Judge Reinstates Graham As Hesperia Schools Police Chief

HESPERIA • Michael Graham has been reinstated as the Hesperia School District’s police chief in a ruling by Superior Court Judge John P Vander Feer handed down on March 22.
In February 2012, the Hesperia School Board voted 3-2 to fire Graham after months of protracted battling between Graham, as the chief of police, and then-district superintendent Mark McKinney.
McKinney had previously relieved Graham of his command, but Graham chose to have a public hearing over issues relating to his ouster. In testimony before the board, McKinney maintained Graham had been insubordinate.
Graham insisted that his firing was retaliatory and that he was punished for speaking out against reductions the police department was forced to sustain as well as for his efforts to get to the bottom of an alleged embezzlement of associated student body funds at Sultana High School in late 2009. McKinney said that diminishing revenues required that the district make cuts and the police division was a logical place to make those economies. He said that Graham, who hired on with the district police department in 2001 and was promoted to chief in April 2008, had proven intransigent in carrying out that policy.
Graham, a former San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy, a one-time deputy marshal with San Bernardino County, and a former security officer with the Air Force, maintained he had attempted to comply with McKinney’s instructions. Graham, however,  was undercut by statements he had previously uttered during his oftentimes public feud with McKinney, which on occasion included deprecating remarks about then-school board president Chris Bentley. Bill Holland, one of Grahams’s subordinates in the school district police department who was also a Hesperia city councilman who has since become mayor, sought to ameliorate Graham’s position, telling the board that it was he, rather than Graham, who had ridiculed as “absurd” the directives in one of McKinney’s memos to Graham calling upon him to reduce the activity and authority of the district police department.
Ultimately, a majority of the board did not find credible Graham’s insistence that he had attempted to comply with McKinney’s instructions and had not defied the superintendent. Bentley, joined by board members Eric Swanson and Niccole Childs, upheld McKinney’s firing of Graham. Board members Hardy Black and Anthony Riley voted to sustain Graham’s appeal.
Graham filed a wrongful termination suit against the Hesperia Unified School District in May.
Vander Feer ruled the school board’s accusation of insubordination on Graham’s part was not upheld by a preponderance of the evidence and he ordered Graham be “reinstated with full back pay and benefits.”
The district to which Graham will return has changed in certain respects. Bentley was voted out of office in November. Riley did not seek reelection. Cody Gregg and Ella Rogers have replaced Bentley and Riley. They formed a ruling alliance with Black and fired McKinney as superintendent in December.

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