Ventura Sheriff’s Deputy Finally Back at Work

Posted on Thursday, July 01, 2004 at 12:00PM

Deputy Ron Tegland had processed hundreds, maybe thousands of inmates at the main jail in his several years with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department. He’d dealt with everything from the first offender DUI to murder suspects, tweekers, gangbangers, and 5150s. He had been part of a six-deputy melee to subdue a single inmate who probably weighed less than 150 pounds dripping wet. He’d been struck in the chest by inmates, pushed, taunted. So, when Tegland came across a small, Hispanic inmate who failed to comply with his lawful orders, orders given in both English and Spanish, as well as by demonstration, Tegland did not take the matter lightly. At such an early stage in the booking process, Tegland was given no background regarding the inmate, not even the charge for which he was arrested. Given the circumstances and his own experience, Tegland knew he had to be ready for anything.

What he wasn’t ready for, however, was to be terminated from his employment.

Tegland completed the sheriff’s academy in January 2000, and was assigned to the Pre-Trial Detention Facility PTDF. On July 1, 2002, Tegland was assigned to work the dawn shift in the men’s booking facility in the PTDF. His duties that morning were to process arrestees into the jail and help maintain the safety and security of the facility, its employees and the inmates

On July 1, 2002, at about 6:30 a.m., Tegland began the process of photographing and fingerprinting an inmate who, unbeknownst to Tegland, had been arrested for public intoxication. Though the inmate no longer appeared to be at a level of intoxication consistent with PC 647(f), he was not complying with Tegland’s lawful order to the inmate for the inmate to keep his hands behind his back. In order to ensure the safety and security of staff and inmates, deputies are trained that inmates must keep their hands behind their backs whenever they are moved through a common area. Tegland’s orders to the inmate were consistent with that practice. Tegland gave the orders in both English and Spanish. He also physically placed the inmate’s hands behind his back several times to illustrate to the inmate what it was that Tegland was asking him to do. The inmate, however, continued to resist. Tegland did not know whether the inmate’s refusal to comply was due to intoxication, a lack of understanding, or was some form of passive resistance that could escalate into active resistance. Tegland, like the other deputies working in the jail, had been trained that an inmate’s insistence on keeping his hands at his sides could in fact have been a potential safety issue needing correction.

Tegland continued giving commands in Spanish and English. He also still continued to physically place the inmate’s hands behind his back. Yet, the inmate still failed to comply. These techniques having failed, Tegland raised his tone of voice in an effort to gain compliance. That didn’t work either.

So, after having to forcefully hold the inmate’s free hand behind the inmate’s back while fingerprinting the other hand, Tegland decided to have the inmate stand up against a wall where Tegland could more easily control the inmate, while they waited for another deputy to finish photographing another prisoner. Again, the inmate was told and shown to keep his hands behind his back. Again, he failed to comply. At this point, in an effort to force the inmate to comply with his lawful order to keep his hands behind his back, Tegland took both of the inmate’s hands and sternly put them behind the inmate’s back. The force of the procedure caused the inmate to possibly bump into the glass window. The inmate, however, still failed to comply with Tegland’s orders.

The inmate then seemed to be either moving along the wall or actually walking away. Tegland reached out and grabbed the inmate, latching onto his shirt collar in an effort to gain compliance. The action resulted in the inmate possibly hitting or scraping his temple against the glass a second time, causing a small laceration. Tegland noted the cut, and took the inmate to the nurse to be treated.

The inmate was given a band-aid, and released.

Tegland wrote a report about the incident. His report was written based on his perception of the events, without the benefit of viewing the videotape. Tegland’s portrayal of the facts in his report varied slightly from what was depicted on the tape, although the inmate’s non-compliance was apparent on the tape. The department, however, didn’t see it that way. Tegland was terminated from his employment as a deputy sheriff for the county of Ventura on September 9, 2002, for allegedly using excessive force on an inmate and for intentionally writing a report that did not accurately reflect the incident. Tegland timely appealed the termination, and the matter was set for hearing before the Ventura County Civil Service Commission.

Michael D. Schwartz, of Silver, Hadden & Silver, represented Tegland at the two-day administrative hearing before the Ventura County Civil Service Commission. The evidence at the hearing included the videotape of the incident and the extensive testimony of witnesses.

A fellow deputy testified that he was processing another inmate while Tegland was processing the inmate. Although he had his back to Tegland and the inmate most of the time, he heard the scuffle and the thump against the glass. The other deputy was unsure as to how much he saw, at times recalling that he saw Tegland push the inmate against the wall, at times saying that he did not see the entire exchange between Tegland and the inmate at the wall, and at times saying that he did not recall ever seeing the exchange, only hearing it after which he, “turned around right after it happened.” Although when interviewed by internal affairs the other deputy had stated that he felt the force used by Tegland was a “little much.” When questioned in front of the Civil Service Commission at the arbitration hearing, that same deputy also stated that there was not anything out of the ordinary about the entire incident except for the minor scrape that the inmate sustained. He further stated that “it’s tough to say” whether the force used by Tegland was a “little much” since he was not personally involved with the inmate.

Next came the testimony of one of the department’s commanders during which one of the commissioners interrupted questioning to inform the commander that after sitting through the department’s entire case, the commissioner still hadn’t seen nor heard anything that would warrant termination. Tegland’s witnesses hadn’t even testified yet.

A senior deputy who last served as a supervisor in the PTDF two years before viewed the videotape and read Tegland’s report. He testified that nothing on the tape was excessive. He also agreed that nothing on the tape depicted anything that was uncommon or uncharacteristic in the processing of inmates on a daily basis at the jail, adding that any inmate, regardless of size, is a potential threat if he does not comply with lawful orders to keep his arms behind his back.

The commission later ruled that Tegland neither intentionally forced the inmate into the wall, nor intentionally misrepresented the incident in his report. The commission did find, however, that a preponderance of the evidence supported that Tegland’s conduct had been negligent. The commission ordered Tegland be reinstated, but was not to receive back pay, benefits or seniority for the almost three months that he was not employed.

It did not end there. The sheriff’s department refused to put Tegland back in uniform, filing a Petition for a Writ of Mandate in Superior Court requesting that the court reverse the ruling of the Civil Service Commission and uphold Tegland’s termination.

In written briefs and at the court hearing Tegland was once again represented by Schwartz. The county contended that the commission’s findings that Tegland did not intentionally force the inmate into the wall and was not deceptive in his report writing were not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. The court disagreed. It denied the department’s petition, stating that there was substantial evidence to uphold the commission’s decision. Again, however, it didn’t stop there. The department still refused to put Tegland back in uniform, and filed a motion with the court to reconsider its denial of the petition. The department then argued that the commission did not have jurisdiction to impose the 82-day suspension it had previously ordered and that the remaining choice, then, was termination.

The court again denied the motion. However, in ruling on the commission’s jurisdiction to impose an 82-day suspension, the court actually agreed with the department, that under the county rules, which only allow for a maximum suspension of 30 days, the commission lacked the jurisdiction to impose such a suspension. The court therefore ordered the matter remanded to the commission for a penalty consistent with the county rules. In the end, Tegland was suspended for only 30 days, consistent with the county rules, and not the 82-day suspension originally imposed by the commission. In effect, the department’s petition cost them not only attorneys’ fees, but also an additional 52 days of back pay and benefits to Tegland. A happy and somewhat vindicated Ron Tegland is now back to work, in full uniform and full spirits.

PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.