All one has to do is Google the town of California City to see articles, lawsuits, and complaints regarding allegations of political corruption amongst its management and City Council. The City has been plagued with investigations by various governmental agencies, such as the FBI, Kern County District Attorney’s Office, Fair Political Practices Commission, and the Kern County Grand Jury. Recent elections may have hopefully weeded out some of the Councilmembers that were part of the longstanding problems; however, it is still too soon to tell. Unfortunately, elections alone do not cure the ongoing problems in at-will management positions.
Appellant, who was a former California City Police Lieutenant, was the victim of the alleged political corruption involving City management and prior Councilmembers. As a result, the City disciplined him for misconduct allegations that eventually were overturned in their entirety pursuant to a settlement agreement.
Appellant while employed with the Police Department reported concerns to City management regarding alleged misconduct within the Department and amongst certain Councilmembers. At one point, the Chief of Police was placed on administrative leave due to some of these concerns, which included such allegations as theft of City property, nepotism, and favoritism. Not surprising, once the Chief returned from administrative leave, it was not long before misconduct allegations were launched against Appellant by the Chief of Police. Rather than hire a neutral investigator to investigate the allegations, the City hired an attorney from the same law firm that served as its advisor to the City.
Subsequently, and arguably not coincidentally, a Councilmember, who was also known to be friends of the Chief, filed a complaint against Appellant. These two investigations were combined and the City utilized them as the basis for discipline against Appellant. The same law firm that conducted the initial investigation then advised City management through the Skelly process.
During the Skelly hearing, Appellant’s attorney addressed the conflict of interest between the law firm advising the City while also conducting the investigation, the lack of evidence to support the misconduct allegations, and the clear retaliation by the Chief against Appellant. Other whistleblower retaliation claims were also discussed regarding misconduct that was reported by Appellant regarding Councilmembers and other employees within the City.
Upon the filing of the appeal and notifying the City of the potential exposure relating to retaliation claims, the City contacted Appellant’s attorney to settle the case. The City agreed to reverse all allegations it lodged against Appellant, paid him $300,000, and issued him a CCW. Thanks to the work of Dawson & Riley, Appellant is now currently working as a sworn police officer with a law enforcement agency in Los Angeles County. Appellant no longer has to worry about being targeted for doing the right thing and reporting misconduct. Unfortunately, until the root of the problem is dealt with, there will likely be more employees who fall victim to the ongoing political problems.
For example, the City Manager recently terminated three Police Department employees relating to a use of force incident involving a subject who has a history of contacts with the Department. That incident indirectly involved a local business man in the City who allegedly had communications regarding the incident with the City Attorney and certain Councilmembers.
In the pending case, the Police Department referred the matter to the Kern County District Attorney’s Office for review. There were no findings of wrongdoing against the involved employees by the DA’s Office. Rather, the DA’s Office pursued criminal charges against the involved subject, who eventually pled nolo contendere to multiple charges, including Penal Code section 69. Arguably, his plea supported a strong presumption that the actions of the officers involved were lawful; however, the City continued forward with multiple investigators until it received its desired result – sustained findings to support termination of the three employees. Throughout the internal investigation by the City, there were four different investigators assigned to the matter.
The Department initially hired a business associate of the local businessman to conduct the internal investigation. This investigator was also a current California Highway Patrol Sergeant. It is our understanding that once the City Manager was apprised about the connection between the CHP Sergeant and the local businessman, a new investigator was assigned to the investigation. Not surprising when our office initially asked prior to the Skelly hearing for materials relating to the hiring of the CHP Sergeant, the City’s attorney initially claimed that the City did not have any knowledge of who this person was. It subsequently admitted to knowing who the CHP Sergeant was but then claimed there were no documents relating to his work on the case.
The second investigator was from the same law firm as the advisor to the City, which is what the City did previously in the Lieutenant’s case. His involvement as an investigator was allegedly limited; however, he was the same attorney who eventually advised the City Manager during the Skelly process wherein the City Manager upheld the terminations.
The case was then reassigned to a third outside investigator, who was a well-respected retired Police Captain from an Orange County agency. After reviewing all of the evidence and interviewing all three involved employees, the retired Police Captain determined that all three employees were EXONERATED from any wrongdoing relating to the use of force incident.
During the course of this investigation, the City also went through a number of changes in police management, eventually appointing a new Police Chief. The newly appointed Police Chief is a business associate of the local businessman and also the CHP Sergeant who was the first assigned investigator. Not happy with the exoneration by the third investigator, the Police Chief and City Manager referred the matter to a fourth outside investigator. The fourth and final investigator then provided the desired result of City officials – sustained allegations to support terminating the employees.
Concurrent with the internal investigation conducted by the Department, the subject after pleading no contest to a violation of Penal Code section 69, sued the City relating to the use of force incident. The same subject retained a private attorney who was also connected with the local businessman. At the same time that the private attorney represented the subject in his suit against the City, that private attorney had a prior pending lawsuit against the same local businessman for an alleged failure to repay $150,000 that the private attorney loaned to the local businessman in an effort for the local businessman to expand his tow company business. The City settled the lawsuit with the subject for $150,000. Shortly after the settlement between the City and the private attorney’s client for the same amount of money that the local businessman owed to the private attorney, the private attorney subsequently withdrew his lawsuit against the local businessman.
The terminated employees are still awaiting appeal hearings regarding what is arguably one of the most unprecedented internal investigations that our firm has ever seen. Now it will be up to the newly elected City Councilmembers whether they will right these wrongs, as was done in the prior case with the former Police Lieutenant. Stay tuned.