A power and authority struggle within the Upland Police Department has manifested, resulting in two members of the department’s command echelon being put on administrative leave and a third member of the department being subjected to an administrative investigation, the Sentinel has learned.
The contretemps comes slightly more than two years after Brian Johnson, who had commanded the Los Angeles Police Department’s Pacific Division, was hired as Upland police chief following a recruitment effort.
The genesis of the current circumstance lies, it appears, in a decision by detective Lon Teague, who has been with the department for 21 years, to go out of the established channel of command set up by Johnson in attempting to have concerns by several officers with regard to policy and procedures redressed. Teague, the current Upland Police Officers Association president, approached staff at City Hall, including the city’s human resources director, with those concerns rather than seeking to have the matter discussed within the confines of the department’s senior staff, which Teague felt had little prospect of success. This was because, the Sentinel is told, some activity, action or policies the officers in question were concerned with originated with Johnson.
As of today, May 5, no official action had been taken against Teague, though the Sentinel confirmed he remains under investigation. Teague’s effort on behalf of the association and its members was backed, the Sentinel has learned, by sergeant Marc Simpson, who is the president of the Upland Police Management Association.
As a consequence of his action, Simpson, who has been with the department for 23 years, has been placed on administrative leave, as has been the second-highest ranking member of the department, captain Anthony Yoakum, who was once considered a potential candidate for police chief. Yoakum, who has a Bachelor of Science degree in workforce education and development from Southern Illinois University and a Master of Science Degree in emergency services administration from California State University-Long Beach, was the department’s investigations division commander for 19 months between December 2012 and June 2014, the department’s operations division commander for nineteen months between July 2014 until January 2016 and was chosen by Johnson to serve as the support services division commander in January 2016.
According to information provided by knowledgeable and reliable individuals, the action against Yoakum and Simpson was done by Johnson under his authority as police chief after Yoakum and Simpson sided with several field officers in their contesting of the department policy. Putting Yoakum and Simpson on leave was ultimately supported by interim city manager Martin Thouvenell, who was himself Upland police chief in the 1990s and remained in that position until he retired in 2005. Thouvenell thus has personal knowledge of all of the officers involved and oversaw Yoakum, Simpson and Teague and their advancement early in their tenure with the police department.
Despite his primacy in the department, Johnson stands as something of an outsider therein, being the first Upland police chief not to have promoted to the top spot from within the department since Eugene Mueller was persuaded to leave the Pasadena Police Department to become Upland police chief in 1941. In another respect, Yoakum stands as a peer to Johnson, who as police chief receives $165,629.62 in salary plus $167.85 in other pay and $83,442,75 in benefits for a total compensation package of $249,240.22 annually. Yoakum outearns his boss, receiving a $153,077.67 in salary, $26,652.57 in other pay and $91,884.95 in benefits for a total annual compensation of $271,515.19.
Among department outsiders who reside or own businesses in Upland, Johnson, who has a Master’s Degree in behavioral science from California State University Dominguez Hills and is a graduate of the West Point Leadership Program and the FBI National Academy, has been generally well thought of and had been lauded for his having prompted stepped-up patrol and enforcement activity shortly after he took the department’s helm. He seemed to effectively blunt criticism of the department being made by homeless advocates who had taken issue with the previous heavy-handed treatment of those living on the streets in Upland, and made a show of compassion toward many of those unsheltered living in the city, which has the dubious distinction of hosting the county’s third largest homeless population, despite its rank as San Bernardino County’s tenth largest city population-wise overall among 24 incorporated municipalities. He also seemed to competently navigate the politically treacherous straits between the city’s marijuana availability advocates and an equally vocal and active contingent of city residents vehemently in favor of cannabis prohibition, managing to maintain his personal dignity in the face of one side accusing him and his department of violating the rights of citizens seeking to maintain access to and use the drug and those at the other extreme accusing him of having been paid off by the cannabis drug lords.
The most recent threat to his authority as chief appears to have come from within the department, with complaints that he has been autocratic and that in some regards with respect to strategy and tactics has exercised a lack of judgment by placing others’ safety at risk. There have been grumblings as well about his level of professionalism in dealing with and treatment of employees and citizens.
A grassroots group, the Upland Coalition of Concerned Citizens, which has gone on record previously with regard to opposing the sale of cannabis in the city and in support of firmer policies aimed at prohibiting vagrancy and the homeless occupying public property, can be considered a bellwether of the atmosphere in and around the police department. One of that group’s leaders, Steve Bierbaum, observed, “The city has been served with at least two civil actions as a result of personnel actions within the police department. None of these employees are apparently allowed to discuss these allegations against them due to the investigations, which I believe are still active. If the allegations are factual and the chief of police suspended a police union president for bringing forward the allegations on behalf of their members, I believe, the City of Upland will face millions of dollars in civil litigation.”
Bierbaum said he had concerns as well over “decreased stability within the department and the continued exodus of experienced police officers from our city.”
Unless cooler heads prevail, Bierbaum opined, events may overtake Johnson and the department.
“I can state with absolute confidence that close to 80 percent of the police department’s sworn personnel are prepared to stand up with a vote of no confidence towards the current chief of police,” Bierbaum told the Sentinel. -Mark Gutglueck