Sheriff’s Brass Let Deputies Buy Vehicles They Impounded, Sergeant Says In Suit

Members of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department purchased, often at discounted rates, or otherwise took possession of vehicles that had been impounded during law enforcement operations they had been involved in, according to a lawsuit filed by two current and one former member of the department.
While there have been complaints about irregularities in the handling of evidence and seized property in the past, these most recent allegations represent a significant blow to a department under increasing attack and scrutiny with regard to questionable and illegal conduct by its members, given that the accusations emanate from three members of the department rather than suspects or arrestees.
The allegations of irregularities in the sheriff’s department’s handling of seized vehicles is contained in a lawsuit filed by the three past/current sheriff’s officers last year. The suit  went unremarked for more than 11 months, as the attorney representing the trio did not seek to publicize the legal action. Word of the suit’s existence this week coincided with the release of the 2014-15 San Bernardino County Grand Jury Report, which referenced problems relating to vehicle seizures and their acquisition by members of the department.
Sergeant Tim Jordan, who is now retired, deputy Brian Moler and deputy Jeff Wetmore filed a lawsuit against San Bernardino County and the sheriff’s department on July 25, 2014, alleging they experienced retaliation from their immediate superiors and other higher ranking department members after they reported a number of abuses or refused to participate in such at the Adelanto/Victor Valley sheriff’s station and the Victorville sheriff’s station.
An amended complaint was filed by the attorney representing Jordan, Moler and Wetmore, Christopher L. Gaspard of the Ontario-based law firm Gaspard Castillo Harper, on March 3, 2015.
According to Gaspard, the department engaged in the “unlawful practice of impounding citizens’ cars for personal profit. In or about November 2010 sergeant Jordan was the administrative detective sergeant at the Adelanto Victor Valley Station. He was assigned to serve a detective with a previously prepared letter of reprimand for impounding a car during the service of a search warrant and later purchasing the car from the tow yard during a lien sale and giving the car to his daughter for her personal use. In early 2011 Sgt Jordan discovered that sheriffs personnel assigned to the department’s narcotics unit would routinely tow vehicles and flip them by purchasing the vehicles at lien sales and selling them for profit. Based on information and belief, the sheriff’s personnel who were flipping towed cars would call a particular tow company owned by the father of a deputy sheriff. This would occur regardless of the location from which the car was towed. When the vehicle came up for lien sale the owner of the tow company would contact the deputies and offer them the first chance of purchasing the vehicle. The owner of the tow company would discount the vehicles, often selling them for thousands of dollars below bluebook value.”
The complaint continues, “Jordan reported this unlawful activity to a lieutenant on the department. Jordan was initially told that he would be interviewed as a witness as part of an internal affairs investigation into the criminal activity. When there was no follow up done or interview of Jordan scheduled, Jordan contacted his lieutenant, who said, ‘I was told in no uncertain terms that it’s been handled and not to worry about it.’ Shortly after reporting the illegal practice of towing citizens cars and purchasing them at lien sale to sell them for profit, Sgt Jordan was transferred from the Adelanto Victor Valley Station to the Victorville City Station. While stationed at the Adelanto Victor Valley Station Jordan worked on dayshift with weekends off and was provided with a county car. Upon arriving at the Victorville City Station sergeant Jordan was assigned to graveyard patrol, working weekends with no assigned county car. On multiple occasions a captain at the department told Sgt Jordan that Jordan ‘got f—ed,’ and that Jordan’s transfer was a backdoor deal that had been worked out between Captain [Greg] Herbert and then-deputy chief now sheriff [John] McMahon. While stationed at the Adelanto Victor Valley Station he received numerous positive personnel reports and two commander’s awards for exemplary service to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and the community it serves. His annual evaluations were consistently rated ‘exceeds standards’ overall. That changed with Jordan’s transfer. In his last evaluation prior to the transfer Jordan had been rated exceeds standards in eight of the nine rating categories. In his first post transfer evaluation, Jordan was rated meets standards in every category. The retaliation against Jordan continued. In 2012 Jordan was assigned to complete an administrative investigation of a deputy under his supervision. Jordan’s investigation was work intensive, including at least 22 interviews. Jordan learned that deputy chief now undersheriff [Joe] Cusimano quashed the investigation based on a false assertion that Jordan had violated the statutory rights of the deputy under investigation. Once other members of the executive staff learned that no statutory violation had occurred, the investigation was reopened and the subject deputy was disciplined.”
The lawsuit further states that lieutenant Jon Billings at the Victorville Station imposed on the motor patrol officers working there a 200 traffic ticket per month quota and instituted a traffic citation tracking system in an effort to ensure they met that quota. Both Jordan and Wetmore resisted the quota system, insisting that setting citation writing goals was a violation of state law. According to the suit, in early July 2013 Billings gave recruits into the Victorville motorized patrol division an ultimatum that required them to sign an at-will agreement in which they pledged to achieve the 200 citation a month quota in exchange for being given the motor patrol assignments. There were further issues with regard to traffic citations, according to the suit. One of these entailed Billings and the captain at the Victorville Station, Sam Lucia, pressuring Moler into changing a traffic ticket he had written to a sheriff’s department secretary to a warning citation. Also, according to the suit, “In late July 2013 Sgt Jordan learned that Lt Billings routinely engaged in the practice of pressuring a subordinate employee into changing red light camera citations warning citations. He would do this when Sgt Jordan was not around and typically the citations involved young attractive women drivers. Sgt Jordan later reported the issue to Captain Lucia. Captain Lucia told Jordan that both he and the Lieutenant had the authority to dismiss citations as they saw fit.” In 2013, Wetmore and Moler were drummed out of the motorized patrol division.
The county and the sheriff’s department are represented by the law firm of is Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP. On April 1, attorney Susan E. Coleman with Burke, Williams & Sorensen, in an answer to the suit denied all the allegations and asked for judgment to be rendered in favor of the county. That gambit failed, however and last week, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Bryan F. Foster set a trial date of May 16.
In its 2014-15 annual report, the San Bernardino County Grand Jury noted it had looked into the sheriff’s department’s policies and procedures with respect to employees purchasing impounded vehicles, recommending that the department “continue to monitor the towing issues.” While the grand jury made no specific finding of wrongdoing by members of the department, the report pointed to “issues regarding towing and sale of both towed and seized vehicles. According to the grand jury, in February 2013 an addendum had been added to a sheriff’s station’s tow service agreement with an unspecified tow company that went some distance toward limiting the possibility of abuse, but that addendum was later deleted. Without directly stating that anything improper had occurred, the report seemed to suggest that the department’s higher ranking officers and a lax departmental policy were responsible for a situation which had led to questionable disposition of some seized vehicles. According to the grand jury report, by remaining within in California Department of Motor Vehicle protocols for extinguishing liens against impounded vehicles, tow yard operators are free to sell vehicles to anyone they wish. The department’s policy permitted vehicles to be sold to sheriff’s employees or family members if they first obtained authorization from local station commanders.
These revelations come amid a spate of negative publicity for the sheriff’s department, including FBI investigations of brutality in the jails and detention facilities run by the department, lawsuits alleging the same and incidents of members of the department, including officers as high ranking as a captain using excessive force on suspects and citizens.

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