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KOLD INVESTIGATES: Digging into history of Tucson police officer featured in viral takedown video

Robert Szelewski under investigation for a run-in with three women while off-duty
KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Feb. 8, 2022 at 10:45 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 9, 2022 at 12:42 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - For months, KOLD News 13 has been investigating the viral confrontation between an off-duty police officer and three women.

On Nov. 14, Tucson officer Robert Szelewski was involved in an incident with the women outside a popular midtown restaurant.

Szelewski was caught on camera pinning down two of the women during a heated confrontation.

Szelewski is under investigation by internal affairs and one of the women, Brittany Aloisi-Wiles, was cited for a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct. Michelle Aloisi and Nicole Whitted were also involved.

In late November, we shared the video shot by Whitted that showed part of the incident.

In January, we shared more video of the incident, including security footage.

Now, Chief Investigator Valerie Cavazos is digging into Szelewski’s history on the force.

We talked to former and current law enforcement officers, those experienced in internal investigations to gain more insight.

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring

The Incident

It all started around noon in the parking lot of Culinary Dropout.

Aloisi and her daughters Aloisi-Wiles and Whitted claimed Szelewski tried to “run them over” while walking to their cars.

“He was very intimidatingly speeding in,” Whitted claimed.

“We jumped to the side and I went (raise arms up) like this to him,” Aloisi-Wiles said.

Szelewski disputes that, and security footage backs him up.

A shouting match quickly pivoted into a tense confrontation with each side accusing the other of making an aggressive move: a chest bump.

“Since when do you charge and bump into somebody?” Szelewski asked the women.

The four continued to argue about what happened with Whitted claiming Szelewski pushed her sister.

Questions are swirling over Szelewski’s temperament, judgment and whether his actions could be considered “excessive” as the women claim.

That can be hard to pin down since there’s little evidence of what really happened before the takedown.

KOLD obtained Szelewski’s personnel file and records of all his internal affairs investigations. There were 25 investigations spanning his entire career with the Tucson Police Department.

Szelewski’s Past

Records reveal Szelewski is an 18-year veteran of the force. He started on patrol and worked up to lead and field train other officers before moving over to DUI enforcement.

He’s well trained in spotting levels of intoxication, which comes into play in the incident.

Szelewski can be heard telling the women they were intoxicated, something they initially denied.

Whitted later told investigators they had been drinking while they were at the restaurant.

“I had a Mimosa, my mom had about half a Bloody Mary, and my sister had a Bloody Mary,” she told officers.

In patrol and DUI enforcement, Szelewski has handled people with varying levels of intoxication and aggression.

TPD records show two “use of force” incidents that ended up in the hands of internal affairs.

One was in 2014 and involved an “unruly passenger” suspected of unlawful possession of alcohol.

Szelewski claimed the passenger grabbed his throat as he resisted arrest. The passenger claimed he was “thrown on the ground like a rag doll.”

Szelewski denied that claim.

According to the IA report, there were “blatant contradictions” with the passenger’s statement.

IA determined Szelewski was justified in his actions and used the minimum reasonable force given the circumstance.

Justified Or Over The Top?

What’s considered justified is spelled out in TPD’s General Operating Procedures.

According to the procedures, officers may use force to make an arrest while factoring in the severity of the crime and immediacy of the threat.

Szelewski claimed Aloisi-Wiles aggressively moved in then chest bumped him, even after he told them “stay your distance.”

In the video, Szelewski said “so boom, I take her down. And I’m like -- ‘you’re under an arrest, you just assaulted a police officer.’”

Aloisi-Wiles claimed Szelewski “grabbed me by my head and took me down to the ground.”

Whitted told police Aloisi-Wiles thought she was being attacked by a man, not a cop.

Szelewski said he told Aloisi-Wiles she just assaulted a police officer. According to the general orders, use of force is allowed to “overcome resistance or prevent escape” and “gain compliance with a lawful order.”

There’s another factor IA could consider in this case: officers are allowed to use force to defend themselves.

Szelewski also took down Aloisi after she dove in.

Tucson police are investigating vandalism at Kellond Elementary School Tuesday, Jan. 25.
(KOLD News 13)

Previous Allegations

That’s similar to the scenario in the second “use of force” allegation made against Szelewski.

Back in 2012, a woman said she witnessed Szelewski use force on a man who fled a traffic stop.

She told police she interfered because she thought Szelewski’s actions were too severe.

Szelewski reported he ordered the woman “to get back” and that she didn’t comply and continued screaming. He struggled to place her under arrest for criminal nuisance while she “continued to fight and thrash about” and “refuse to put her hands behind her back.”

That case was closed and the woman never followed up with TPD.

The law enforcement sources we spoke to with said IA will examine whether the takedown was “proportionate to the threat.”

They pointed to another critical component: whether Szelewski identified himself as a police officer before any physical contact, which could have de-escalated the situation.

IA factors in “whether the officer’s actions unnecessarily or recklessly escalated the situation.”

‘He Did Say He Was A Cop’

All three women claim they didn’t know he was a cop until the takedown. They said even when he said it, they didn’t believe him.

“He didn’t say he was a cop or anything,” Aloisi-Wiles said during the investigation.

“He never identified himself as an officer,” Whitted claimed. “Even if it’s an officer, you don’t just attack someone.”

Szelewski didn’t tell officers at the scene if he did and if he had, did the women miss that before the takedown?

That brings up one question: Was this all avoidable?

(Nicole Whitted | Nicole Whitted)

Profanity, Rudeness And Unprofessionalism

Szelewski can be heard using profanity in the video from the incident.

It’s not the first time Szelewski has had complaints about his tone and temperament.

The professional standards records show 10 allegations of profanity, rudeness or unprofessionalism in his career.

Beginning in 2007, while still learning to be a cop, had a run-in with a woman during a traffic stop.

He had pulled her over for speeding and “yelled at the woman, threatened to take the woman to jail and used profanities.”

IA stated he had “developed a reputation as an officer who does not always use proper judgment and often becomes agitated with citizens.”

During the takedown, you can see Szelewski get agitated with a man who is trying to help him.

“Let’s have then get up,” the good Samaritan said.

“No, they assaulted me so I’m not getting up until we get other units,” Szelewski said.

“Do you have ID?,” the good Samaritan asked.

“It’s in my back pocket,” Szelewski responded. “It’s in my wallet. *** dammit.”

Stressful Traffic Stops

The law enforcement officers we spoke with say it is more common for patrol and DUI enforcement, who face a range of stressful situations, to get complaints because they’re more active with the public.

Since 2007, IA investigated nine other allegations against Szelewski for inappropriate behavior, mainly during traffic stops.

People claimed Szelewski had a “bad attitude,” was a “hot head” or was “sarcastic, rude, and confrontational.”

One person said Szelewski’s “tone of voice and demeanor was disproportionate to the crime.”

In each case, Szelewski was cleared but he was reminded in the half the cases to watch his tone and attitude.

In 2018, IA wrote Szelewski has “received a high number of complaints” and his “matter of fact” style of speaking can sometimes be interpreted as rudeness and unprofessionalism.”

He received coaching to help avoid future complaints.

To be fair, those 25 IA investigations reveal only part of his performance on the force.

Though Szelewski appears agitated during the recent takedown, the good Samaritan said he was calm compared to the women.

“To his credit, the officer was vastly more calm than they were,” the good Samaritan told investigators. “They were incredibly irate and hysterical.”

Tucson police officer Robert Szelewski received high marks on most of his performance reviews.
Tucson police officer Robert Szelewski received high marks on most of his performance reviews.(Tucson Police Department)

Meets Or Exceeds Expectations

We also examined Szelewski’s performance reviews. Except for his first year, he met or exceeded all expectations.

His personnel files also include two letters from citizens.

One came in 2021 and commended Szelewski for showing “impeccable control and calm” during a crisis.

Another in 2015 describes him as being “calm, collective and very professional” throughout an ordeal.

But in this recent case, his temperament, judgment and actions are in question.

Though Aloisi-Wiles admits she should have simply avoided any confrontation, the law enforcement sources told KOLD that IA will examine whether Szelewski tried to de-escalate the situation or “contribute to the need to use force.”

KOLD is still waiting for the final outcome of TPD’s investigation.

The case is also in the hands of Pima County Attorney’s Office for a criminal review.

We will update our viewers on any developments.

Copyright 2022 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.