SEAN D. HOWELL
Senior Associate Attorney
Mastagni Holstedt, APC
Sergeant Michael Tassano of the Galt Police Department was reinstated and awarded back pay by the Galt City Council after an advisory arbitration award reversing Chief William Bowen’s decision to terminate the sergeant’s 11-year exemplary career. He returned to work on June 23, 2014, after being terminated for nearly 10 months. During a three-day advisory arbitration proceeding before arbitrator Claude Ames, Sergeant Tassano and his attorney were able to disprove absurd allegations of dishonesty, dispel allegations that he misappropriated City equipment, and destroy the Chief’s claims that Tassano had been dishonest four other times dating back to the beginning of his career.
Misappropriation Allegations Reversed
The San Ramon Police Department donated six analog light bars to the Galt Police Department. Sergeant Tassano and another police officer looked at the light bars and both determined they were “junk,” in that they were unusable for Department patrol vehicles, which had switched to LED lights some time back. Many of the light bars were missing lenses and wiring harnesses, making them financially prohibitive for use at the Department. The other officer testified that Sergeant Tassano was going to see if Lieutenant Vizzusi would authorize him to throw the light bars away.
Two other Police Department employees also asked Sergeant Tassano what the Department was going to do with the light bars, because they wanted to take them as decorations. Sergeant Tassano told them that he was planning to talk to Lieutenant Vizzusi to get permission to discard them. He spoke with Vizzusi and obtained permission to throw them away. The two other Police Department employees later followed up with Tassano to see if the lieutenant had given permission to discard the light bars. Tassano confirmed that he had received permission and that they were in a pile to be thrown away.
Chief Bowen and Lieutenant Vizzusi considered Sergeant Tassano’s actions — giving the light bars away or, in the alternative, throwing the light bars away — a violation of departmental policy, as the light bars should have been “surplused.” However, several officers came and testified they were unaware the light bars should have been surplused under these circumstances, as they were donated and “junk.” Furthermore, Sergeant Tassano had never surplused items in the past and was unfamiliar with the process. Therefore, the arbitrator, and ultimately the City Council, reversed Chief Bowen’s findings and concluded that Tassano did not misappropriate City property.
Meritless Dishonesty Allegations Levied
Lieutenant Vizzusi denied having a conversation with Sergeant Tassano giving him permission to throw the light bars away. Chief Bowen and Lieutenant Vizzusi decided this discrepancy in favor of Vizzusi and sustained dishonesty allegations against Tassano, despite the voluminous evidence that the conversation took place — i.e., Tassano’s conversations with three other Police Department employees both before and after the conversation with Vizzusi, wherein Tassano informed them he would or did talk to Vizzusi to obtain permission to throw the light bars away.
Another officer reported to Lieutenant Vizzusi and Chief Bowen that officers may have light bars at their homes, possibly in violation of Department policy. Lieutenant Vizzusi was ordered by Chief Bowen to investigate this matter. The lieutenant then looked for the light bars in one of the equipment bays and could not find them. In violation of the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights (Government Code Section 3300), Vizzusi questioned Tassano, asking if anyone had the Department’s light bars at their home. Tassano recalled Vizzusi asking about light bars obtained more recently from Roseville Police Department and answered “No.” He had long since put the San Ramon light bars out of his mind, as he believed that they had been thrown away months before. Chief Bowen used this discrepancy as a basis to sustain dishonesty allegations against Tassano. However, because arbitrator Claude Ames made findings that Sergeant Tassano testified credibly, he took him at his word.
Many of the memoranda written by Lieutenant Vizzusi were full of errors and inconsistencies, which were material mistakes at a minimum, or blatant misrepresentations at worst. For example, Sergeant Tassano’s attorney questioned Lieutenant Vizzusi about whether he had ever given permission to throw away any Department equipment, including light bars. He was asked specifically if he had ever told Sergeant Tassano it was OK to “toss” light bars and other equipment if they could not be used. Lieutenant Vizzusi vehemently denied ever giving such permission. However, Sergeant Tassano’s attorney confronted the lieutenant with an email that he had sent to Sergeant Tassano concerning equipment that the Department received from Roseville Police Department, including light bars. At the end of the email from Lieutenant Vizzusi, it stated, “What we can’t use we can toss.” After being confronted with such an obvious misrepresentation, Lieutenant Vizzusi’s credibility evaporated.
Four Allegations of Previously Uncharged Dishonesty Added
Allegations related to Sergeant Tassano’s reporting of his credit status during his background investigation, a documented conversation with another employee, comments he made concerning the Chief’s attendance at a funeral for a retired officer, and the status of his vehicle registration were all issues never before alleged as dishonesty. However, Chief Bowen recharacterized each of these events as dishonesty for the purpose of Sergeant Tassano’s termination.
In one case, Chief Bowen indicated that he ran Sergeant Tassano’s license plate and found the registration was not current. Sergeant Tassano then approached the Chief and stated that his registration was current. Chief Bowen alleged this was another lie. However, after Sergeant Tassano’s attorney obtained the records for each time the license plate was run and called the dispatchers who actually ran the plate, it was discovered that his vehicle registration was current at the time he had the conversation with Chief Bowen protesting his innocence.
At the hearing, Chief Bowen claimed that he did not have anyone run Sergeant Tassano’s plate prior to the conversation between the two. However, the dates on the Department’s records, and the testimony from the dispatcher who ran the plate, proved that Chief Bowen personally asked the dispatcher to run the plate prior to the conversation between Bowen and Tassano. This proved Chief Bowen knew Sergeant Tassano was not dishonest when he stated that his registration was current, yet the Chief included this as an allegation in the case and used it to show an alleged pattern of dishonesty to form the basis for his termination.
City Council Accepts the Decision of the Arbitrator
The Galt City Council went out of its way to afford Sergeant Tassano every opportunity to be heard prior to making its final decision on the advisory decision of arbitrator Ames. Both parties were given a set amount of time to make arguments at a special City Council meeting. After hearing arguments and rebuttals from both parties, the Galt City Council upheld the arbitrator’s award, reversing Sergeant Tassano’s termination and putting him back to work as a sergeant, with back pay amounting to more than $70,000.
Sergeant Tassano and his attorney, as well as the Galt Police Officers’ Association, feel the Galt City Council handled this matter properly and arrived at a well-reasoned and fair decision. The result in this case could not have been accomplished without the tremendous resources that the PORAC Legal Defense Fund provided Sergeant Tassano and his attorney.
About the Author
Sean D. Howell is a senior associate attorney with Mastagni Holstedt, APC. He represented Sergeant Tassano in his administrative appeal.
PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.
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- Patricia Goss San Anselmo POA
[My Representative] is fabulous! Thanks for all the exra work she did for me!
- Rachael Van Sloten Oakland POA
LDF is absolutely essential to help make a system that is somewhat broken work more effectively. [My Representative] is excellent and takes a great deal of time to lisen and represent.
- Kerry Carlson Midpeninsula Ranger POA
I have held leadership positions in our POA most of my career. Because of my role as President and Vice President I have been a target to management. I feel that if it were not for LDF I wouldn't have a job
- Robert Glock Oakland POA
I am always satisfied with LDF and all their representatives.
- Scott Muir Tracy POA
Very satisfied with the service I was given.
- Andrea Salas Sonoma County DSA
[My Representative] was great! Thank you.
- Jeff Stanley Upland POA
Excellent representation. [My representative] is a great attorney.
- James F. Beland Lake County SDA
- Derwin Longmire Oakland POA
Outstanding [law firm] - incredible firm. And, LDF was easy to work and correspond with.
- Andrew J. Brice Santa Maria POA
As always... an excellent result.
- Rodney Kirkland Oakland POA
Being a police officer in the city of Oakland, I appreciate the services that are offered.
- Jorge Garcia San Joaquin Co Corr Officers
No criticism to give. Very well.
- David Heller Yolo County DSA
The charges against me, if sustained, would have likely ended my LE career. I was rightfully exonerated on all charges. I was well represented by [My Representative] and thank him for a job well done!!
- Eric White Emeryville POA
Very satisfied with the LDF services provided. Thank you.
- Paul Spencer Santa Paula POA
[My Representative] was great!
- Jason Kearsing Elk Grove POA
Very happy with LDF.
- Kenneth S. Blonski East Bay Regional Parks PMA
I was very pleased with my representative.
- Grace Castro AFGE Local 2455 – Laredo, TX
My representative was very kind and showed he cared when explaining what my legal rights were when dealing with an internal investigation.
- Juan Pascua, Jr. San Diego Co DSA
Very helpful and very informative!
- Michael Kan Palo Alto POA
I have always been and will continue to be a strong supporter of LDF and would not work as a police officer without it. I am extremely happy with the service I have received both from LDF and [my representative].
- Stephen Woodward Palm Springs POA
Great job by my LDF lawyer. I have had to use them several times over my 20 year career and their service is invaluable.
- Eric Olson Escondido POA
You guys did an amazing job! Thank you L.D.F. !
- Shandon Murphy San Mateo POA
Great work! Thank you so much!
- Robert Hartman Contra Costa Co DSA
Quick response, experienced and knowledgeable attorney which assisted in every step. [My representative] kept me apprised through the process. Thank you.
- Cherie Rye Lyon Co SEA
I am very happy with the service I received from LDF. I am grateful that our association includes LDF as part of our dues.
- Robyn Delaney Mono County PSOA
[My Representative] truly is an exceptional attorney. He has always represented me with honesty and compassion. Well Done.
- Carl Miller Clearlake POA
- Robert Curato Anderson POA
He did a great job for me!!! He always returned my phone calls within 24-hours. He showed an interest in my case and we were able to get the issue resolved in less than 45 minutes. Thank you for being there when I needed the legal assistance.
- Dan Lovelace Chandler LEA
Thank you for the funding and support. I would be in jail right now if it were not for LDF. I would not have had the funding to pay for the case. It was a tremendous help having [my representative] and his support team and the many experts supplied by LDF. I speak for myself, my family and other members of my association.
- Ernest Marugg San Diego Deputy DA Association
The LDF responded immediately upon my request for counsel. LDF provided the best representative I could receive! When I called LDF for advice, I was given advice again immediately. Thank you LDF for your concern.
- Gregory Carbett Ontario POA
The attorney assigned to my case was GREAT! It's sad, but it's impossible to be an officer in today's world without a defense fund like PORAC LDF. I am now retired and signed up for the retired officers CCW LDF. Thanks!
- Ricky L. Hemphill Los Angeles School PA
[My representative] was an excellent lawyer.
- Robert Morales Rialto PBA
I was very pleased with the service I received
- Robert Muelberg Denver PPA
I could not have had a better attorney. [My representative ] went way above and beyond his duties. I would not have had a better experience with my representative. I believe that the LDF is the single most important benefit a police officer could have!
- Chris Lyon Tulare Co DSA
Very thorough group of sharp/smart government concerned [attorneys]. They understood what was happening and briefed me on everything. I was very impressed.
- Michael Shephard Suisun City POA
LDF is a very valuable resource. I would not do this job without it.
- Scott Cox Tulare Co DSA
I just want to say [my representative] did a great job! Thank you.
- Jeff Griffin Downey POA
My experience with the LDF, and in particular my attorney, was extremely positive. [ My attorney ] worked very hard and kept me informed along the way.
- Kevin Hullquist Siskiyou Co. Correctional POA
[My representative] did a good job representing me. Kept me informed.
- Brad Young Oakland POA
[ My representative ] is an awesome attorney.
- John M. Laser Oceanside POA
[My representative] always took my calls or returned them within hours. Put my mind at ease and kept me well informed. LDF is well served by this law firm!
- Jeff Stanley Upland POA
Excellent program, no one should be without this coverage.
- Doug Plumhoff Ridgecrest PEA
Great job by all! Always great to know LDF is there when needed.
- Dennis W. Ostini Lake County DSA
[My Representative] was fantastic, knowledgeable, professional and easy to talk and work with. Even though the allegations lodged have not been resolved, [My Representative] continued to communicate with me, to offer his assistance.
- Marco Flores Ventura County PPOA
Great program. I was lost until the attorneys explained the situation. I was very impressed and satisfied. Thanks LDF.
- William Jackson Santa Maria POA
Keep up the great work.
- Heather Fontes San Joaquin Co POA
I appreciated the thorough follow up by LDF staff. Many thanks and blessings for the work by LDF.
- Stacey Bonilla San Mateo County DSA
[My Represenative] is an excellent attorney. He is very professional yet personable and I would definitely use him again. Thank you!
- Steven Mayorga Ventura County DSA
I was well represented and very glad to have LDF. Thank you.
- Paul Figueroa Oakland POA
LDF was there when I needed them!! In this litigious world, it's nice to know LDF has GREAT lawyers on our side who look out for us!! [My Representative] is a great attorney and a person I would trust in any circumstance!!!
- William Pryor Statewide University PA
Very helpful program. Helped keep department personnel focused on the issue regardless of their personal issues.
- Jon Seabron Oceanside POA
[My Representative] was the best and if I ever need to call al lawyer again for anything, I'll be calling her.
- Scott King Ripon POA
[My representative] is the best LDF rep I have ever had. If I were to need an LDF rep again I would want it to be [my representative].
- Keith Braden Los Angeles School Police Mgmt Assn
Great work, no complaints.
- George Fierro El Monte POA
I am a firm believer that LDF serves an essential part in the assistance to protect an officer's POBR & in the integrity of an investigation or complaint. I highly recommend the law office of [My Represenative].
- Dwayne Sue Oakland POA
[My representative was] great! She kept me informed and was very professional. She would be my choice if I should need her services in the future! (But I hope I won't) Thanks!
- Tamboura Nettingham Claremont Custody Center EA
My representative was an outstanding rep. I was very fortunate to be represented by her and the firm should be very proud to have her in it. She's courteous, smart and aggressive when needed. I would not ask for anyone else, if any other situation evolved, she's the best. Thanks.
- Michael Sexton Manteca POA
[My representative] was awesome.
- Wendy Morrow Chico Public Safety Association
I had never been through an I.A. in my 21 years. I was scared and ashamed and humiliated. ( My attorney ) was excellent. He helped me through one of the worst times of my life. Had great outcome and I am grateful.
- Gary J. Foppiano Oakland POA
[My representative] has been in my corner for 28 years. I have been represented by this firm probably 6 times in my career from minor to major discipline cases with a great outcome for me. They're batting 100%
- Kip RIngen Lake Co DSA
My LDF rep kept me well informed concerning the progress of my case. I was extremely satisfied with the service I received. Thanks.
- Todd Costa Santa Clara Co DSA
This was my first Internal Affairs investigation, my lawyer walked me through every step and answered all of my questions, without my lawyer's advice, I would have been lost throughout the investigation and a complete disadvantage against my department.
- Patrick Davis Oakland POA
Very knowledgeable and thorough and would use the rep again.
- Brian Markert Lakewood Police Indp Guild
I feel that I was very well represented by the LDF regarding a fatal officer involved shooting. Both attorneys assigned to assist me - our guild attorney plus a criminal defense attorney - were very aggressive and helpful. Their work was instrumental in helping me to navigate the criminal and internal investigations so that I could return to full duty status.
- Martha Tschetter Carson City Sheriffs PA
The LDF process was painless and I was able to get immediate representation in an urgent time of need. Thank you LDF
- Marshall Henderson Vancouver Police Officers Guild
I have used LDF in 3 OIS's. Each time I have been very well taken care of. I highly recommend [ representative ] and the PORAC system. Well done and thank you.