Of the highly anticipated 42-page, 2008-2009 report released by the Mono County Grand Jury on Monday, 17 pages focused on one complaint in particular, numbered Complaint 08-05.
According to the report, “The Grand Jury received several complaints (collectively, the ‘Complaints’) regarding the current Chief of Police (‘The Chief’) and the general management of the Mammoth Lakes Police Department (the ‘MLPD’).
For your convenience, we have attempted to distill the major elements of the complaint and reprint the Grand Jury’s findings here. (For a full transcript of the 2008-2009 Grand Jury report, you can download a copy at www.monocourt.org.)
Investigation: The Grand Jury has several advisors who provided guidance in the course of this investigation. These advisors include the Mono County Superior Court Presiding Judge, the Mono County Counsel and the Mono County District Attorney. In addition, the Grand Jury interviewed many other individuals, including: all of the current sworn MLPD officers, two retired MLPD officers, the MLPD Lieutenant, the Chief, the former MLPD Police Chief, a representative of the California Highway Patrol, the Mammoth Lakes Wildlife Management Specialist, the Mono County Sheriff, a Mono County Sheriff’s deputy, a Mono County Sheriff’s investigator, the Mammoth Lakes Town Manager and local citizens.
Section III of the complaint is what we’ll focus on, as it relates to the Chief’s job performance and management of his department.
III-A. Hiring of the Chief
Statement: The Complaints alleged that the Town erred in appointing the Chief without first conducting a search of possible candidates from outside the ranks.
Findings: There are two schools of thought on the issue of hiring a police chief. Hiring from within can be beneficial … where the candidate is well known in the community and understands the politics and the needs and wants of the community. The downside … is that it can perpetuate a perception of a “good old boys” method of management. Hiring from outside can be beneficial … by bringing in a fresh face and new ideas. However, there is the danger of appointing a person who will not adapt to the small town …
The Grand Jury found that the appointment of the Chief in 2006 was properly conducted, and that the Chief met all of the necessary qualifications.
Approximately half of new police chief appointments in California, according to the Grand Jury report, come as a result of internal promotions.
III-B. Officer of the Year election
Statement: The Chief was elected by the MLPD officers as Officer of the Year in December 2008. The Complaints allege that the vote was rigged and not properly counted.
Findings: The Grand Jury asked each MLPD officer whom they voted for as 2008 Officer of the Year and determined that the allegation is false. The Chief received 7 confirmed votes. A more junior officer received 3 votes and three other officers received one vote each. Some officers did not vote. Several officers commented that they were approached by a patrol officer soliciting votes for the Chief and were uncomfortable with this situation. The soliciting officer felt that the Chief was being “beat up” in the media and local politics and felt the Chief needed a vote of confidence. The Chief was elected 2008 Officer of the Year, having received the largest number of votes.
Recommendation: The Grand Jury recommends that the Officer of the Year award be reserved exclusively for patrol officers. For these officers, this award is recognition from their peers for excellent work.
III-C. Brady violations
Statement: The Complaints alleged that there are “Brady” issues within the MLPD.
Background (provided by The Sheet as brief explanation, lifted largely from Wikipedia because its explanation was most concise): Police officers who lie are often called “Brady cops,” the result of a1963 Brady v. Maryland Supreme Court ruling. Prosecutors are required to notify defendants and their attorneys whenever law enforcement officials involved in their case have a sustained record for knowingly lying in an official capacity.
Findings: The Grand Jury has determined that there is one officer within the MLPD with a “Brady” issue. The officer was the subject of an internal affairs investigation and received appropriate discipline.
III-D. Actions by the Chief to
Discredit the Wildlife Specialist
Statement: The Complaints alleged that the Chief has attempted over the past several years to personally discredit the Wildlife Specialist and to create a hostile work environment for the Wildlife Specialist within the MLPD.
Findings: In late 2008, the Town Council decided that the activities conducted through the Bear-With-Us organization were not sufficient to address the bear problem in town. The Town Council once again brought up the issue of hiring a Wildlife Specialist on a contractual basis to perform wildlife management services under the supervision of the MLPD. There has been a complaint regarding a letter written by the POA (Police Officers Assn.) in November 2008 in opposition to the rehiring of the Wildlife Specialist. The letter was intended only for the Town Manager, but was mistakenly published in the Mammoth Times. There has also been a complaint regarding the attendance of many MLPD officers at a Town Council meeting to discuss rehiring of the Wildlife Specialist which some attendees thought was an act of intimidation.
The Grand Jury has determined that the letter from the POA was indeed written by the then-President and other representatives of the POA and not by the Chief as some have claimed. The Grand Jury has further determined that the attendance of officers at the Town Council meeting was encouraged by MLPD patrol officers, and not by the Chief, again as many have claimed. The Grand Jury has also determined that the opposition from the POA to the rehiring of the Wildlife Specialist was related mostly to budget issues and the officers’ belief that they were adequately trained to handle wildlife calls in the Town. The MLPD officers have been forced to give up certain pay and benefits as part of the Town budget cuts. The officers were not happy that the Town had agreed to pay the Wildlife Specialist to handle only “significant calls for service” (bears under a residence, bears breaking into vehicles, or bears exhibiting aggressive behavior) while the officers continue to handle the vast majority of wildlife calls, just as they have been doing for the past few years.
The Wildlife Specialist entered into a new Wildlife Management Contract with the Town on February 11, 2009. It appears that this Wildlife Contract is beneficial for the Town because, although the MLPD officers do handle the majority of wildlife calls, most officers have conceded that they are not always willing to handle “significant calls for service.” As the Wildlife Specialist is willing to handle such calls, the Grand Jury agrees that the services of the Wildlife Specialist are necessary to ensure the safety of residents in the Mammoth Lakes community. However, it is imperative that the Wildlife Specialist be held accountable to the Town and its taxpayers for his time and activities. The Grand Jury has been informed that, at this time, the Wildlife Specialist, the Town and the MLPD are all complying with their contractual commitments under the Wildlife Contract.
The Grand Jury has interviewed many persons in the course of its investigation and none of those persons claimed to have ever heard the Chief make disparaging or negative comments about the Wildlife Specialist or to instruct others to make such disparaging comments. Further, both the Chief and the Lieutenant informed the Grand Jury that the Chief, in order to avoid any misunderstanding with the Wildlife Specialist, never meets one-on-one with the Wildlife Specialist, but always asks someone else, usually the Lieutenant or the MLPD administrative assistant, to sit in on such meetings … Most sworn MLPD officers stated they had no objections to working with the Wildlife Specialist. Their issue is the cost of the Wildlife Contract in view of the Town’s current budget constraints.
The Grand Jury finds that … the allegations that the Chief attempted to discredit the Wildlife Specialist or to create a hostile working environment are not substantiated.
III-F. Evaluation of MLPD Officer
Statement: The Complaints alleged that a MLPD officer (now retired) received a poor evaluation from the Chief in 2008 due to the officer’s outspoken support for the Wildlife Specialist. This Complaint was directed at the Chief even though the officer’s evaluation was done by the Lieutenant, not the Chief.
Findings: In 2008, the officer received a poor annual evaluation from the Lieutenant that the officer felt was unwarranted. As a result, the officer lost 7.5% of his annual pay for a period of one year, until his next annual evaluation. The officer appealed the evaluation to the Town Manager. After investigating the matter, the Town Manager upheld and sustained the original evaluation by the Lieutenant as correct, but offered the officer the opportunity to undergo an interim evaluation at a six month interval rather than waiting a full year until the next annual evaluation. At the subsequent six month evaluation, the officer received an improved evaluation from the Lieutenant and his performance pay was restored.
The Grand Jury reviewed the officer’s personnel file … and finds that the reasons cited by the Lieutenant in the officer’s evaluation, and supported by the Chief and the Town Manager, were performance related and not related to the officer’s support of the Wildlife Specialist.
III-G. Traffic Enforcement/
Heavy Handed Behavior
Statement: The Complaints alleged that MLPD officers conduct an excessive number of traffic stops. Furthermore, when vehicle stops are made, MLPD officers show heavy handed behavior by sending several additional police cars to the assistance of the officer who made the initial stop, leading to a perception of excessive force by the MLPD.
Findings: The Town Manager and the Chief explained to the Grand Jury that, several years ago, the Town Council became concerned about traffic issues in the town and asked the MLPD to increase its traffic enforcement efforts. These efforts have been generally successful and, as a result, the Town Council has recently asked the MLPD to back down somewhat on traffic enforcement and to make sure that officers are more cognizant of their actions in enforcing traffic stops.
The Chief also explained to the Grand Jury that it is proper police procedure, for safety reasons, for officers to come to the assistance of another officer who has stopped a vehicle for an infraction. However, it appears that the Town Manager and Town Council are aware of complaints in this area and have asked the MLPD to find a better way to address the issue. The Chief informed the Grand Jury that a new policy has been adopted.
Recommendation: The Grand Jury believes that the new measures adopted by the MLPD … will change the perceptions of the residents and visitors in Mammoth Lakes while still ensuring the safety of MLPD officers.
Statement: The Complaints alleged that promotions within the MLPD are not done fairly.
Findings: Many MLPD officers complained to the Grand Jury that the promotion of a Sergeant under the Former Chief was unfair and inappropriate. The promotion occurred very shortly after another Sergeant promotion was made and came as a surprise to many officers. There is a perception among the officers that a new Sergeant position was specifically created by the Former Chief in order to promote an officer who was a close friend. The Grand Jury notes this promotion was done at the request of the Former Chief, although the current Chief (then Lieutenant) is the person who wrote the request to the Town to create the additional Sergeant position. The Chief informed the Grand Jury that the promotion of both Sergeants under the Former Chief was done under a process that had been recommended and approved by the POA.
There has been only one Sergeant promotion done under the Chief. Several officers felt that the process was not entirely fair or transparent. However, the Chief consulted with the POA on the process to follow for this promotion and implemented the POAs recommendation.
Recommendation: The Grand Jury recommends that the MLPD develop a standardized promotion process, with input from the POA, that is clear and consistent and enables officers to be fully aware of qualifications for promotion. A part of this process should include an oral interview with representatives from outside agencies.
III-I. Morale of MLPD officers
Statement: The Complaints alleged that the morale of the MLPD officers is at an all-time low due to inefficiencies and unfairness and the actions of the Chief.
Findings: The Grand Jury found that the morale of the MLPD officers is indeed at a low point. However, morale problems were determined to be due mainly to budget issues.
Recommendation: An improved budget situation would help to increase morale … It is also clear that concerns of favoritism and lack of communication (outlined in III-J and III-K) need to be addressed.
Statement: The Complaints alleged that a “good old boy” network exists in the MLPD and that certain individuals are treated as favorites by the Chief and the Lieutenant.
Findings: The first complaint concerned a special assignment. MONET (Mono Narcotic Enforcement Team) is a joint task force between the Sheriff’s office and the MLPD. MONET consists of one Sheriff’s deputy and two MLPD officers. Assignment to MONET … affords the assigned MLPD officers an increase in pay of 5% for the duration of the assignment. Special assignments are typically for two years, although they can continue for longer periods.
Officers who are interested in receiving a special assignment are asked to indicate their interest in a letter, and the staff (Chief, Lieutenant and Sergeants) review the requests and make the assignments.
While considered to be a good investigative officer, the officer in question was not good at dealing with drug enforcement in general and informants in particular. Concerns about the officer were brought to the Chief and Lieutenant by other officers. It is the policy of the MLPD to counsel officers who are having difficulties in their assignments … The Chief and Lieutenant said they engaged in such counseling on several occasions. Several months ago, the officer in question agreed with the MLPD management to step down from the assignment.
The Chief acknowledged that the officer in question may have been left too long in the MONET assignment … and further acknowledged that this may have been a contributing factor to the perception of favoritism toward this officer …
The second complaint concerns a Sergeant who is perceived to have an especially close relationship with the Chief, and this has contributed to a perception of favoritism toward the Sergeant in question. The Grand Jury determined that there appears to be a close working relationship between the Lieutenant and Sergeant, but not necessarily between the Chief and this Sergeant. However, the Chief considers this Sergeant to be an excellent police officer.
The Grand Jury also received complaints about this Sergeant’s behavior, including excessive micromanagement, and lack of support and mistreatment of subordinate officers. Given the number of complaints about this Sergeant’s behavior, the Grand Jury can only conclude that the complaints concerning this Sergeant’s behavior have merit and must be addressed.
The third complaint concerns the off-duty behavior of another Sergeant who may have violated the Code of Ethics. This Sergeant was involved in two highly publicized recent events, one in Las Vegas and one in Bishop. These events occurred while the Sergeant was off-duty.
The incident in Las Vegas resulted in an internal affairs investigation of the sergeant. The Grand Jury has determined that it was completed in accordance with the rules and regulations … and that the Sergeant received appropriate discipline.
A second investigation relating to the Las Vegas incident was undertaken by an independent investigator hired by the Town as a result of a formal complaint received by the Town alleging that the Chief and the MLPD tried to “whitewash” the incident. The Grand Jury has reviewed the results of this second, independent investigation and has determined that the investigation was properly conducted. All parties involved have acknowledged that the Chief was not present during the incident and was not informed of the incident until several days after it had occurred. The Grand Jury finds that, although mistakes were made by certain MLPD staff in carrying out the instructions of the Chief to obtain information about the incident, the Chief did not delay the investigation and acted appropriately and in a timely manner in pursuing the internal affairs investigation and that no cover up occurred. The Grand Jury finds that friendships among MLPD staff may have contributed to a perception of favoritism or delay in pursuing the investigation.
This Sergeant was later involved in an incident in Bishop. The Grand Jury has reviewed the Bishop Police report regarding this incident, but at the time of writing this report, the Bishop Police and the Inyo County District Attorney’s Office are investigating whether to bring criminal charges.
1. More closely monitor the performance of all officers placed on special assignment.
2. Take immediate steps to address complaints about the aforementioned Sergeant.
3. Mandate that future internal affairs investigations of MLPD management staff be conducted by an outside agency/investigator.
III-K. Mgmt. Communication
Statement: Several MLPD officers complained to the Grand Jury about the lack of communication at the management levels of the MLPD. The officers acknowledged that both the Chief and the Lieutenant have an “open door” policy and that officers are always welcome to come and speak with them, However, the MLPD is a paramilitary organization with a strict chain of command. The Chief is the head of the MLPD. The Lieutenant runs the day-to-day operations and reports to the Chief and the four Sergeants report to the Lieutenant. Each Sergeant has a small group of patrol officers that report directly to said Sergeant while assigned to a particular shift. Shift assignments are changed every three months or so and, as a result of shift changes, the patrol officers’ supervisory Sergeant may also change. Due to this command structure, issues relating to supervisor complaints, for example, are expected to be taken up through the chain of command. Many officers commented on the difficulty of working through the chain of command on certain issues, the perceived lack of communication between management levels of the MLPD and the frustration this situation has caused.
Findings: The Chief acknowledged that there are issues of communication between himself and the Lieutenant. The Chief, the Lieutenant and many officers acknowledged that the Lieutenant has an enormous and stressful job in managing both the administrative and operational aspects of the MLPD.
The Grand Jury finds that the Lieutenant does not communicate adequately or equally with all four Sergeants …
Additionally, some officers stated that the Sergeants do not communicate well among themselves, argue often and have different supervisory styles. This situation contributes to a lack of direction and inconsistent work environment.
Recommendation: The Grand Jury finds this lack of effective communication among the management levels of the MLPD as the most pressing organizational issue … This is a leadership issue that must be forcefully addressed. That leadership must come from the Chief.
While there are some organizational and communication issues to address within the MLPD, the Grand Jury feels that the MLPD, under the management and leadership of the Chief, is generally providing quality law enforcement services in the Mammoth Lakes community. The Grand Jury would like to reiterate its conclusion that most of the allegations set forth in the Complaints against the Chief and the MLPD, in particular the allegations of a personal nature, have not been substantiated, and that the constant churning of rumors and misrepresentations of events and facts relating to the Chief and the MLPD is counterproductive and detrimental to the operations of the MLPD and possibly to the safety of the community as a whole.