No more running, er, sitting of the bull
Madrid has been on administrative leave since November, 2011. He was placed on leave by then-Sheriff Rick Scholl after discrepancies in Madrid’s timecards were discovered by Lieutenant Robert Weber.
According to the Arbitrator’s case summary, “Lieutenant Robert Weber suspected Appellant’s failure to turn in the time-off slips and his certification of the related time sheets failing to account for the ten hours of time off was an attempted theft of time, and he requested an Internal Affairs Investigation be initiated. The results of the Internal Affairs Investigation determined Appellant’s failure to submit the proper time-off slips to be indicative of his insubordination, and a prima facie case of theft of public funds. Sheriff Scholl determined Appellant intentionally failed to submit the proper forms, attempting to steal $381.60 worth of overtime pay (10 hours x $38.16 per hour).”
However, Perone’s ultimate determination was that “Management acted in a discriminatory and capricious manner” in its efforts to fire Madrid. His order stated that “Appellant will be ordered reinstated to his former position and reimbursed for any sick leave or other unpaid leave he experienced from the time of termination until the time of his reinstatement. Furthermore, it will be ordered that the Appellant’s personnel file be expunged of this disciplinary action, as allowed by law.”
Then-Undersheriff and now current Sheriff Ralph Obenberger told The Sheet he believes the County will appeal the decision.
Careful to speak in generalities, because he is not permitted to speak about individual employees, Obenberger laid out his philosophy as to why his department vigilantly pursues suspected theft cases.
“If you think somebody’s stealing, you can’t trust him. If you can’t trust him, the Court can’t trust him … And if you’re deemed by the court as an unreliable witness, you’re of no use to the department.”
Aside: Clearly, Obenberger would enjoy Joseph Heller’s novel “Catch 22.”
It appears that in a previous era, Jon Madrid was looked upon more favorably by department management. As was pointed out by the arbitrator, “Lt. Weber became personal friends with the Appellant, and at one time temporarily allowed Appellant to live in his home rent-free. Weber also selected Appellant to be promoted into the MONET team and there were issued a number of administrative commendations submitted into evidence for positive aspects of Appellant’s work.”
So what changed?
Again, as described by the arbitrator, “Management was convinced the motive to steal time was a result of Appellant’s experiencing financial hardships because of his divorce during 2008 and 2009. The divorce led to a fifty percent (50%) garnishment of Appellant’s paycheck to his wife and children who had moved to Ventura. Management, after considering Appellant’s relationship with his fiancee in Bakersfield requiring subsequent travel costs to visit them multiple times per month, added motivation to steal.”
But as a source told The Sheet this week, “They probably had a lot better reasons to fire Madrid back when he was ‘in’ with management. Once he was on the outs, they tried to nail him with the first thing they could, and it obviously wasn’t their strongest case.”
The arbitrator indicated that prior to the underlying disciplinary action, Madrid had been suspended by the department twice previously, once for knowingly and improperly making personal use of a department cell phone, and once for reporting that he was on duty when he was actually in his civilian clothes traveling to work.
It appears the arbitration hearing hinged upon the question of whether or not Madrid had actually submitted “time-off slips” for the three shift swaps he’d been involved in.
Because shifts can overlap, when one deputy picks up another deputy’s shift, there are often concurrent hours – and a deputy doesn’t get to double-dip those hours.
Ergo, one is supposed to submit a time-off slip, indicating that the time shouldn’t get paid twice.
Madrid maintained that he submitted his time-off slips, but that they got misplaced in the inter-departmental mail (it is commonplace for deputies to deliver correspondence for each other to different parts of the County).
Several deputies testified as to the “loose mail system” and former Deputy Matthew Baumann (now with the Ventura Police Dept.) testified that sometimes he had submitted the forms in proper order but they were not received. He made it a practice to keep copies of his submissions in case the forms did not make it to Finance.
Several deputies also testified that when they had forgotten to submit time-off slips in the past, that Finance Officer Lynetta Fuerst would generally call to remind them to submit the forms. Madrid did not receive such a call.
According to Arbitrator Perone, Mono County Counsel John Carl Vallejo, “maintains the facts prove it is more likely than not that Appellant [Madrid] falsely certified the accuracy of his time sheets, knowing they did not reflect the time-off hours in question. Counsel provides the Department’s rationale … that the time-off slips were lost in the Department mail is not believable. Unbelievable because the forms would have had to have been lost or misplaced by County staff in two consecutive months for three separate days swapped. Counsel further notes the Appellant noticed a seven dollar and fifty cents ($7.50) discrepancy in his pay, but did not notice that he failed to claim ten hours of time off for which he did not work but was being paid. Counsel maintains Appellant’s likely defense that Ms. Fuerst failed to contact Appellant about the missing slip is irrelevant due to the fact that it was Appellant’s ultimate responsibility to certify the time sheets as being true and correct.”
About six months into Madrid’s leave, with the arbitration process stalled because both sides could not agree on an arbitration panel [State Arbitrator Perone was eventually agreed upon as a compromise], Scholl and Obenberger determined that they wanted to get some value for the $7,000/month Madrid was being paid.
So they elected to bring him into the office every day, not to patrol, but to sit on a stool and greet people as they walked in.
Former deputy Baumann likened it to a schoolboy being told to sit in the corner with a dunce cap on his head.
When Madrid feel asleep at his post one day, Scholl then initiated a further Internal Affairs investigation to reprimand Madrid for sleeping on the job.
The Arbitrator termed the Chair assignment “a serious abuse of discretion” and labeled it “demeaning.”
When asked this week if, in hindsight, he regretted assigning Madrid to the Chair, Obenberger said “In retrospect, I don’t regret it. He’s a paid employee, and because he’s a paid employee, he’s under our direction.”
When asked whether he’s ever seen instances in his career where an officer might risk everything over a few dollars, Obenberger said, “Yes. I’ve seen it before, people risking their careers over small items.”
The Sheet also asked Obenberger about the ‘Good Old Boys’ club, a reference to a general description by members of the public of the apparent clannishness of the Mono County Sheriff’s Dept.
“Some people call it the good old boys network,” said Obenberger. “Others call it succession planning.”
When The Sheet contacted former Sheriff Scholl for comment and asked whether or not he had quit in anticipation of the Madrid verdict. Scholl replied, “After 28 years in law enforcement, it was just the right time to retire. Didn’t know what the outcome of Madrid’s hearing would be and it had no impact on my decision. As for comments on the hearing, I will keep those to myself.”
Braun let go
Mono County Sheriff’s Deputy Ingrid Braun was dismissed by Sheriff Ralph Obenberger this week just as her one-year probationary period was set to expire.
The Sheet contacted Braun, a 21-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department before moving to Mono County, to ask her about her dismissal this week.
Braun said she was not given a reason for the action. “I was called in and told I was being released … the only thing Sheriff Obenberger told me was that he was looking at the big picture [and that Braun apparently wasn’t the right fit].”
“I don’t want to speculate,” she said. “Other people have their theories. I wish I knew why. It would feel better.”
Braun had been Mono County’s only female deputy.