Suspension of Riverside County Sheriff’s Sergeant Overturned

Posted on Tuesday, April 01, 2014 at 12:00AM

Silver, Hadden, Silver, Wexler & Levine

     As the director of the Ben Clark Training Center and the law enforcement liaison for Riverside Community College, Sergeant Jon Wade was a busy man. It was not unusual for him to work up to 70 hours per week while claiming only 40, since overtime was frowned upon, and he was more concerned with making things run smoothly than with his personal remuneration. On at least three occasions, he received commendations for “dedicating his time” without pay in order to supervise Academy class functions. He took pride in knowing that his dedication was appreciated by his superiors — or so he thought.
     For many employees at the agency, the filling out of a time card can be a simple and routine matter. Absent an occasional adjustment for overtime or leave requests, work schedules may vary little from week to week. For Wade, there was no such thing as a routine schedule, as he would be frequently tasked with impromptu teaching assignments that altered whether his time should have been charged to the Sheriff’s Department or RCC. Over a two-year period, Wade was forced to make over 250 adjustments to his “regular schedule” in attempts to make sure that there was no overlap for the time worked for the two entities. In 2010, he discovered that he had inadvertently erred on a few of those entries.
     Immediately thereafter, he audited his time for the previous year, reported the errors (not all of which were even to the Department’s detriment) to management and made the appropriate changes to his leave banks. Given the relatively small amount of money at issue, Wade’s unblemished past record with the agency, the obvious complications attendant to his timekeeping and the self-reporting of his mistakes immediately upon discovery, Sergeant Wade expected a modest disciplinary response.
     Instead, he found himself ordered to immediately clean out his office by a captain whose son had quit the Academy run by Wade just a few weeks before. Wade was refused any assistance in packing, all the while under the watchful eye of a lieutenant, as the rest of the Academy stood by. The captain insisted that he be a part of walking Wade off the job, and placed him on administrative leave. His crusade against Wade knew no bounds, as he injected himself to serve as an investigator, witness, accuser and reviewer in the disciplinary process, convinced before any investigation that Wade had “double-dipped” and was therefore a thief.
     A fair investigation, Wade thought, would show that his mistakes were innocently made and negate any possible inference of the theft allegation being propounded by his captain. In fact, he was correct. The internal affairs unit made specific findings that the theft allegation was “unfounded.” Stuck with the written conclusions of its own staff that Wade’s worst offense was negligently messing up a few time cards — which, according to the Department’s own disciplinary matrix, should result in discipline as minor as a letter of reprimand — the administration nonetheless proposed a preposterous 160-hour suspension for a 10-year employee without any prior discipline.
     The Skelly hearing with a chief deputy was entirely fruitless. Despite Wade’s complete acceptance of responsibility from the outset, the chief deputy showed no tolerance for reducing the discipline and instead encouraged Wade to just accept the 160 hours, as it “would only be a small bump in the road” in Wade’s career, noting that “We’re not a bunch of elephants that never forget, not like it used to be here.”
     When it was brought to his attention that the proposed action was grossly inconsistent with the Department’s own matrix, but that it was perfectly consistent with an action initiated by the captain for personal reasons, the chief deputy by his own admission became upset and offended, yet he still failed to explain how the severity of the discipline was justified within the promulgated standards.
     Despite the purported mentality of forgiveness espoused by the chief deputy, over the next two years, while awaiting his arbitration hearing, Wade was passed over seven times for a promotion to lieutenant and denied all of his requests for special assignments. During the next promotional process, his “promotability rating” was substantially lowered. His application to attend the Sherman Block Leadership Institute has been denied three times.
The matter proceeded to a three-day hearing before Hearing Officer Michael Prihar, wherein the chief deputy made it emphatically clear what the case was all about. The chief deputy brazenly analogized Wade’s mistakes to criminal behavior, and incredibly maintained that Wade should be disciplined according to the matrix sections related thereto. In essence, he made it clear that the administration from the very start assumed that Wade was a thief, and that no facts or internal affairs factual findings to the contrary would ever change that initial conclusion. Unmistakably, this case was not “just business,” but instead intensely personal.
     The hearing officer found no just cause to support the suspension, and determined that based on Wade’s exemplary record, as well as the Department’s own findings and standards, only a reprimand was appropriate, which Wade maintained he deserved all along. Wade was accordingly awarded all lost wages and benefits. The Department has since announced that it will not appeal.
     It is a great irony that so many of the Department’s purported core values of fairness, consistency and adherence to policies were completely ignored in the imposition of this oppressive action. Perhaps the Department could actually use a few more elephants, those with meaningful recollections of its own rules and standards, and with the wisdom to properly apply them.
     Sergeant Wade was represented at every stage of the investigative and disciplinary process by Bill Hadden of Silver, Hadden, Silver, Wexler & Levine, and supported by the PORAC Legal Defense Fund. 

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