(September 21) A second officer named in the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department training scandal indictment last year is on the brink of being exonerated by the prosecuting agency that leveled the charges against him, the Sentinel has learned.
An indictment unsealed in March 2011 charged seven current and former sheriff’s department employees in a conspiracy to falsify their own and/or others’ training certification. The case against one of those officers was dismissed in July.
Now, sheriff’s lieutenant Russell Wilke is slated to join retired sheriff’s lieutenant William Maddox as a former defendant who has been cleared in the matter, despite the highly detailed indictments that were returned against them and five of their department colleagues, individuals knowledgeable about the matter say.
According to informed entities conversant with the case, key portions of the information and material pertaining to Wilke contained in the indictment cannot be substantiated or has now been determined to be erroneous or non-existent, such that the prosecutor’s office has internally acknowledged it does not have sufficient evidence to ensure Wilke’s conviction.
Wilke, unlike other unretired defendants in the case, has not been suspended from the department and has remained on active duty, having been transferred to the West Valley Detention Center.
In September 2009, insinuations of fraud, theft by false pretenses and unjust enrichment cropped up against Hobart Gray, more commonly known as Bart Gray, who was the commander of the Yucaipa sheriff’s station, as well as Gray’s wife, and approximately 25 other members of the department.
Allegations were that Gray had submitted to the bureau in Sacramento that handles Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification documents that were false in information and content. His wife, Angela Fair Gray, allegedly obtained or prepared the false documentation in question.
Mrs. Gray, who worked at the department’s Glen Helen North Training Facility, in conjunction with Sally Ann Christian, was said to have facilitated a situation in which sheriff’s personnel would sign up for POST classes but never attend them. Mrs. Gray would sign them off as having attended a particular class, usually held at San Bernardino Valley College, then submit the paperwork through the required channels and obtain certificates of completion. Those who signed up for class would either get overtime for attending or were allowed to attend classes on workdays, receiving in turn regular or overtime pay. Many of those who signed up attended only a single class, or in other cases, no classes whatsoever, according to the district attorney’s office.
The never-completed coursework included instruction on verbal judo, advanced subjects contact, officer survival, child abuse, hate and bias crimes, basic dispatch, advanced dispatch, supervisory skills, basic traffic collision, gang awareness, driving under the influence, and civil liabilities. Sworn officers with the department were either required to get periodic retraining in law enforcement skills or were eligible to receive pay increases with the completion of further training. The coursework was supposed to be done in compliance with the state’s POST criteria, that is, Police Officers Standard and Training guidelines, which are set by the state.
More than a year after word leaked out that some of the department’s officers were cutting corners on training and retraining requirements, a special criminal grand jury was impaneled in November 2010 to hear testimony in the case. It was that grand jury, which is separate from the civil grand jury that traditionally monitors the function of San Bernardino County government, that heard testimony from witnesses.
None of those who were eventually charged were taken before the criminal grand jury and the indictment was based entirely upon the testimony of witnesses who were not charged.
Those named in the March 2011 indictment were Wilke; retired lieutenant William Maddox; retired assistant sheriff Michael Stodelle; detective David Pichotta; Hobart Gray, who had recently before retired at the rank of captain; Angela Gray, an unsworn custody specialist; and Christian, an unsworn training specialist..
All were accused of falsifying training documents. All but Angela Gray and Christian were accused of having benefited directly from the falsifications. As sworn officers, Pichotta, Maddox, Wilke, Stodelle, and Hobart Gray had received salary enhancements upon certification of the completion of the POST classes.
Nevertheless, in July, deputy district attorney Dan Silverman, who was prosecuting all seven POST scandal defendants, abruptly dismissed all charges against Maddox, acknowledging that information that had been made available to the prosecutor’s office created a situation in which he would no longer be able to prove Maddox had engaged in the actions previously alleged and that his office could not establish criminal intent on Maddox’s part. Maddox had been charged with having falsely claimed credit for completing advanced dispatch training. Maddox’s attorney, Michael Scafiddi, proffered documentation and information to the district attorney’s office demonstrating Maddox completed all of the training certification courses he was credited with completing when Maddox applied for dispatch certification based upon his work opening a dispatch center in the desert. Doing that required him speaking with other agencies throughout the state and researching both technical and procedural issues. Scafiddi established that Maddox was told by the sheriff’s academy staff that the research and work he did in setting up the dispatch center qualified him to audit the dispatch class, and that he was instructed by his captain to apply for the advanced certificate ten months later.
Wilke and Maddox are two of four command level officers who were implicated in the training completion falsifications. Though Silverman maintained that the case against both Grays, Stodelle, Christian, Pichotta and Wilke remains active, the Sentinel has been provided with information suggesting the district attorney’s office has put the case against Wilke on hold and is waiting for an opportune occasion to dismiss the charges against him. A factor in the delay is the consideration that ending the prosecution of Wilke would bring to a total of two the number of cases dismissed in the high-profile matter and erode the prosecution’s credibility in proceeding against the other five defendants.
Though sheriff Rod Hoops publicly appeared with district attorney Mike Ramos in announcing the indictments in March 2011 in an effort to display a united front with regard to the case, there were sharp divisions between the sheriff’s department and the prosecutor’s office with regard to the case from the outset, as was evidenced in the decisions to allow Wilke, Pichotta and Christian to remain in their work assignments with the department. Pichotta and Christian are currently on leave from the department. The case against Wilke was never considered to be overwhelming. A follow-up examination of Wilke’s actions by the sheriff’s department concluded there was neither probable cause to arrest him nor grounds to criminally charge him. By demanding that the internal sheriff’s department report be entered into evidence, Chuck Nacsin, Wilke’s attorney, can virtually assure that the district attorney’s office will not proceed with the case, sources indicate.
Nacsin said, “The oddity about this case is the sheriff’s department brought the case against all seven, including my client, to the grand jury. Internal affairs brought him in and they cleared him to go back to work. But at this point the criminal case is still going forward. It is true internal affairs cleared him. Charges are still pending. We haven’t gotten there [vindication] yet.”
This morning, September 21, a discovery hearing for Wilke is to be held in Judge Michael A. Smith’s courtroom. Both sheriff’s department and prosecutor’s office employees and former employees have indicated the case against Wilke will soon be dropped.
Silverman did not return a call seeking clarification.