Unabashedly lauded by admirers, one of whom went to the extreme of posting professional signs around town urging his permanent hiring by the council four years ago, Chief Hughes nonetheless left many unhappy with his adamant refusal to accept reasonable public oversight of his department in the aftermath of the horrific beating of homeless man Kelly Thomas by officers of the force. His decision to retain three of the six officers involved did not seem consistent with perceived efforts to bring greater accountability to the troubled department.
Supporters of Dan Hughes like to point out that he addressed most of the recommendations made in the report commissioned by Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review (OIR), who are also now under contract with the city to periodically review the FPD’s reports. However, Dan Hughes and the Fullerton City Council never really addressed the final, and arguably most important, recommendation by the OIR, to establish credible independent oversight of the department. Instead of an appointed Civilian Police Commission to oversee our own police department, we got a “Chief’s Advisory Council,” hand-picked by Chief Hughes himself. No notices, agendas, or minutes of their meetings have ever been made available to the public. Reports of the meetings only come in the form of cheerleading statements made by its members during the public comment periods of city council meetings. Hardly the sort of oversight that would have reviewed the case of a Fullerton Police Detective accused of threatening a crime victim and coercing sex from her that resulted in a $ 550,000.00 out of court settlement on the Chief’s watch.
The lack of formal Police Commission with the critical power to conduct its own investigations can be sharply felt now in the aftermath of City Manager Joe Felz’s car accident last week that allowed him to walk away after a phone call was placed to the outgoing Chief Dan Hughes. The City Council will meet in closed session on Tuesday, November 15, to discuss the situation as a personnel matter pertaining to Mr. Felz, but we have no way at all of knowing what happened in the early morning hours of November 9. The city’s contract with OIR does not cover such investigations, leaving no other independent body to provide a report where an otherwise inherent conflict of interest exists between the City Manager’s office and the appointment of an interim Police Chief to temporarily replace Dan Hughes. (FPD Captain John Siko has been named to the position).
The lack of transparency is in keeping with the decision by Chief Hughes to sidestep the improved communication with the pubic recommended by the Gennaco Report. Instead, we were treated to occasional open houses at police headquarters and a hack public relations firm paid with our tax dollars to regurgitate positive stories about the FPD back to us in a complicit OC Register and on a website called Behind the Badge.
The election of a new member to the Fullerton City Council prior to the hiring of a permanent Chief of Police offers a fortuitous opportunity to add actual police oversight, to be discussed in a future story.
*His hiring by Curt Pringle uber-client Disney, while serving under one of Pringle & Associates’ Vice Presidents, Fullerton Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald, might give one pause to reflect.