Ventura Corrections Services Officer Returned to Work with Full Back Pay

Posted on Tuesday, October 01, 1996 at 12:00PM

On September 5, 1995, Ventura County Corrections Services Officer (CSO) Patricia Sharpe was terminated from her employment with the Ventura County Corrections Services Agency for alleged violations of several agency policies and procedures.

The termination notice accused her of everything from failure to activate an alarm system to physical abuse of a minor in custody. William McPoil of Employee Representation Services, Inc., who represented Officer Sharpe in the administrative appeal said the notice contained some 27 allegations of misconduct. McPoil said, “it was the typical shotgun approach to discipline. Pull the trigger and hope one or more of the pellets hits the target.”

The basic facts of case were: Sharpe, a 7 ½ year veteran of the Corrections Services Agency was on duty at Ventura County Juvenile Hall, in charge of a unit that housed several male and female minors. One of the minors, Rena L., was in custody awaiting a hearing.

As was confirmed in the arbitration, she was in custody for beating her mother and for use of methamphetamines. On June 22, 1995, while in a classroom setting, Rena became disruptive and was ordered to go to her room for an unspecified period of time. Once in her room she continued to be disruptive, but was released by another CSO to use the restroom.

On her way back from the restroorn she saw that Sharpe had given her a 48 hour restriction for her behavior. She became very verbally abusive using profanity and racial slurs in a very loud voice disrupting the entire wing of the facility.

She was ordered back to her room by Sharpe. She responded with more profanity and name calling to the point where she planted her feet and refused to follow the direction of the staff.

Seeing no other alternative, Sharpe placed her hands on Rena and physically moved her back to her room. Once in the room, Rena turned and punched Sharpe in the face with a closed fist. Another attempted blow was blocked by Sharpe. A second CSO standing outside the door pepper sprayed Rena who was then subdued by Sharpe.

Sharpe left to assist in locking down the other minors. When she returned to the common area, she found the second staff member attempting to administer the required “aftercare” to Rena. As she was doing it improperly, Sharpe took the water bottle from her and began to administer the aftercare in compliance with the agency’s policy.

Rena became combative, and at one point spit in Sharpe’s face. Although she was handcuffed and her legs were shackled, testimony revealed that she did in fact have the ability to harm Sharpe.

Following the spitting incident, Sharpe continued to administer the required aftercare but Rena remained aggressive and combative. A short time later, she again tried to come out of the chair she was in and spit on Sharpe.

At the exact time she was coming up, Sharpe threw her hand out to protect herself and she ended up striking Rena in the face causing her nose to bleed. Shortly after that incident other staff arrived on the floor and the minor was controlled.

An investigation was conducted that night, and Sharpe was placed on administrative leave pending a more in depth inquiry. Following that investigation, Sharpe was terminated and charged with a felony for abuse of an inmate under color of authority.

Interestingly, Rena, who committed a battery on a peace officer by hitting Sharpe and spitting on her was never charged. In fact she was released by the county that night to her mother’s custody.

At the criminal trial Sharpe was represented by LDF panel attorney Darryl Mounger and ultimately acquitted. Following her acquittal, Frank Woodson, the agency director, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times and the Ventura County Star as saying, “Sharpe will not get her job back even with the acquittal,” and “… Sharpe’s acquittal is not enough to reinstate her employment… The agency will fight to keep her from returning.”

He acknowledged that she had a right to an administrative appeal, and that appeal was finally heard at the end of April 1996 by an arbitrator. Arbitrator Ronald Hoh listened to two days of testimony.

The county’s counsel tried to paint a picture of an abusive peace officer who looses her composure and professionalism in the face of an obstinate minor. The problem for the county was that they didn’t have any witnesses to substantiate that belief.

The county called several witnesses. In fact, the county’s case took all of the first day and part of the morning of the second day of the hearing. Every county witness was discredited to some degree during cross examination by McPoil. The county’s primary witness was even forced to admit during cross examination that “there is a lot of things I said in there (his written report) that didn’t happen.”

In his award Hoh stated that when the county’s witnesses’ credibility were “measured against the county’s clear burden of proof in showing in this area that the grievant is guilty of the misconduct of which she stands accused, the arbitrator must find that the county has not met its burden..”

In other words, the county didn’t have a case. He ordered the county to reinstate Sharpe with full back pay and no loss of seniority or benefits for the period between the effective date of her termination and the date of her reinstatement.

He left the door open for the county to issue a letter of warning if they could show a specific policy violation, but did not order such a warning be issued.

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