Santa Maria Police Standards’ Slippery Slope
The controversial Mr. Julian Assange of Wikileaks wrote, “Every time we witness an act that we feel to be unjust and do not act, we become a part to injustice.”
When I ran for public office, I was committed to leaving our community in a better place than before I left office.
In the 20 years since leaving office, I find our community has changed a great deal. From my perspective the changes has not been positive. Regretfully, some of the negative changes can be the result of our past decisions.
We changed the office of City Administrator to City Manager. This change authorized the city manager to hire and fire any department head in the city. When Tim Ness discharged Police Chief John Sterling, who had the support of his police officers and, most importantly, the support of the community, it sent an unfortunate message to all department heads that they needed to get his approval before submitting recommendations to the City Council.
This procedural change compromised the independent and professional input which is vital to the decision-making process.
City Manager Tim Ness replaced Chief Sterling with Chief Danny R. Macagni, who had no experience as a department head and [according to a court deposition and numerous anecdotal accounts] used racial slurs (“wetbacks,” “chinks,” “niggers”) and made no apology for such demeaning conduct. Tim Ness was aware of this conduct and ignored it, implying it was not an important criterion to disqualify a person from being the chief of police.
There were two significant complaints made against the chief by members of his staff. One, related to biased hiring practice, was settled in court resulting in the city’s paying over $100,000 in settlement costs and an additional $40,000 in legal fees. The plaintiff was willing to settle for $25,000 to cover his legal fees, however, because the city chose to fight the charges against the chief and the city manager, it cost the taxpayers in excess of $115,000.
The other charge was one of alleged misconduct by Chief Macagni. The Santa Maria City Attorney retained an “independent” private investigator from the Los Angeles area to investigate the misconduct. I was informed by two sources that the “private investigator” worked for the law firm that is defending the chief. I inquired about this possible conflict of interest with the City Attorney office and was informed the private investigator had no association with the law firm defending the chief. I requested a copy of the private investigator’s resume under the Public Information Act, and was informed by the City Attorney office that they had no file on the “private investigator” they had hired.
The city attorney, Gilbert A. Trujillo, in response to the complaint, wrote, “…the investigator determined that your allegation of misconduct on the part of Chief Macagni was unfounded.” The misconduct allegation was that Chief Macagni did not properly refer to the Internal Affairs Department a report that a Santa Maria police officer stole prescription drug during the SWAT raid of a home in Nipomo. It is unbelievable, but a city councilman implied that since the alleged crime occurred outside the city jurisdiction, it was not their concern.
Now the rest of the story. I was informed that the police officer who witnessed the alleged drug stealing was not even interviewed by the “private investigator.”
It seems possible that our city bureaucracy is engaged in a cover-up. Under these circumstances, a thorough investigation of all the allegations should be conducted by the State Attorney General to preserve the integrity of our local government.
It is worth mentioning that there is yet another lawsuit against Chief Macagni pending. This one involves denial of civil rights.
As for the very recent shooting of a Santa Maria police officer, during his arrest on charges of having sex with a minor who may have been a participant in the Police Explorers program: That’s a topic for another day.
The high standards of law enforcement maintained by the late Chief Sterling must be reestablished to reverse the corrosive trend corrupting our city.
I welcome all comments through my e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.