department’s failures even more concerning than Heidt’s actions.
In the early 2010 incident, Heidt threw 48-year-old Aranda to the ground with no apparent provocation and began beating him about the head and chest with his fists. Aranda. He tried to protect himself, but did not fight back, suffered a broken elbow and broken ribs.
A county deputy jumped into the fray to deliver some additional blows and a McMinnville police sergeant tased him several times. Originally just a passenger and bystander in a drunk driving case, he ended up facing five charges of his own, including resisting arrest.
Though the defense did not have benefit of the highly exculpatory videotape, it nevertheless won acquittal on all counts from a jury.
Aranda then brought suit in federal court. When the video subsequently surfaced, the city turned it over to Aranda’s attorney and went into settlement phase.
Because the department had failed to conduct an adequate use of force review initially, Noble told Heidt in the termination letter, he had decided there would be “no additional investigation or disciplinary actions taken based on these policy violations.” Instead, he said, he had decided to address the problem by having department procedures updated “to reflect my expectations with regard to the review of officers’ use of force to ensure that we provide a thorough and accurate review the first time.”
That failed to save Heidt’s career, however, because the followup reviews questioned his credibility. Heidt had sworn both in the internal affairs investigation and resisting arrest trial that Aranda had “combatively resisted,” but the videotape shows conclusively that he did not, Noble said in the letter.
Until that point, Heidt, a 16-year veteran, had apparently been well-regarded. Previous performance evaluations praised his honesty and integrity, helping him win a promotion to sergeant in 2009.
His supervisor noted that he had taken on extra duties, such as supervising the reserve officer, defensive tactics and survival skills programs, and praised his leadership in those areas. His supervisor concluded in one review, wrongly as it turned out, “No one will ever question his integrity.”
The first incident to mar Heidt’s record was a drunken bar brawl in Seaside. Though it occurred a year after the Aranda incident, it had an impact first due to the delayed surfacing of the damning Aranda case videotape.
Noble ordered him to forfeit his sergeant stripes and command position, along with a month’s pay. A state arbitrator overturned the pay forfeiture, but upheld the demotion.
Police Association attorney Daryl Garrettson has notified the city the union also intends to arbitrate Heidt’s firing. However, that requires authorization by the union membership, which to city knowledge, has not addressed the matter to date.