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Whistleblower Lawsuits Blow Lid off UCSB Police

Undisciplined Breaches of Protocol and Victim Confidentiality Alleged

Former Police Chief Dustin Olson

Four UCSB police officers have filed suit against the UC Regents and UCSB, alleging offensive and demoralizing workplace activities that persisted despite repeated alerts to the then Police Chief Dustin Olson, his deputy chief, and his lieutenants, and that their complaints resulted in retaliatory actions against them. The allegations include charges of racist talk and sexually offensive videos — one even from a sexual assault video held in evidence — all for the entertainment of officers. 

Lieutenant Mark Signa was the first to file suit, asserting he’d gone on stress leave in June 2018 after 28 years of service in UCSB’s Police Department. In his complaint, Signa states he conveyed to department brass his and other officers’ concerns about Sergeant Ryan Smith, who made “dick jokes” while female officers were present. Signa claims Olson, then-deputy chief Cathy Farley, Lieutenant David Millard, and Sergeant Robert Romero acted to protect Smith.

Corporal Tiffany Little and her husband, Corporal Michael Little, filed their complaint in Santa Barbara Superior Court on March 19, 2019. Both the Littles and Signa are represented by Richie Litigation, a Los Angeles law firm. The Littles’ lawsuit makes allegations similar to Signa’s, adding that their prospects for advancement were deliberately curtailed and their choice of work hours limited though they had seniority. Michael Little claims he lost his firearm instructor status and was denied a computer forensics position despite 25 years of experience. Tiffany Little alleges that after she made a complaint on UCSB’s whistleblower system in September 2018, her belongings were thrown in the trash, her house was egged, and she was given the silent treatment from her superiors.

Tiffany Little’s whistleblower complaint had to do with 2016 event on campus that resulted in conflicting stories. Little states she reported to Sergeant Smith that an officer repeatedly entered the students’ residence hall for unexplained lengths of time during which his radio was turned off and he did not respond to calls for police assistance. Smith did nothing, she alleges. Signa also states these alleged transgressions took place and that more than one officer was involved. Signa claimed that Smith didn’t want to act against these officers who were his close friends and that Chief Olson said he wanted the whole situation to go away quietly. 

On March 27, 2019, another suit was filed, this time by an anonymous man, John Doe, contesting some parts of Lt. Signa and the Littles’ allegations. John Doe turned out to be, according to his lawyer, none other than Sergeant Ryan Smith. He contends that, in fact, he and two other sergeants met with Signa about the officers entering the dormitory, and that there were civil and criminal investigations, which resulted in a significant financial loss to the university. In his suit, Smith also claims that two officers resigned and two other officers were put on administrative leave. 

Ryan Smith

In his suit, Smith also describes an incident, which if proven true, conveys a culture that mocks sexual assault. According to Smith, on January 27, 2018, he was working the Montecito debris flow for Cal-OES when other law enforcement officers on the scene showed him a phone message in which he believes he recognized the voice of a UCSB-PD officer. The audio dubbed salacious comments onto an evidence video of an alleged sexual assault, a video that had been made by the man, Patrick Galoustian, now formally charged with rape by the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office. Smith claims he’d asked his bosses to investigate the officer he suspected of dubbing the tape and who he alleged had made other videos in which he did voiceovers mimicking the accents of UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang, a black UCSB-PD dispatcher, and the victim in the Daniel Chen rape case. Smith, who left the department in late 2017 and is now an assistant chief with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, also charges that both Signa and Michael Little harassed him while he was on duty.

What is clear is that all three lawsuits paint a grim picture of misconduct within the UCSB police department. Though the filed court documents contain numerous “he said, she said” instances of the same event, they share the same conclusions that the command team at UCSB-PD and the UC Regent investigation of whistleblower complaints “did nothing.” 

The university would not comment on pending litigation, but when asked about student safety, UCSB spokesperson Andrea Estrada expressed confidence in its officers’ “training in law, ethics, procedures, protocol and community policing. … When complaints are made internally or externally, they are promptly investigated and appropriate action is taken. Because personnel action is confidential, particularly for peace officers, often co-workers and others are unaware that matters have been investigated and/or that disciplinary action has been taken.” 

Olson resigned in March 2019 and currently heads the police department at the Colorado School of Mines. Farley has been police chief at Allan Hancock College since November 2018. Signa retired. The Littles are still with UCSB-PD. A new chief, James Brock, a 40-year veteran in law enforcement, started last week.

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