Arbitrator Reinstates Wrongfully Terminated Detective, Part 1
ROGER D. WILSON
Rains Lucia Stern, PC
“It was like a movie.”1
In March 2014, federal agents with the FBI and DEA, along with members of the Fresno Police Department (FPD), held a press conference announcing the arrest of FPD Detective Thomas Crawford2, a reputable and experienced vice detective with the Department, for allegedly bribing a confidential informant (CI). Later that day, an equally reputable and experienced FPD major narcotics detective, Alan Peterson, was notified by his supervisor that he was being placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an Internal Affairs (IA) investigation into his participation with Detective Crawford in the alleged bribery scheme. Needless to say, Detective Peterson’s world changed forever.
In October 2014, following the IA investigation in which Detective Peterson cooperated completely, the Department terminated him for failing to report misconduct by a fellow officer and for conduct unbecoming an officer. Prior to his termination, Detective Peterson had no history of discipline with the very Department that had sponsored him through the Police Academy following his graduation from California State University, Fresno, and for which he had served over 14 years. Detective Peterson was 41 years old, married with four children, and had no career.
As a police officer, Detective Peterson had worked patrol, was assigned to a tactical unit for several years, and had done investigations in sexual assault and narcotics. Detective Peterson excelled as a narcotics investigator, where he specialized in Asian community-based drug dealers and, ironically, worked several large cases with federal agents with the FBI and DEA — some of the same federal agents who would later attempt to implicate him in Detective Crawford’s criminal activities.
The Federal and IA Investigations
The IA investigation followed the investigation of the FBI and DEA agents into the criminal activities of Detective Crawford. The federal agents had contracted with a CI referred to as “PF.” PF was a local, large-scale marijuana distributor known to most narcotics officers, including Detectives Peterson and Crawford. In fact, the federal agents learned during their investigation that Detective Crawford had personally known PF for several years.
What would become important later, during the arbitration phase of Detective Peterson’s appeal, was that federal agents refused to disclose how they knew PF and why they believed Detective Peterson was criminally involved with him. Further, during the arbitration, it became abundantly clear that the IA investigators and the top Department staff officers involved in the IA blindly believed everything the federal agents reported, even when no concrete evidence was ever presented to support the agents’ allegations. In fact, IA investigators never spoke with PF!
Federal agents also learned through their investigation that another local drug dealer, referred to as “OT,” had bragged to PF about having two Fresno Police narcotics officers at his disposal to obtain intelligence about drug busts, search-warrant locations and other drug dealers. One of those officers was allegedly Detective Crawford.
In September 2013, the federal agents directed PF to contact Detective Crawford and OT to schedule a meeting. The agents equipped PF with a recording device prior to the meeting. During the meeting, PF told OT that he had a federal narcotics case pending. OT told PF it would cost him $100,000 to employ the FPD officers’ help to get the case dismissed. That number was later reduced to $40,000. During another recorded meeting in November 2013, PF gave $20,000 to Detective Crawford.
The federal agents then turned their focus on Detective Peterson. They directed PF to contact Detective Peterson and arrange a meeting. Prior to the meeting, Detective Crawford reported to Detective Peterson that PF had contacted him and asked to work as a CI to work off his federal case. Detective Peterson dutifully contacted the federal narcotics agents and asked their permission to use PF as a CI. The federal agents agreed to permit PF to work off his federal case with Detective Peterson, but advised him that PF had already declined to work for them. This would be the first of many lies the federal agents would make to Detective Peterson. In fact, the federal agents had already contracted with PF to be a CI to work off his federal case, had directed PF to contact Detective Peterson using the ruse that he wanted to work as a CI for him, and directed PF to offer a bribe to Detective Peterson. Detective Peterson knew of none of this at the time.
Detective Peterson, along with another FPD narcotics officer, met with PF and signed him up as a CI. Unknown to Detective Peterson, the federal agents wired PF and recorded this meeting. Also unknown to Detective Peterson, PF had given $20,000 to OT and Detective Crawford earlier that same day.
About a month later, PF contacted Detective Peterson and reported that he knew of a large shipment of marijuana coming into the local area. In December 2013, Detective Peterson met with PF to get the details of the shipment. During this meeting, PF handed Detective Peterson an envelope and told Detective Peterson that it contained $5,000. PF explained that he was giving the money to Detective Peterson at the direction of OT and Detective Crawford. Detective Peterson was shocked and refused the envelope multiple times during the meeting; in fact, he never opened the envelope. Detective Peterson explained to PF that he did not take money from his CIs; rather, that he gave money to his CIs to do “reverse buys” from narcotics dealers. This meeting was recorded by federal agents.
Following the meeting, Detective Peterson went to Detective Crawford’s residence and told him what PF had said about paying money to Detective Crawford. Detective Crawford denied receiving money from PF and said PF was simply confused.
Detective Peterson then arranged a meeting with Detective Crawford and PF to clear up any confusion about the money. During this meeting, both Detective Crawford and PF assured Detective Peterson that no money had been exchanged, that no bribe was paid. Not surprisingly, this was the only meeting in which PF participated with OT or Detectives Peterson and Crawford that was not recorded by federal agents due to “equipment malfunction.”
That December meeting was the last time Detective Peterson spoke with PF.
In November 2013, FPD Officer Harris was attending a training seminar in Reno, Nevada. During a break between sessions, a federal agent approached Officer Harris and told him that he had heard through his agency that two FPD narcotics detectives were being investigated by the DEA. This agent refused to name the detectives. Important to Detective Peterson’s case is the fact that Officer Harris told no one about the leak by the federal agent. During Detective Peterson’s arbitration, it was discovered that this so-called leak was not a leak at all; rather, it was planned by federal agents as a ploy to elicit some action or response by Detective Peterson that would demonstrate his involvement in illegal activities. However, since Officer Harris failed to report the information related to officer misconduct to his superior, the federal agents’ ploy was unsuccessful.
In January 2014, however, Officer Harris decided to tell his supervisor about the information he had received from the federal agent at the training conference. Officer Harris’ supervisor, Sergeant Roth, upon hearing the information, did not report the information to his supervisor, either; rather, Sergeant Roth telephoned his good friend, Vice Detective Crawford, and asked what he knew about a federal investigation of FPD narcotics detectives. Detective Crawford replied that he knew nothing about the investigation. Detective Crawford immediately called Detective Peterson and told him that he was told by Sergeant Roth, who had been told by Officer Harris, that federal agents were investigating FPD narcotics detectives. Detective Peterson immediately contacted Officer Harris to ask him about what he knew of the federal investigation. Officer Harris told Detective Peterson he knew nothing about it. Detective Peterson had no further contact with Officer Harris.
Following his investigation, the IA investigator sustained allegations that Detective Peterson had failed to report misconduct by a fellow officer (Detective Crawford) and of conduct unbecoming a police officer.
Detective Peterson had a Skelly meeting with his supervisor and offered mitigating evidence that he had no knowledge of Detective Crawford’s criminal conduct, that he had no history of discipline with the Department and that the federal agents had failed to provide all the information they had to the Department or Detective Peterson.
Detective Peterson was terminated in October 2014; he appealed his termination.
Watch for Part 2 of this article in next month’s issue.
About the Author
Roger D. Wilson is an attorney with Rains Lucia Stern, PC, who practices in the firm’s Collective Bargaining and Legal Defense Practice Groups. Wilson represents peace officers in administrative, disciplinary, critical incidents and criminal defense matters.
- The arbitrator commenting during the appeal hearing on the federal investigation of former Detective Peterson
- Fictitious names are used throughout this article to maintain the confidentiality of the involved officers.