By Ruth Musser-Lopez
Many years ago, even before her water was shut off for nonpayment of her utility bills, 78-year-old Jean Jones had replaced the lawn and sprinklers at her home with gravel, rock, decorative boulders and drought resistant cactus. On the otherwise halcyon Easter morning, March 27, three patrol cars filled with San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies pulled up to her parched abode in Needles. Their intent was to arrest her only son, David Buckley, for “elder abuse,” (PC 368(b)(1). Jones relies solely upon David for assistance with her daily affairs. When the sheriff’s deputies came in, they took no heed, nor in later writing their reports did they mention, the bottles of fresh water that Jones’ devoted son ported daily to the house. Instead, they reported that the “victim” appeared “dehydrated.”
How the deputies came to that conclusion is subject to debate, as a witness whom Mrs. Jones called as the arrest was being made claimed she seemed lucid and spirited at the time. An examination done a few hours later did not indicate she suffered from dehydration.
Former Needles City Councilman Terry Campbell, now a member of the city’s utility board, has been sharply criticized by David Buckley over the board’s ongoing effort to raise water rates. Campbell gloated over David Buckley’s arrest. Campbell, who refers to Buckley as a “gadfly,” said he believed his nemesis was looking at a long prison sentence and worse. As it turned out, Buckley was released three days later without charges being filed. In the interim, a defamatory report was released by the captain of the Needles Sheriff’s Substation to the local newspaper, The Needles Desert Star, for publication. On the day Buckley arrived back in Needles, he was welcomed with a public smear campaign, a spectacle in which he was held out to be – without any accompanying substantiation – a methamphetamine user, an elder abuser and thief.
Five days prior to his arrest, Buckley had gone to the Needles City Council meeting and distributed copies of a complaint he had filed that very day with the Fair Political Practices Commission. This complaint alleged that neither councilman Shawn Gudmundsen nor (now former) councilman Jimmy Lopez had reported loans or gifts from the city on their Form 700 Economic Interest statements required of all elected officials. These gifts or extended loans, he said, were over the FPPC limit of $500 and were made to the council members in the form of extended credit on utility (electric, water, sewer and trash) bills the two council members were either not required to pay or given special low interest terms to repay.
While distributing copies of the complaint prior to the commencement of the meeting, one in the audience handed a copy to the two sheriff’s officers who were sitting in the back of the room, including sheriff’s captain Ross Tarangle. Allegedly, it was Tarangle, who David has previously called out several times for corruption, who ordered David’s arrest on Easter Sunday no matter what the circumstances were found in Buckley’s mother’s home.
In a preceding council meeting, Buckley had also openly stated during public comment that he had learned from the mayor’s wife, Jan Paget, that instead of discontinuing former councilman Jim Lopez’s company’s utility service (electric, water, sewage and trash removal), as is city policy for everyone else, Lopez was allowed to go without paying to the point where Lopez’s business had accumulated over $30,000 in free utility service. This charge was not denied by the city manager or city attorney. The usual practice by the city’s adjunct Needles Public Utility Authority is to notify the customer with a letter printed on red paper (the “red slip” as it is locally referred to) that the customer’s utilities will be discontinued, typically within 10 days of receipt of the notice if the bill is not paid. Most who cannot pay a utility bill have their power turned off—as is the case with Buckley and his elderly mother, Jean.
Since Buckley’s arrest, the Sentinel has learned that in the case of Jimmy Lopez’s business, Colorado River Distributors (which Lopez had reported to be worth over $1 million), Lopez was never billed, the red letter was never sent out, the collections were never made, the utility was never shut off, and a lien was never filed against Lopez’s business property. When Lopez filed for bankruptcy last year, the city used that as grounds to “write off the bad debt.”
Under the state’s constitution it is the giver who is liable in a “gift of public funds” situation involving Government Code 8314, which states “It is unlawful for any elected state or local officer, including any state or local appointee, employee, or consultant, to use or permit others to use public resources for a campaign activity, or personal or other purposes which are not authorized by law.”
Rather than filing a complaint with the grand jury or the district attorney’s public integrity unit against Needles city management, Buckley instead directed a complaint to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Buckley chose not to remain anonymous in his FPPC complaint filing, which would enable him to remain in the loop as to the progress of the investigation. This, however, may have subjected him to reprisal when officers at the command echelon of the sheriff’s department in Needles received the copy of the FPPC complaint at the March 22 council meeting.
The complaint filed on Tuesday, March 22, alleges “failure to report statement of economic interest on a Form 700.” The complaint recites the economic interest reporting requirements to which all elected officials and public employees in California are subject before asserting that Lopez and Gudmundsen had a disqualifying conflict of interest in the Needles city governmental decisions relating to the Needles utility division.
“Both Shawn Gudmundsen and Jim Lopez are former City of Needles elected officials and served on the city council,” the complaint states. “Gudmundsen was not reelected in November of 2014. Early in 2015 Lopez stepped down off of the council and Gudmundsen was appointed to replace him. It was later learned that Lopez had been extended over $30,000 in credit on his company’s (Colorado River Distributors) electric bills by the City of Needles. It has also been learned that Shawn Gudmundsen had run into financial troubles and that he was not paying his electric bills but instead had also been extended thousands of dollars (about half of what Lopez had been given) in utility credits. It was learned and it is alleged that the city manager, Rick Daniels, declared the credit as ‘bad debt’ with no effort to collect or enforce. For other ratepayers, the electric service is discontinued if the bill is not paid, with the exception to elderly or sick, but service is discontinued within 2 or 3 or 4 months, even for them, not allowed to go into thousands of dollars of debt and then ‘written off’ as is the case allegedly for Lopez and Gudmundsen. The council and manager did not deny that this is the case when questioned at the council meeting.”
Buckley’s complaint continues, “Please note that Jimmy Lopez hand selected Rick Daniels as City Manager, and Daniels replaced David Brownlee. Daniels was appointed on or about July 2013, which placed him in the scene at the approximate time of Lopez’s non-payment on electric bills and the gifts of public electricity via extended credit over and above that of any ‘regular’ citizen not a public official. Lopez stepped down almost two years later. Daniels may have been brought in as a deal by Lopez so that Lopez could get away with not paying [for] the electric[ity] while continuing to use it.”
Named in the complaint and the amended complaint as potential witnesses are former city manager David Brownlee, assistant city manager Cheryl Sallis, Daniels, Campbell, mayor Ed Paget and his wife Jan, and all workers in the City of Needles utility department.
Two days after filing the complaint, on Thursday, March 25, Buckley arrived at City Hall with $600 in hand and requested that the city turn his water back on and put him on the “Shawn Gudmundsen Payment Plan,” that he be allowed to pay his monthly bill at $300 per month plus $300 per month that he is in arrears until he is caught up, and that he be extended a 2% interest loan for the balance…the same payment plan that had been given, he maintained, to Gudmundsen. Buckley said that he was refused. “They demanded an extra deposit,” Buckley recounted. “Jimmy and Shawn were never disconnected. Why should I now have to pay an extra deposit to be reconnected?”
Meanwhile that day, Buckley received a response to the FPPC complaint he filed two days prior, informing him that the FPPC “decided not to open an investigation on this matter…since we have no evidence that it is the city’s intent to make a gift of free utility service to either person” and “you did not provide evidence of any specific government decision…”
The response did not address Buckley’s allegation that Lopez and Gudmundsen failed to “report” loans on their Form 700s.
Local papers printed the Needles Sheriff’s Station press release about Buckley’s Easter arrest stating that “the dependent elderly female appeared to be malnourished, dehydrated and confused. She was transported by ambulance to the Colorado River Medical Center for medical treatment.”
The Colorado Medical Center was formerly owned by the City of Needles and has since been sold to Bing Lum. Lum provided Councilman Jimmy Lopez $100,000 at a time the city was negotiating the sale of the hospital to Lum.
“It would be one thing if the sheriff’s had reported that my mother was taken to the hospital for observation, but it is quite another to say that she needed ‘treatment’ and then call an ambulance. They made it sound like I was abusing her, doing something wrong by not putting her in the hospital, but the local hospital in Needles released her to me after finding no reason to keep her.”
Buckley provided the Sentinel with a copy of the “disposition” report prepared by Kingman Regional Medical Center (KRMC) on March 25, 2016 which indicated that his mother was in normal condition, was provided with her medications and sent home with David. The report states: “[T]he patient has “right knee pain, states her cpp stopped her prescription and didn’t tell her…states only 4 pills left…the provider who is covering while her Dr. is out would not see her and sent her to the ED…the patient arrived in a wheelchair via automobile from home…the patient was accompanied by: immediate family member….son is at the bedside and is speaking for the patient….“The patient was discharged to home in stable condition, via wheelchair, accompanied by family member. The patient’s diagnosis, condition and treatment were explained to patient or parent/guardian. The patient/responsible party expressed understanding. Aftercare instructions were given to patient. A discharge plan has been developed. The patient is awake, alert, with a calm affect. The patient is oriented to person, place and time. The patient’s skin is normal for age and race. The skin is warm, dry and good turgor.”
The discharge papers included prescription medication for moderate to severe pain and Buckley states there was no incident, the meds were issued and they went home. He said, “If the KRMC suspected I was under the influence of an unknown controlled substance, it is hardly imaginable that they would let me leave the facility with my mother.”
Contradicting the medical center paperwork, the local captain reported in a press release with regard to Buckley’s arrest on Easter Sunday that “The hospital (Kingman Regional Medical Center) indicated that Buckley appeared to be under the influence of an unknown controlled substance and would not allow the 78 year old dependent adult to be cared for by the hospital once he was denied more medications.”
Buckley claims that this is preposterous. He said he drove the 50 miles to Kingman on Friday with his mother and that this was a routine trip to obtain the prescriptions that she normally takes. “This situation is especially draconian because now sheriff’s officers seem to think they are qualified to make an on the spot assessment that someone needs medical ‘treatment’ when this was not what was reported in the triage and disposition report prepared by the Kingman Regional Medical Center on that day,” Buckley stated.
One witness said she was on the phone with Jean Jones at the time of David’s arrest and said David’s mother was “quite lucid, while normal and quite rational” contrary to the Sheriff’s report which characterized her as “confused.” When that hospital released Jean Jones back to Buckley upon his release, Buckley claims that the hospital staff were very supportive of him and reported nothing that would support the sheriff’s department allegations. He publicly thanked San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon for having dropped the charges filed at the local station level.
The sheriff’s department press release was titled “David Buckley is arrested for Elder Abuse” and reported the victim to be “confidential,” not stating that it was David’s mother. They also said that “Paraphernalia used to smoke methamphetamine was also found in the home.” Buckley said that this was a total fallacy.
Buckley believes that the press release was retaliatory and filled with false allegations that can be disproven. He said that the press release reported that bail was set at $50,000, but he was released, no bail required, 10 hours before the arraignment because the sheriff’s department had nothing it could prove. No charges were filed by the district attorney’s office. Buckley said “they tested me and there were no drugs in my body and no drugs in the house. …the press release printed in the local papers is filled with false allegations that were not even in the complaint, so the local captain let a bogus press release out where there was no evidence of any of it.”
Jean Jones characterized the police report as a fabrication.
The Sheriff’s department also reported that David was “neglecting” his mother, but Buckley was found with his mother, caring for her at the time of the arrest. David and his mother are known in the community to have a special bond. He has been witnessed by scores of Needles residents pushing her around town in her wheelchair, which he also uses to transport her to city council meetings. Indeed Buckley is something of a “chip off the old block” as Jean Jones is as unforgivingly skeptical and distrustful of city officials as her son. She rarely arrives at city council meetings without a stack of evidence folders on her lap the pair have accumulated against city management who they say refused to allow them to open their food vendor business in town, though they held a license and unlicensed vendors were permitted to sell food items at all of the local events. In numerous conversations with Jean Jones, the Sentinel has learned that she admires her son for what she calls his “courageous” stand against government corruption.
This week, after his release, Buckley amended the FPPC complaint to include the evidence of intent. He stated that “the suspects, Jimmy Lopez and Shawn Gudmundsen are elected officials who are or were at the time of the acceptance of public funds, ultimately responsible for directing the city manager via a council vote on all matters concerning the workings of the city. They had reason to know that utility customers are informed that their services will be cut off for non-payment and that if payment is not made, then services will be discontinued. Attached are four ‘red slips’ which indicate the same city policy has been in effect since 2009 that the city demands payment via a ‘red slip’ and discontinues services within two weeks of a red slip being issued.”
The amended complaint continues, “Intent can be shown because, had Gudmundsen and Lopez shown on their Form 700 that they were given special treatment and not required to pay their bills (a gift of public funds) or given special loans, then this would be evidence of disparate treatment and the rest of the public would have demanded the same right and access to utility services without paying.”
“Further evidence now exists,” Buckley stated, “that the city never billed Jimmy Lopez’s business and never sent out late notices for non-payment.” The source of that report is the “spouse of a Needles utility worker.” He went on to say, “It is also possible that the city owned the property that Lopez’s business is located on, which relationship may also have been reportable.”
Buckley also cited a published quote by Shawn Gudmundsen admitting that he owes $600 to the city. “It may sound like chickenfeed compared to what Jimmy Lopez was given” Buckley stated, “but any loan over $500 is required to be reported to the FPPC.” Gudmundsen claims that the city charges him interest of 2% on the loan.
Buckley believes his arrest was a “show of force” as to just what the city’s contracted police department – the local county sheriff’s substation – can do as far as making life miserable for whistleblowers. “These are more than just intimidation tactics.” he said, “These are debilitating allegations made to undermine our constitutional speech rights.”
Efforts to induce Tarangle and Gudmundsen to offer their version of events for this report were unsuccessful and Lopez said he had nothing to do with anything that happened to Mr. Buckley and he just found out about his arrest and didn’t know why he was arrested. “I really don’t care what people say or write about me because most of it is lies,” he said.
On an internet post, Campbell suggested that the accusations against Buckley to justify the sheriff’s department’s Easter day raid on Jones’ home that day Buckley was arrested and those put out about Buckley in the sheriff’s press release in the aftermath of his arrest were less than true but that Buckley had brought the situation upon himself by engaging in false accusations and half-truths relating to him, Gudmundson and Lopez.
“Remember when your [sic] shoveling bullshit your [sic] likely to get some on you!” Campbell posted on the IE Politics blog on April 6 in reference to an account of Buckley’s arrest.
By Ruth Musser-Lopez