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Chief Dan Hughes, blocking oversight of our department, with the consent of a majority of our own city council.

Fullerton’s latest Chief of Police Dan Hughes officially left his post on Thursday afternoon, sent off in a hail of glory by officers of the force and other well-wishers gathered in front of the police station. He will become Vice President of Security for the Disney Resort, a job well suited to a man paid to keep the public in the dark about the activities of his department.*

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.

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Destruction of public property…

In the early morning hours following election celebrations in downtown Fullerton, City Manager Joe Felz drove his car over a curb in a residential neighborhood, mowing down a young tree in the parkway and leaving pieces of his vehicle there. According to neighbors, he eventually freed the car from the curb and drove it down the street for a short distance, effectively leaving the scene of an accident that involved damage to public property. The police who responded to the call of a concerned neighbor described him as emitting an odor of alcohol. The Chief of Police, set to retire just two days later, was called. He reportedly gave instructions for a field sobriety test, which Mr. Felz reportedly passed. No other test for alcohol inebriation was given, as far as we know, and Mr Felz was driven to his nearby home, evidently without any legal citation.

Although a final report of the incident is supposed to be forthcoming (?), the circumstances raise too many questions for Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald to remain silent. Residents may reasonably ask whether or not the City Manager was given special treatment by the outgoing Chief of Police, or by the officers at the scene, who would certainly not have called the Chief if just about anyone else had been discovered in similar circumstances. In light of unconfirmed reports that those officers were not happy about driving Mr. Felz home without further action, an independent investigation is needed, including a review of the officers’ body cams.

Now that the story has been picked up by the news media, including KCAL 9 News, who aired a segment about it last night, Mayor Fitzgerald needs to make a statement about what the city intends to do to reassure Fullerton residents that the situation will be resolved in a fair, just, and transparent manner. Four years ago three members of the Fullerton City Council, including sitting Mayor Dick Jones, were swept from office for their inadequate response to a more serious, but similarly disconcerting incident, when a man was effectively beaten to death by officers of the Fullerton Police Department for no evident reason. A perceived lack of action on the part of city officials left Fullerton under national scrutiny while Chief of Police Michael Sellers embarked on a vacation.

As of today, Fullerton has no Chief of Police because Michael Sellers’ replacement Dan Hughes has left the position to go work for Disneyland. His interim replacement will be named by City Manager Joe Felz. This arrangement is intolerable under the present circumstances, and the Mayor and City Council of Fullerton need to communicate what they are going to do about it, now.

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Someone had a bad night…Photo from FFFF blog.

The newly revived Friends for Fullerton’s Future blog is reporting that Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz was involved in a single car accident early this morning, following a night spent at several election night parties downtown. Skid marks and pieces of what are said to be his own vehicle can be seen in the photographs below, along with a young tree flattened in the parkway of W. Glenwood Drive.

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Perhaps the broken streets help to slow down out of control cars? Photo from FFFF blog.


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Spare parts…Photo from FFFF blog.

As yesterday’s national election has taught us, you just can’t make this stuff up…

Earlier today outgoing Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes issued a memo to Fullerton’s five City Council members apprising them of Joe Felz’s involvement in a single car accident in the Golden Hills residential neighborhood. It begins thus:

“On November 9, 2016 at approximately 0130 hours FPD officers were dispatched to 255 W. Glenwood regarding a possible collision where the vehicle had struck a curb and was stuck on the sidewalk. The driver was later determined to be city manager Joe Felz.”

Our first questions ought to be why were police dispatched in the first place (who called them)? and how much later was it “determined” who the driver of the “disabled” car was?

The next paragraph begins with a real kicker:

“I received a telephone call at my residence from the Watch Commander who informed me that the city manager was involved in a minor single vehicle collision and that the sergeant believed the city manager was emitting an odor of alcohol.”

So investigating officers always call the Watch Commander (who, by the way, we are told was none other than former Fullerton Public Information Officer Andrew Goodrich, famous for his highly spun press releases about Kelly Thomas, following the beating that effectively killed him) when they find a motorist who smells of alcohol? And where was Mr. Felz when this preliminary determination was made? At the scene of the accident? or not? Does the Watch Commander always call the off-duty Chief of Police under these circumstances?

“I informed the Watch Commander that I would call the sergeant to obtain additional information and that I would have the field sergeant conduct a preliminary assessment by performing Field Sobriety Tests and if the sergeant believed there was a level of intoxication that met the criteria to be a violation of the law, we would contact the CHP to investigate.”

Why is the Chief of Police calling the sergeant directly?

“I provided the above directions to the field sergeant and also briefly spoke to the city manager on the phone to explain what protocol would be followed. The sergeant conducted the assessment and made the determination that the city manager had consumed alcohol, but did not meet the criteria of 23152(a) CVC. The city manager was driven home and his vehicle was towed.”

The sergeant evidently concluded that Mr. Felz was not intoxicated, but he did crash his car into a curb, disabling the car and mowing down a city tree on a street he must travel twice a day, at least? How long after the accident was this test administered? The Rag received an independent report of a witness seeing the car being towed at around 3:00 a.m., an hour and a half after Chief Hughes reports the police to have been dispatched to the scene.

The memo from Chief Hughes concludes…

“During this time period, I also contacted Mayor Fitzgerald and informed her I was following the protocol of notifying the mayor about the contact with the city manager. I informed the mayor of the directions I had provided to the field sergeant and that I would re-contact her when the investigation was complete. Her only instructions were to follow normal procedures.

A collision report was documented under case 2016-74804 and a supplemental report will be completed by the sergeant documenting the assessment of the city manager.”

 

Outwardly, it would seem form Chief Hughes’ memo that he followed a procedure designed to ensure transparency and provide an avenue to place the investigation in the hands of the CHP, if warranted, thus removing any potential conflict of interest that would be inherent to him investigating his own boss for a possible crime. However, no oversight is guaranteed the people of Fullerton over Chief Hughes’ actions. We can await the report to which he refers at the end of the memo, but in a case like this one the need for a real Police Commission becomes obvious, even if we will, presumably, have a body cam recording available?

The Rag understands that at least one news outlet, the Voice of OC, is working on the story.

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“Emitting an odor of alcohol…”

 

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