By Carlos Avalos, Randy Scott and Mark Gutglueck
The Fontana police officer arrested earlier this week on a charge that he had raped a 16-year-old girl was not subjected to the strict hiring procedure that involved an exhaustive background check that is a standard personnel policy among most California law enforcement agencies when he was welcomed into the department in April 2018, the Sentinel has learned. Rather, department sources report, Nicholas Stark was able to bypass much of the scrutiny routinely applied to new hires by virtue of his familial connection to the department, specifically based upon his father’s status as a captain with the department at the time he was brought into the department in 2017 as an officer trainee.
Yesterday, June 4, Nicholas Stark was arrested on a charge of rape of a minor by intoxication, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The alleged victim was a 16-year old girl, and the alleged crime took place in Rancho Cucamonga. Stark was taken into custody and booked into West Valley Detention Center. His bail was set at $250,000.
According to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, the Fontana Police Department had cooperated with and facilitated its investigation of Stark and the circumstances surrounding the case.
In an article published today, the Fontana Herald-News reported that Fontana Police Chief Billy Green had made particularly scathing remarks about Stark and his character. According to the Herald-News, Green said that neither he nor his department will “attempt to justify or mitigate his predatory deviant behavior.” Green told the Herald-News, the lone adjudicated newspaper based in Fontana, that both the city’s residents and department employees had “righteous concern” over what had occurred. “He has tarnished the badge of the Fontana Police Department and our community deserves answers,” Green was quoted by the Herald-News as having stated.
Green made an effort to distance his department and its reputation from Stark, which included, for Green, atypically harsh characterizations and remarks regarding a police officer and department members. “This is not what the Fontana Police Department is about,” the Herald-News article said Green had insisted in an email. Green also made clear to the Herald-News that the rape for which Stark was arrested “occurred prior to [Stark] becoming a Fontana officer.” Green in the email to the Herald-News said that he understood that what had occurred “rightfully calls into question the character of the entire department,” and that he, the department and its 300 personnel were committed “to do what needs to be done to begin repairing the damage.”
Green simultaneously informed the public through the Herald-News that he was absolutely done with Stark. “Based on California law, I cannot immediately fire Nicholas Stark. He is on paid leave and that is disgusting. However, I will endeavor to terminate him in the most expeditious manner possible,” Green was quoted by the Herald-News as saying.
Nowhere in the Herald-News article was any information relating to the manner by which Stark had managed to land his officer’s assignment with the department.
Stark is the son of Michael Stark, who had risen to the rank of captain with the department. As such, Michael Stark was a senior officer and indeed a mentor to the current generation of command officers at the Fontana Police Department, including Green and the immediate past police chief, Robert Ramsey.
Despite his father’s status as a senior member of the Fontana Police Department, Nicholas Stark’s ambition toward becoming a police officer does not appear to have begun early, as there is no indication he participated in the police explorer program through which teenagers intent on a career in law enforcement often make entrée into the profession. Rather, he did not become an actual police officer until he was 26 years old in 2018, having first been hired as an officer trainee with the department the year before, just prior to his father’s retirement.
At the time of his retirement, Michael Stark was receiving a $171,485.62 yearly salary and was provided with overtime pay and various allowances and add-ons of $44,278.84 per year, together with $113,799.76 in benefits for a total annual compensation of $329,564.22. In retirement, he is now pulling an annual pension of $182,452.68.
Prior to Nicholas Stark signing on with the police department, he had obtained a job with the City of Fontana at the age of 19 in 2011 as a water safety instructor. His total pay and benefits for 2011 was $6,935.97. In 2012 Nicholas Stark had promoted to the position of assistant pool manager and his total pay and benefits for that year nearly doubled, zooming to $13,545.26. In 2013 he held the same job title but his total pay and benefits declined to $10,331.17, with his total pay and benefits similarly dropping in 2014 to $9,441.33, while he remained in the capacity of assistant pool manager. In 2015 he made the jump to pool manager, and his total compensation rose that year to $16,166.91. In 2016, while yet in the capacity of pool manager, his overall compensation reached $30,596.78.
In 2017, after he had graduated from the sheriff’s academy, Nicholas Stark was hired by the Fontana Police Department as an officer trainee, a position for which he received total pay and benefits of $38,313.78. In April 2018 Nicholas Stark was hired as a police officer, and he received in both his officer trainee and police officer capacities total pay and benefits of $72,136.70. In 2019 he kept the officer title and his total pay and benefits were $78,249.70.
The Sentinel since yesterday spoke with multiple sources within the department with regard to Nicholas Stark. One stated, “Nicholas Stark was not vetted, analyzed, and scrutinized how normal applicants trying to become law enforcement officers are.” Other officers related to the Sentinel that they were there during young Stark’s efforts in trying to become a police officer. They said Nicholas Stark was given special consideration because of his father’s status in the department. “Right away, we knew he was not being treated how he should have been because his father was a captain,” one said.
Some of the officers acknowledged that there was a “good ol’ boy” element to the department’s culture. “There is an ideology, political belief, as well as the treatment of people which fits that description,” one of the officers said. That ethos carries over into the hiring process, another officer said.
Nepotism has been an issue within the Fontana Police Department for years. In November 2016 the Sentinel reported that an analysis of those employed with the Fontana Police Department at that time demonstrated “one third of officers were related by marriage, blood or sex.” As reported in 2016, according to sources within the police department itself, an overwhelming number of those working for the department were blood-related in some way or another or were or had been involved in a personal, physical, sexual, domestic or quasi-domestic situation with one another. Lifelong friendships, marriages, intimate relationships, and blood relations have historically been among the ways that people in the Fontana Police Department are closely connected and promoted.
In any police force or business atmosphere relationships are forged and kept, and a few intimate relationships and/or marriages within an organization may be inevitable. People become friends, partners, and engage in relationships and marriage. Relationships are expected to be grown and gained. Such is the nature of human interaction and cooperation. At what point human nature and human tendencies within the context of an organizational structure devolve into nepotism and incestual compromise is open to debate. With the Fontana Police Department, where roughly 100 of that organization’s employees had or have a familial, domestic, intimate or close personal relationship in which their financial interests may have been or were merged, there had been concern expressed that professional and accountability standards had been put at risk.
Despite this information having surfaced in the 2016 Sentinel article [ https://sbcsentinel.com/2016/11/fpd-nepotism-one-third-of-officers-related-by-marriage-blood-or-sex/ ], the following year Nicholas Stark was brought into the department as an officer trainee while his father was at the senior level of the department’s command echelon.
In his email to the Herald-News, Green said, “Despite our best attempts to weed out people that should not be hired, we missed the mark and hired someone we should not have.”
Of note is that the rape now at the center of attention allegedly occurred in Rancho Cucamonga prior to Nicholas Stark’s hiring as a police officer, and reportedly involved plying the victim with alcohol prior to sexual intercourse taking place. What was not clear was whether Stark was employed as pool manager at the time or as an officer trainee, as well as whether the victim was 16 at the time of the rape or is currently 16 years of age. There was speculation that Stark had met the young woman while he was serving in his capacity as pool manager in Fontana at its aquatic center, which draws swimmers from a number of nearby communities, including Rancho Cucamonga.
The Sentinel spoke with individuals who knew Nicholas Stark when he was employed at the aquatic center, including his supervisor when he was hired as a water safety instructor/lifeguard. Stark appeared to be a model employee when he was serving in that capacity in his late teens and early 20s, the Sentinel was told, and there was nothing untoward about his comportment noted. His performance never caused any concern, which was reflected in his promotion to positions of greater responsibility and authority while he was working at the center, his one-time supervisor said. The supervisor said that those who worked with Stark while he was a lifeguard, water safety instructor, assistant pool manager and pool manager were “floored” by the initial report of his arrest. Stark was reportedly on the verge of getting married, the Sentinel was informed.
The Sentinel has learned that the case against Stark evolved out of a social media posting by his alleged victim, who gave indication of having been sexually assaulted, and further posted that the perpetrator was a police officer. An inquiry into the matter, including determining the identity of the victim and then contacting her directly ensued. Once Stark was identified, Green interceded directly with San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon to handle the investigation.
Two officers with the department, noting that the pre-hiring background investigation process entails applicants filling out a detailed questionnaire that is then signed under the penalty of perjury and subject to very close scrutiny including a polygraph exam and battery of questions during an oral interview, augmented by an examination by a clinical psychologist, suggested that the investigation into Stark’s hiring should utilize the same methods and techniques employed on line officers prior to their employment with the department as a means of seeking to determine from the department’s management why Stark was allowed to bypass those rigors during his hiring process.
By Carlos Avalos, Randy Scott and Mark Gutglueck