Finger-pointing, accusations from former employees, threats to The Sheet over supposed personnel documents which Lunch has never seen, and at the center of it all, veterans who’d prefer more service and fewer excuses.
It all started when former Sheet Writer Charles James wrote a story on the Inyo-Mono County Veterans Service Office (IMCVSO) on February 15. The piece highlighted a tumultuous relationship between the current Sheriff and Veteran Services Officer (VSO) Jeff Hollowell, and Veteran Service Representative Jessica Allmon.
The story titled “Veterans of Local Wars” describes the relationship between the two as “[Hollowell and Allmon] simply don’t talk to each other,” while possibly pointing to the previous election for Sheriff as the rationale. Allmon publicly supported Hollowell’s opponent in the 2018 election. Hollowell vehemently denies that Allmon’s support of Josh Nicholson, whose employment at the Inyo County Sheriff’s Dept. was terminated last week, has affected his relationship with Allmon one bit.
Allmon agrees the election isn’t the reason for lack of partnership; rather, the lack of partnership is because there is no partnership: the workload falls entirely on her. She calls the IMCVSO an “Office of One.”
Hollowell receives an estimated $10,000 bonus each year for his assignation as Veteran Services Officer.
After James’s story ran, The Sheet was contacted by a former deputy named Billy White who claimed to have information proving that Jeff Hollowell was not a Veteran and that Hollowell was committing ‘stolen valor’ and therefore ‘embezzlement’ when he collected his 7.5% salary bump year after year for being the VSO as he was not legally allowed to hold this position.
A serious accusation that requires some background.
White’s former department colleagues include former deputies Reuben Bradley and Josh Nicholson.
These three have a complicated history with their former employer, Inyo County, and Jeff Hollowell.
Bradley told the Sheet, “I was a deputy from September 2010 to December 2018. Eventually, I worked as a canine handler for the Department. Before the election I had two internal affairs investigations and then the election happened and I was a strong supporter of Josh Nicholson. After the election I had 13 internal affairs investigations and was put on administrative leave for a total of five months.”
Bradley was fired at the end of 2018 after the Sheriff’s department took his canine from him. When asked about the allegations against him, Bradley responded, “I adamantly deny the allegations and frivolous investigations (conducted by the department).”
Nicholson ran against Hollowell in the election and told the Sheet, “It was important for me to run a clean campaign. But anyone that publicly supported me paid for it,” said Nicholson referencing his fellow ex-deputies and possibly Allmon.
“In November 2018, I utilized a Freedom of Information (FOI) act for Hollowell’s military record and it confirmed what I already knew,” said Nicholson. Both Bradley and White told the Sheet that they were suspicious of Hollowell’s military background due to him not confirming dates of service during the election.
In regards to the FOI that Nicholson conducted, he claims he was fired because of it. Nicholson has been on administrative leave since last September and just last week he was officially fired. “They told me that I unlawfully received military records,” said Nicholson. In an email to the Sheet, Nicholson said, “This was a totally legal request and the documents sent are of public record. This is the reason I am being fired. The County is not happy I have assisted in uncovering the truth.”
The documents were emailed to the Sheet and then we were contacted by Inyo County telling us to delete everything because they are papers that should have never been sent out in the first place. Hmmm. Well, the documents have been deleted and none of them will be used.
What will be used is White describing what he claims he learned from the documents, “In order to be a Veteran you have to serve two years and be honorably discharged which Hollowell was not.” White claimed Hollowell was active for one year and 23 days and released for ‘unsatisfactory performance.’
The time constraint is a tough one to nail down but California Veterans Code does say, “For the purposes of this chapter ‘veteran’ does not include any of the following: A person who was separated from the armed forces under other than honorable conditions.”
White, Bradley, and Nicholson claim that Hollowell’s DD-214 – which identifies a veterans reason for discharge – proves he is not a veteran and therefore should not be holding the VSO position.
Nicholson told the Sheet, “The biggest part of this are the facts. My opinion really means nothing. He (Hollowell) accepted money for 15 years.”
As of 2018, Hollowell has accepted $83,000 and that number is likely close to $100,000 now.
Bradley wrapped up his thoughts with, “My main focus was showing Hollowell for what he has done for the last thirty years with the County. Stolen Valor, him lying about being a veteran when all he’s done is collect extra paychecks. He doesn’t care about veterans in the county,” said Bradley, “We were just calling him on it and he used his position to say I’m bigger than you and you lose.”
The other side
There is obviously Hollowell’s side to this story as well. The previous section highlights testimonies from White, Nicholson, and Bradley extremely accusatory. So giving Hollowell the benefit of the doubt, here is the devil’s advocate portion.
When The Sheet reached out to Hollowell, the conversation started off very positive but as soon as these allegations were brought up he warned The Sheet that we could be legally responsible for any libel written because the documents released were illegally released and the County District Attorney was already working on an investigation into the responsible parties.
Not a good start.
But if you were in Hollowell’s position you might be aggravated as well. Who knows where the truth lies and if he is truly innocent in all of this then how annoying would constant phone calls/ accusations be.
Former Sheet Writer James who wrote the February 15 piece said, “These guys have had it out for Hollowell for a while now.” James referenced two stories he had written two years prior right before the election titled “Who’s in the Doghouse Now?” and an Op/Ed titled “Final Thoughts on Inyo Sheriff’s Race.”
The former is a story about Reuben Bradley and his Canine that was taken from him. The story reads, “Why the removal? Bradley’s wife, Whittney Lee, posted a video on Facebook of Reuben ‘training’ the dog. The video shows Bady (the dog) attacking an untrained, uncertified civilian as opposed to a trained agitator.”
Once the video was posted, people began contacting the Sheriff’s Department and former Inyo County Sheriff Bill Lutze made the difficult decision to remove the dog from Bradley’s house. The surprising thing about the article is even back then the contention was apparent, “People posted comments stating that the removal of the Bradley family member from its home is clear retaliation against Bradley for not endorsing Undersheriff Jeff Hollowell, a candidate for Sheriff.”
The second story regarding the election paints Nicholson and Bradley as questionable characters, “He (Nicholson), along with his very good buddy, fellow patrolman and staunch supporter, Reuben Bradley, were placed on suspension without pay for basically ‘lying,’ reads the story, “The two patrolmen were both suspended for harassing and threatening a woman alone at a campground, very late at night last year in July, in an area without cell phone coverage, and then later lying about it in the incident report narrative filed afterwards.”
James wrote that the incident was recorded from the victims cell phone and when lied about the interaction they were caught red-handed.
But, even at the time, Lutze made the decision to take Bradley’s Canine and to discipline these men for their actions, and when The Sheet contacted Lutze about this story he acknowledged this, “They have been mad at Hollowell for all the investigations when it was me who made all of those decisions,” said Lutze, “These guys have been accusing him (Hollowell) for some time and they are hoping something will stick.”
Hollowell could simply be the party receiving heat for a vendetta held by these three individuals.
When asked about his veteran status, Hollowell responded, “Inyo County did it’s due diligence with my paperwork when I applied for the position. I am a veteran.”
And James thoughts on the Sheriff’s race at the time said, “The Sheet reviewed Hollowell’s entire personnel file with the department and his military record which contained his training history in his two-year stint in the Army, as well as his original Certificate of Honorable Discharge, which even here, a few of his critics, including Nicholson in an email message, have attempted to discredit.”
Hollowells supposed ‘unsatisfactory performance’ discharge could be upgraded at any point if he were to go to the Army Reserves and protest it. The DD-214 that White, Bradley, and Nicholson saw could easily have been an outdated version that was not the paperwork Inyo County saw. Basically, even if the claims are true, there is a chance he could have upgraded his status and been eligible to be VSO. That would mean no stolen valor and no embezzlement.
It’s interesting to give this section the header Jessica Allmon, because Allmon told the Sheet, “I don’t want the story to be about me. It should be fact-based.”
Unfortunately for Allmon the facts are very unclear.
This is something that Allmon agreed with, “The Veteran Service Office being under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s department can be a barrier to providing veterans with help.” Allmon cited the fact that the IMCVSO web page is a tab on the Inyo County Sheriff page.
Allmon expressed a desire to have the IMCVSO be a standalone office separate from the Sheriff’s department.
Allmon did have strong opinions regarding Hollowell, “There are discrepencies in his paperwork. The integrity of Sheriff Hollowell would be at fault. Misrepresenting himself in that way.”
Allmon told The Sheet that after 1980 a veteran is required to serve 24 months in a time with no active conflict. “From my own experience, if it is true (Hollowell not being an eligible VSO), we could lose our funding.” Allmon was gloomy when it came to losing funding, “I just want veterans to feel safe coming into my office. There should be no barriers to care.”
“I want the community to know how veterans are being failed. I can’t even take a vacation because the office would close down. If I’m sick, the office closes down,” said Allmon.
The Sheet began to ask questions regarding the day to day operations and Allmon responded, “It is a shame that I am in an office of one. A real tragedy to a community with a lot of veterans.” *Roughly 8,000 veterans live in Mono and Inyo County combined
“He (Hollowell) has never sat down with a veteran and he doesn’t even know how to file the paperwork required by any of the VSO duties. This would include filing claims to states, filing claims to assist veterans with education benefits, housing benefits, county benefits, etc,” said Allmon.
Lutze helped explain the VSO position, “As far back as I can remember, the Veteran Service Representative does most of the work. The VSO is there to be the department head. Oversee it, sign the proper forms, and make sure it is running correctly.”
This is important because Hollowell recieves the 7.5% bonus for being the VSO. That is all the money he gets for it. Between $5,000-$9,000 a year to be the department head while his main duties are to his elected role as Sheriff for Inyo County.
James piece written on February 15 reads, “She (Allmon) said that it is because she puts her clients first. She is highly trained and certified to do her job. She also has many veterans that support her and appreciate the things she has done for them. In fact, every veteran The Sheet spoke with held her in high regard.”
To end this odyssey, The Sheet will mention we are not taking a side in this debate. One side (White, Nicholson, and Bradley) has extreme accusations. The other side (Hollowell) is defending himself against these accusations when the accusers clearly have a vested interest in tearing him down.
It is a tough situation to navigate and the truth of it all likely falls somewhere in the middle.
The bonus Hollowell receives rubs people the wrong way but he could be completely legally entitled to take it, so then what?
Allmon feels the veterans in our county are not being properly represented but Lutze claims the office has always been run this way, who is more right?
Maybe a change is necessary to calm the waters. The change could be the IMCVSO becoming a seperate entity. It could be Hollowell giving Allmon the VSO title. It could be many things. When the truth is murky, at best, and finger pointing is abundant it is hard to definitively say what the best course of action is.