Suit Alleging Flipping Of Cars Seized By Sheriff’s Dept. Heads To Trial

A lawsuit alleging San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department higher-ups instituted ticket quota mandates on its motor patrol deputies and participated in or condoned an illegal vehicle impounding hustle that netted department personnel seized vehicles following a rigged auction process is headed to trial later this month.
More than two years after it was filed, the lawsuit by three current and former sheriff’s department officers who say they were rebuked and retaliated against for resisting and then exposing the illegal or unethical activity involving their commanders and colleagues has cleared the last major hurdle which would have prevented the legal action from proceeding.
In response to motions from attorneys representing San Bernardino County to have the lawsuit dismissed, Judge Bryan F. Foster found there were insufficient grounds to throw the case out, and all parties in the suit are due in court on August 29 to begin impaneling a jury to have the matter heard in open court.
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” but that after he was led to believe the department’s internal affairs division would investigate the matter as potential criminal activity he was transferred from the Adelanto/Victor Valley Station to the Victorville City Station and assigned to graveyard patrol, what the suit calls “a backdoor deal that had been worked out between Captain [Greg] Herbert and then-deputy chief now sheriff [John] McMahon.”
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 irregularities 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. According to the suit, “Lt Billings routinely engaged in the practice of pressuring a subordinate employee into changing red light camera citations to warning citations.” The suit maintains that “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, 2015 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.
Burke, Williams & Sorensen maintain Jordan was not compelled by the county to retire. Gaspard is prepared to demonstrate that giving Jordan orders to essentially violate the law left him in a position in which he had no choice but to quit.
Burke, Williams & Sorensen contend that the move to transfer Moler and Wetmore out of the motor patrol division did not come about because of their unwillingness to meet the ticket quota standard but rather for other rational manpower apportioning purposes that were entirely within the discretion of the department’s command echelon.
More recently the county asked Foster to grant motions to dismiss several of the causes of action contained in the complaint. Foster did grant dismissals on two of those causes of action when the plaintiffs did not contest the motions. But Foster did not grant the motions across the board, and Gaspard is working toward completing and filing all necessary pre-trial documents to meet the currently scheduled August 29 trial start.

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