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Deputy’s Proposed Termination is Reversed

Posted on Wednesday, April 01, 1998 at 12:00PM

A Solano County deputy sheriff facing termination for his handling of a possible child molest complaint instead has walked away from the case with nothing more than a letter of reprimand.

Deputy Thomas Gilson and another deputy were dispatched last May to interview a woman reporting “something funny” in the way her son talked about his babysitter’s brother. She told Gilson she wanted the brother “checked out,” but wanted no further investigation or complaint.

She even denied believing any child abuse or molest was involved. Gilson, a veteran deputy, cleared the call without further action based on the woman’s statements, and reviewed the entire incident with his sergeant at the end of his shift.

The case took a new twist that evening, however, when the woman took her son to a Vallejo hospital for a medical examination. Deputies were again dispatched to interview both the woman and her child. The case eventually was referred to the District Attorney’s Office for prosecution against the brother.

The Sheriff’s Office proposed to terminate Gilson for failing to take a crime report or conduct a criminal investigation. Gilson’s panel attorney, Christopher W. Miller, of Mastagni, Holstedt & Chiurazzi, reasoned the case against his client depended entirely on the credibility of the complainant, the boys mother. Without reliable testimony from the mother about what she had told Gilson, the department could not terminate the deputy on the charge he had ignored facts constituting a crime.

Miller demanded the department turn over its taped interview of the complainant. The tape confirmed she did not wish to report any criminal activity and simply could not articulate sufficient facts supporting a reasonable belief a crime had occurred. Gilson had won the credibility contest.

Miller argued at the pre-disciplinary hearing that both the complainant’s credibility problems and the fact the District Attorney’s Office had declined to prosecute justified a discipline less than termination. He also pointed out Gilson’s sergeant had not questioned the deputy’s decisions at the time of the incident.

Perhaps most persuasive, however, was the argument Gilson’s performance in the preceding year showed such a marked improvement over a prior discipline incident that he deserved a lesser penalty.

On February 18, 1998, the sheriff withdrew the proposed termination and substituted a formal written reprimand. Gilson’s career was restored and his job saved because his employer was persuaded termination would be a fundamentally unfair and indefensible decision in his case.

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