Barstow Police Chief Albert Ramirez upon being sworn into office stated that his “vision for the Barstow Police Department is to set a standard of excellence in public safety by coming together in a partnership with the citizens of Barstow to solve community issues.” That vision was short-lived. Within his first year as Police Chief of the Barstow Police Department and with no prior experience as a Department Head, Chief Albert Ramirez made the detrimental and costly decision to terminate a police officer, Appellant, regarding an off-duty incident involving criminal allegations that was pending adjudication. The prior chief, Retired Chief Dianne Burns, was awaiting adjudication of this matter through the criminal process before making any rash administrative decisions. However, Chief Ramirez had a different agenda when he assumed command and decided to terminate Appellant, prior to the conclusion of the criminal matter. Even after the conclusion and dismissal of all criminal charges against Appellant, Chief Ramirez had multiple opportunities to resolve the matter; however, he simply refused. His unreasonable refusal not only damaged the morale of the employees but was also at the detriment of the residents of Barstow, who had to fund the continual litigation of this matter. Dawson & Riley, LLP successfully represented Appellant in this matter wherein he was ordered reinstated with back pay.
On August 25, 2010, Appellant was invited over to a female friend’s home, Ms. Ybarra, who is a long-time family friend. When he arrived, Ybarra had three other male friends at the home, two of which were prior convicted felons and associating in violation of their probation conditions. One of the males who was there, Mr. Myles, unbeknownst to Appellant, was the brother of his ex-wife’s ex-boyfriend. Years prior, Appellant’s ex-wife was dating Myles’ brother and she broke things off to run off and eventually marry Appellant. Appellant did not recognize Myles as the brother of his ex-wife’s ex-boyfriend, and it was brought up by Myles, not Appellant. Myles alleged that Appellant threw beer on his car, called him racial slurs, and tried to hit him resulting in him accidentally hitting Ybarra who was standing between them, because of this prior connection with his ex-wife. Myles also alleged that he and Ybarra tried to leave when Appellant allegedly followed them in his vehicle, which caused them to call 911. They eventually turned into a parking lot and alleged that Appellant drove past them. After Myles and Ybarra returned to her home, they claim Appellant came back, pulled off his shirt, and challenged Myles to fight resulting in another call to 911. According to Myles, Appellant only left once Ybarra told him that she was on the phone with the cops; however, the 911 call does not contain any statements made by Ybarra to Appellant, and Appellant is never heard on the recording.
Appellant alternatively stated that Myles was the aggressor, because he brought up what happened to his brother from years prior. A verbal altercation ensued and Appellant threw a beer can near Myles’ car and left. At no time, did he ever physically assault Myles. He admitted that he did come back to Ybarra’s house, with the intent to apologize because of their families’ longstanding relationship; however, when he arrived, the house was dark, and he never got out of his truck.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department charged Appellant with multiple counts, but the charges were eventually dismissed. Prior to the conclusion of the criminal matter, the Department terminated Appellant for using racial slurs against Myles, striking Myles and Ybarra, chasing Myles and Ybarra in his vehicle and returning back to Ybarra’s residence to pursue a fight with Myles, and inconsistent statements by Appellant.
Multiple statements were taken throughout the criminal and administrative process. Eventually Ybarra admitted in one of her statements under the penalty of perjury that Myles was actually the aggressor and that no physical contact ever occurred. Despite this admission, the Department discounted her statement and continued to pursue discipline against Appellant. At the hearing, the Department was also unable to produce Ybarra and one of the other males, who was allegedly present during this incident, which certainly calls into question the legitimacy of the allegations against Appellant.
The Arbitrator held that the explanation provided by Myles, the alleged victim, made little sense and was not supported by a preponderance of the evidence. Appellant admitted to a verbal altercation, but there was no reason for Appellant to have initiated the altercation based on the situation with his ex-wife. The Arbitrator further held that there was no reliable evidence that Appellant ever manifested a general racist attitude. Rather, it made more sense that Myles initiated the altercation.
Furthermore, the allegation that Appellant chased Myles and Ybarra in his vehicle was also without evidentiary support, as Myles admitted he did not see the license plate, the driver of the vehicle, and that the truck continued past them when they turned into a parking lot, which is not indicative of someone chasing after a vehicle.
The Chief also alleged Appellant was untruthful; however, the Chief failed to provide any specifics in his Notice of Intent to Terminate and his Notice of Termination as to what statements were untruthful. The only information he provided in the Notice of Termination was that he made inconsistent statements to the Sheriff’s Department during his voluntary statement, with no further specifics. However, during the hearing, the Lieutenant, who investigated the matter, testified that he did not believe that Appellant made any inconsistent statements. The facts clearly did not support the Chief’s overbroad claim of inconsistent statements.
Appellant disputed the allegations made against him by Myles and Ybarra, but acknowledged that he should have taken the higher road given the expectations of his position as a police officer and not engaged in a verbal altercation with Myles. Given that acknowledgement, the Arbitrator held that Appellant should have appropriate discipline for his off-duty conduct, but it certainly was not a terminable offense. Appellant had no prior disciplinary record and all of the criminal charges were eventually dropped. As such, Appellant was ordered immediately reinstated with back pay. Hopefully, in future cases, Chief Ramirez will be more cognizant of trying to reasonably resolve these matters in order to reduce litigation costs and to improve the morale at the Department.