The independent news organization of Duke University

Tenure at USC hints at Graves' style

A little more than two years ago, Aaron Graves arrived with great fanfare from the University of Southern California.

Appointed to the new post of associate vice president for campus safety and security, Graves was lauded by Duke administrators for his expertise leading USC's Department of Public Safety.

Now, Graves is dealing with the exodus of one-third of the Duke University Police Department force since his arrival, and some former officers at USC said they might understand why DUPD officers are dissatisfied with current leadership.

They said Graves may have brought more than just his resume from California.

"There's just this arrogance he had," said Russ Enyeart, a former USC public safety officer. "He thought he was untouchable."

Enyeart is one of two former officers who filed suit in California superior court against USC. The cases, which involved their terminations from USC, name current DUPD Maj. Gloria Graham-a former captain at USC under Graves-as a defendant. (The case has been transferred to arbitration, rather than going to trial).

The officers allege discrimination and harassment based on ethnicity and national origin, retaliation in violation of government code and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

But Graham said Enyeart and other disgruntled employees were the exceptions in her tenure at USC.

"All employees were terminated for good cause," she said.

Graves declined repeated requests for comment and cancelled a scheduled interview with a reporter for this story.

Some current DUPD officers, however, echoed Enyeart's concerns.

"The core values of communication and respect just don't apply," one officer said of the current leadership.

'Much less deep than you might hope'

Graves was hired by the University after a national search including approximately 50 candidates, according to a press release at the time of his hire.

In vetting his candidacy, top administrators did not speak to anyone at USC-they delegated the task to a search firm-but were not concerned about the lawsuits, said Executive Vice President Tallman Trask.

California is a "litigious state," Trask said. Workers' complaints are filed often at universities as large as Duke and USC, he said, although he noted that they rarely involve campus police departments.

At any rate, Trask said Graves' experience "in a place of a similar size with a good mission" made him a strong candidate.

"These pools are much less deep than you might hope," Trask said.

The two schools may be on separate coasts, but their police departments share many similarities, including off-campus patrolling to protect students and staff from nearby high-crime areas.

He was followed closely after by Graham, who was hired by Duke in July 2007.

'Not popular with all of our employees'

Interviews with former USC officers suggest that at least some members of the department were happy to see Graves gone.

"I don't have anything against Graves or Graham-this is nothing personal-I just really disagree with their leadership. I don't think they have any leadership," said Donny Lee, a former detective with USC's Department of Public Safety.

Lee has his own theories on how his former boss, whom he labeled as "vindictive," ended up in Durham. USC officers-even if they were contacted by Duke's search firm-would have been unlikely to spill dirt on Graves, Lee said.

"When you have a police department that wants to get rid of someone, they won't say anything bad because they want him gone and they want him out of his position," he said.

USC's Office of Communication and Department of Public Safety did not respond to requests for comment.

Graves oversaw more than 200 employees during his tenure at USC. He came to USC in a time of turmoil, as the entire previous leadership had been asked to leave and the department's license was on the verge of being revoked, Graham said.

She added that she and Graves brought a new focus on community-based policing,.

"I'm not going to hide our story or lie about our story," Graham said. "Our philosophy is not popular with all of our employees."

That take-it-or-leave-it attitude inspired strong feelings from some at USC.

"The term they used to use... was you either get on the bus or you can get off and get out," said one former USC lieutenant who wished to remain anonymous because of continued connections to the school. "[Graves] just had no place for anybody who had an opposing opinion."

The former lieutenant suggested race played a role in some of Graves' decisions. Graves is black and a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

The officer recalled having an argument with Graves in the latter's office that began on a sour note.

"He was on the phone with someone and he said, 'Sorry, I have an angry white man sitting here in front of my desk,'" the officer said. "I personally considered him to be racist."

Asked to respond to the allegation of racism, Graves wrote in an e-mail that he was not prepared to defend against former colleagues' feelings.

"Clearly, everyone is entitled to their opinion but it does not make it a fact or even true," he wrote.

Some officers said he had a tendency to hire candidates associated with NOBLE, but Graves rejected the idea that he favors candidates from particular professional organizations.

"That allegation is totally false," he wrote in an e-mail. "In my tenure as a law enforcement executive, I have not hired or required any employee to be a member of any professional organization as a condition of employment."

As evidence that he surrounds himself with the most qualified people available, he noted that nearly a dozen former employees and co-workers have become chiefs of police at other universities.

Chelsea Allison contributed to this article.

Comments