By Mark Gutglueck
Rancho Cucamonga Police Chief Danielle Boldt’s steady slide toward alcoholism has reached the point that she is putting not only her own career, but that of her husband, who is also a high-ranking member of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, in jeopardy, current and former sheriff’s officers have told the Sentinel.
Boldt’s risky behavior has included incidents of driving her department command vehicle, issued to her as police chief, while intoxicated, reliable sources have told the Sentinel.
Repeated efforts by the Sentinel to obtain Boldt’s version of events were met with no official response from her, the department, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon or Rancho Cucamonga City Manager John Gillison.
For years, Boldt has made a steady rise up the sheriff’s department chain of command, bolstered over the last four years by the ascendancy of John McMahon to the position of sheriff. Especial favor that was heretofore bestowed upon Boldt because of her connection to the current sheriff seemingly insulated her from being held accountable for a series of alcohol-related faux pas over a relatively short period of time in the last year. Paradoxically, that seeming invulnerability to the consequences of her action created a degree of hubris in Boldt that has led to the current crisis besetting her.
A series of events late last year and earlier this year brought Boldt’s losing battle with intoxicating liquors, long recognized among a widening circle of department members, to the attention of a more substantial cross section of high ranking governmental and law enforcement officials outside the department. Those events, described to the Sentinel as three “serious” episodes in which her affinity for alcohol compromised her judgment and created potential liability for the department, the county and the City of Rancho Cucamonga, illustrate the degree to which Boldt has avoided being held to answer for her actions, a member of the department told the Sentinel. Virtually any other member of the department caught up in simply one such lapse would have been subjected to serious discipline if not outright termination, the Sentinel is informed. Yet Boldt was able to brass out all three major bumps unscathed.
Events are moving to overtake Boldt, and the aura of untouchability she wants exuded now seems to have evaporated.
Boldt has led something of a charmed professional existence, based in large measure on her husband’s close personal relationship with McMahon. Leland Boldt, who is also a captain with the department, has been variously described as “the sheriff’s best friend” and “a member of McMahon’s inner circle.” McMahon and Leland Boldt have known each other for years, virtually since they joined the department within one year of each other in the 1980s. They are both avid horsemen, what some refer to as “modern cowboys.” They own adjoining properties in Idaho, where they have vacationed together. They are known to spend much of their off-duty time together.
Perhaps on his own merit, perhaps based upon his friendship with McMahon, Leland Boldt has landed one of the most prestigious positions in the department, as the head of the specialized investigations division. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s specialized investigations division has as its subunits the homicide detail, crimes against children detail and the polygraphing detail. Directly answerable to Lelandt Boldt is the lion’s share of what are considered the department’s top flight investigators. The cases his division handles are among the most high profiled, among the most demanding and intensive, and when resolved properly, the most rewarding personally and professionally of all of the work carried out by the sheriff’s department.
What is more, Leland Boldt’s wife, whose maiden name was Danielle French, has acceded to another of the more highly prized postings in the department, that overseeing the department’s operation in Rancho Cucamonga. Fourteen of San Bernardino County’s 24 cities do not have their own municipal police department but rather contract with the sheriff’s department for law enforcement service. Of those 14 contract cities, Rancho Cucamonga, with 175,000 residents the third largest of the county’s incorporated communities population-wise behind San Bernardino and Fontana, is the largest of the cities employing the sheriff’s office.
In January 2015, Danielle Boldt made Rancho Cucamonga history when she replaced Tony Onodera as captain of the Rancho Cucamonga sheriff’s station, a billet which carried with it the title of Rancho Cucamonga police chief. This made her the first woman to hold that title.
She joined the department in 1988 and had been rotated into various assignments around the county in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. She made her most indelible mark working in the crimes against children unit. In 2012, she was moved from the department’s headquarters in San Bernardino, to become a lieutenant in Rancho Cucamonga. It was at the end of a two-year tour there that she was promoted to captain and reassigned to the High Desert Detention Facility in Adelanto. Less than six months later she was entrusted with the lead assignment in Rancho Cucamonga.
If the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department ever had a power couple, in 2015 Mr. and Mrs. Boldt – captain and captain Boldt – were indisputably it. Both were seemingly at the top – or near the top – of their profession and it was not unthinkable that at some point in the not too distant future one of them might be sheriff. At some point in late 2015, however, just as everything seemed to be going her way, Danielle Boldt appears to have gotten off track.
The Sentinel is told that on one occasion Danielle Boldt, driving the Rancho Cucamonga sheriff’s station’s command vehicle, was pulled over by a Highway Patrol officer as she was headed up the Cajon Pass from Rancho Cucamonga to the Boldts’ home in Hesperia. When she identified herself as a sheriff’s department captain, the Sentinel is told, she was not arrested, although she appeared to be driving under the influence. The Sentinel was unable to confirm this account independently through the Highway Patrol and was unable to locate any Highway Patrol incident logs or records that could be conclusively tied to Danielle Boldt.
Danielle Boldt became the object of a San Bernardino County Grand Jury investigation following a report that in the aftermath of a city event at which a crew of trustees from the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga were on hand as a custodial clean-up team, she allowed them to consume a quantity of alcohol that was left over after the festivities had concluded.
The grand jury investigation was proceeding, the Sentinel is informed, to the point where confirmation of some of the particulars had been made. At that point, it is reported sheriff McMahon became aware of the investigation and, at his behest, district attorney Mike Ramos prevailed upon deputy district attorney Michael Dauber, who serves as the grand jury advisor, to quash the investigation.
One report was that when one of the grand jurors objected to the termination of the investigation, Dauber threatened her with prosecution for violating grand jury confidentiality if she were to make any form of disclosure about what she knew. When the grand jury report was delivered at the end of the grand jury’s term in June, there was no reference to the furnishing of alcohol to inmates. Repeated efforts by the Sentinel to obtain a statement from Dauber were unsuccessful.
Boldt was apparently involved in a second traffic stop while she was commuting up the 15 Freeway from Rancho Cucamonga to Hesperia over the Cajon Pass, again in which she was suspected of driving while intoxicated, sources have told the Sentinel. In that case, it is reported, she was once more provided with what was termed “professional courtesy” when the Highway Patrol officer who stopped her allowed her to summon the watch commander then on duty at the Rancho Cucamonga station. She was remanded to the custody of the watch commander, who drove her to her Hesperia residence while her vehicle was driven by another deputy from the Rancho station, department sources say. She was not arrested, nor is there any record to indicate she was subjected to sobriety testing.
By April, a report of what had occurred reached the California Highway Patrol in Sacramento and lieutenant Jeff Loftin of the CHP’s San Bernardino office was detailed to carry out an investigation, aimed less at Danielle Boldt but rather at the action of the officer or officers who had stopped her. While there were indications earlier this year that the results of that investigation might become publicly available at some point, as of this week no report had been released.
In the months following the second moving vehicle incident, the Sentinel is informed, Danielle Boldt was far more discreet in her comportment. More recently, however, those within her professional orbit have detected signs which to them indicate she is again using alcohol, perhaps to excess.
Repeated efforts by the Sentinel, including phone calls to her office and home, a letter hand delivered to her office at the Rancho Cucamonga sheriff’s station, an email and an attempt to interview her directly failed to elicit a response from Danielle Boldt with regard to the above-referenced reports.
A phone call to sheriff McMahon’s office at sheriff’s department headquarters was met with no response.
Of issue in the matter, beyond the safety risk to Boldt and others if the reports of her driving while intoxicated are accurate, are issues of liability relating to the sheriff’s department, the sheriff himself if his knowledge of the circumstances can be established, the county, the City of Rancho Cucamonga, and the county and city’s taxpayers.
Moreover, the potential for the exposure of the extent to which the department and its highest ranking members have actively militated to leave the situation unaddressed is such that it could damage McMahon politically. It would most certainly have an impact on Danelle Boldt’s promotional prospects and could have an impact, if it has not already had, on her husband’s promotional hopes. And widespread exposure of what has already occurred, if verified in its entirely, might put McMahon in a position in which he will have no choice but to remove her from the Rancho Cucamonga station command post, and most likely demote her if he doesn’t separate her from the department altogether.
The issue of liability is a complex one. At stake is whether any potential liability is confined to the sheriff’s department, the county and Boldt, or whether the City of Rancho Cucamonga would share in that liability. There are differences between the contract terms in some of the sheriff’s department contracts with the 14 contract cities, extending to both the provision of vehicles and general liability issues. In some cases involving the county’s lower population cities, the sheriff’s department vehicles are supplied by the department out of the department’s 1,600-unit fleet. In other cases including the larger cities, the Sentinel is informed, the vehicles are stationed, fueled and maintained out of that city’s motor pool or corporate and equipment yards. In this way, it can be construed that the liability for any mishap with those vehicles accrues at least partially to the city.
Lieutenant Brett Williams, the head of the sheriff’s department’s civil liabilities division, told the Sentinel that in initially processing claims, “We don’t decipher between department vehicles and those owned by the contract cities. The cars get repaired and we turn it over to the insurance carriers.”
As to what happens in those situations where there are circumstances in which liability might be shared or merged, Williams said, “How we would work that out with the cities is beyond my knowledge. I would refer you to the bureau of administration. That would all depend on the individual contracts with the cities and you would have to check with them for that.”
The Sentinel was unsuccessful in achieving an interview with sheriff McMahon.
Rancho Cucamonga officials were equally reticent. Phone calls to city manager John Gillison were diverted to the city’s public information officer, Francie Palmer. Palmer said she had no information with regard to the specific situation involving Danielle Boldt and no information general or specific relating to the liability issue or the terms of the city’s contract. She said the Sentinel would need to make an official request for the information and copies of the contract under the California Public Records Act.
Palmer did not dispute that Gillison had immediate access to the information the Sentinel was requesting but said “Mr. Gillison is not available.”
Gillison’s unwillingness to field questions on the record with regard to the Danielle Boldt matter reflects directly on the city’s liability vulnerability. Indications are that after learning of the contretemps involving the police chief, he did not pass that information along to his political masters, the Rancho Cucamonga City Council.
Mayor Dennis Michael was on vacation this week and had not returned phone calls by press time.
Rancho Cucamonga Councilman Bill Alexander, who previously served as mayor, said of the issues attending Danielle Boldt, “I haven’t heard anything about it,” adding, “I usually don’t get consulted on those sorts of things. I’m pretty much out of the loop nowadays and because this involves a county agency and contracted-for services, things like that will often be passed straight through to the county.”
With regard to potential city liability and the ultimate ownership of the vehicles driven by the sheriff’s department personnel assigned to Rancho Cucamonga, Alexander said, “I believe those are technically city vehicles, if I am not mistaken. I know they are fueled and maintained at the city’s corporate yard. So if something were to happen with one of those cars, it could turn into the responsibility of the city.”
As to what is in the city or city council’s purview with regard to the police chief, Alexander said, “We have no real say as a contract city in the assignments of the captains who are selected to serve as the chiefs of police. The sheriff makes that determination and the city has no say about it.”
Though Alexander said he thinks the city has a “clear interest” in being informed about any issues involving the performance of the city’s police chief, he said the ins and outs of state law pertaining to public employees limit the reach of the council.
“They consider these things personnel issues,” Alexander said. “That means a very involved process where the employee’s rights have to be considered. You cannot simply take immediate action, even if the situation would seem to warrant that.”
Alexander said it is inconceivable that Gillison is not on top of what is going on. “If it occurred, I am absolutely sure he knows all about it,” Alexander said.
Alexander said he personally saw no outward signs of a problem with the police chief.
“I’ve met her at Kiwanis meetings,” he said. “She seemed like a nice enough lady. I’m hoping that if, in fact, she has a problem she can get it corrected.”
Caught in the middle of this is the police chief’s husband, Captain Leland Boldt. It has recently been hinted that, despite his close personal relationship with sheriff McMahon and the high regard both men have for each other, Lelandt Boldt’s career progress may have suffered a recent setback.
Among department observers and some insiders, it was anticipated that Leland Boldt was next in line to be promoted to one of the department’s two deputy chief slots. Sheriff McMahon, however, selected captain Steve Dorsey to fill a vacated deputy chief post in his most recent senior echelon promotion. While Dorsey’s advancement was not a shock exactly, it was something of a surprise, thwarting Leland Boldt’s presumed ascendancy when Dorsey unexpectedly stepped over him.
McMahon, as an autonomous, elected official, is in no way obliged to publicly explain the rationale for his staffing decisions and the Sentinel was unable to get from him a voluntary explanation as to his choice of Dorsey.
The Sentinel’s efforts to reach Leland Boldt, by both email and telephone, did not trigger a response.
Driving under the influence by department members or their family members, the decision by officers in the field to make arrests under those circumstances and the career-complicating, career-damaging or career-ending implications of doings so is not a new issue within the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
Sergeant Steve Moran appeared to be on the fast track for advancement with the department until he arrested former undersheriff Gary Huff’s son near Big Bear two-and-a-half decades ago. Moran was pressured to “eighty-six” the record of the arrest, that is, to in some fashion “bury” or prevent the matter from being forwarded to the district attorney’s office. When he refused to do so, Moran was deemed persona non grata among his colleagues and was eventually hounded out of the department. He filed suit over what had occurred, and after a more than four-year-long wending of his case through the courts, he was vindicated, receiving a $1.2 million settlement, which included back pay.
Other department deputies insisting on upholding the law when their colleagues were caught intoxicated at the wheel of a car did not fare as well as Moran.
Former deputy Ken Holtz saw his 20-year career essentially destroyed after he arrested one of his colleagues, Rick Runstrom, for driving under the influence close to a decade ago.
Holtz said from the time he first became a deputy with San Bernardino County, the extension of what he called “professional courtesy” to members of the department who had one or two drinks too many and got behind the wheel was an unwritten but almost universally honored policy. “What would happen is they would get a ride home and not get arrested,” Holtz said.
Holtz acknowledged that “during the first few years” he was a deputy, he had let some department members, including at least one high-ranking one, off the hook. At some point relatively early on, Holtz said, he became bothered by “the hypocrisy. It just isn’t right arresting someone when you are letting someone who is equally guilty go. And it is contrary to what you are there for, which is public safety. It shouldn’t matter who you are.”
Holtz said the department’s tradition of providing “professional courtesy” went beyond members of the department or law enforcement officers in general and at least sometimes included other powerful public officials, including elected ones.
Holtz made it a personal policy of refusing to participate in the provision of professional courtesy, which in some fashion complicated things for him, he said. Most famously, Holtz arrested Bob Dutton, a mover and shaker in the Rancho Cucamonga community and later a Rancho Cucamonga councilman, then a California Assemblyman, later a state senator, and today San Bernardino County’s assessor and recorder. Holtz said that over the course of his career, he arrested or issued citations to a few politically connected people within the communities he served along with law enforcement officers from outside the department who were off duty, including ones for impaired driving. This enforcement action created concern among the command staff, Holtz said.
Adhering to that principle carried with it its own risk, Holtz acknowledged, and he said he found himself at odds with not only the department brass but many of the department’s lower ranking members when he arrested Runstrom. Ultimately, Holtz said, he was terminated from the department when he got into a confrontation with two lower-ranking members over the Runstrom arrest. It was that confrontation that the department used as the pretext to fire him, Holtz said. Holtz has in his possession information and documentation to demonstrate his firing was in retaliation for the Runstrom arrest.
Holtz offered his perspective on Danielle Boldt.
“We came into the department at nearly the same time,” Holtz said. “She was, I think, a year ahead of me. She was a good officer. She was accepted. She was a party girl. She would have a few, after hours, just like a lot of people were, but I never saw her drinking as being out of control.”
Holtz said Boldt hit her stride and began to excel when she went into the department’s crimes against children unit. “She was very good at it,” he said. At some point, Holtz noted, Boldt came into conflict with some other deputies, some of whom she felt were not being aggressive enough in pursuing crimes against children. The department pursued a complaint Boldt lodged against a detective working out of the Victorville station over that contention, Holtz said, but ultimately the department’s professional standards division reached a conclusion that the detective had followed procedure and was diligent in handling his assignments. However, a sergeant supervising the detective received a 15-day suspension for failure to properly supervise that detective. The complaint made by Danielle Boldt was overseen by Leland Boldt, both of whom at that time were sergeants. The sergeant supervising the detective who was the subject of Danielle Boldt’s complaint felt he was not accorded fair treatment, but was unable to resolve the matter through an appeal to the civil service commission When the sergeant was unable to resolve the matter to his satisfaction he took early retirement. The detective who had been exonerated in the investigation launched by Danielle Boldt retired as well. That episode created a good deal of resentment among a considerable number of department members.
Boldt was subsequently transferred out of the crimes against children unit, promoted to lieutenant and then landed in Rancho Cucamonga for a two year tour there earlier this decade. Without saying so directly, Holtz hinted that taking Danielle Boldt out of the crimes against children unit may have removed her from the role within the department where she was best suited.
Whatever emotions might be playing out in Danielle Boldt with regard to the opportunity for her professional fulfillment as a law enforcement officer are internal ones, not publicly known. What is now known is she has become embroiled in a circumstance that brings into question whether the sheriff’s department has enforced and will continue to enforce the law fairly, evenly and without regard to status, connection and rank, and which has created doubt that the department is truly committed to the safety of Rancho Cucamonga’s, and the county’s, residents.
By Mark Gutglueck