Last week Fullerton’s contracted City Attorney Dick Jones announced during the Closed Session Report of a City Council meeting that financial settlements had been reached in two legal cases against the City of Fullerton. The Rag has been waiting for some news about the first case, Castaneda vs. the City of Fullerton, since we wrote about it last September.
The suit alleged that a now former Fullerton Police Detective named Ronald Bair had demanded sexual favors from a woman in exchange for favorable testimony in her child custody case. The details of the case were very disturbing. The plaintiff reportedly felt compelled to comply with demands for sex by Det. Bair, who had investigated a breach of restraining order against her, because he had also offered to testify on her behalf in her child custody case. She later filed an anonymous complaint with the FPD, but claimed that FPD officers mishandled it by inappropriately informing Det. Bair:
“Shortly thereafter, detective RONALD BAIR called the plaintiff and threatened her and said that she was going to die. It was obvious that he had been told, by the other defendants, about her ‘anonymous’ complaint about his conduct. He told the plaintiff that he knew that she had a court hearing coming up and that the plaintiff would never see my daughter again. He told the plaintiff that his police buddies would come after her.”
With a four vote majority, and one abstention, the Fullerton City Council agreed to pay the plaintiff $ 550,000.00. No details were offered about why one member of the Council chose to abstain from the vote, and since it occurred in Closed Session, there are no notes available to public to explain this strange action by a City Council member in a decision that involved over half a million dollars.
In the article, Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz makes the claim that the “encounters” between Det. Bair and the plaintiff were “consensual,” and occurred while he was “off-duty.” Off duty or not, does it seem like a good idea for a police detective to be having sex with a crime victim whose case he had investigated and for whom he has provided testimony in a child custody case?
Mr. Ponsi then reports:
‘The police “fully investigated” Castaneda’s accusations against the former detective and then submitted a report to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, the city manager said.’ And then, ‘The District Attorney’s Office declined to file criminal charges because of insufficient evidence…’
Well, there you have it. The police, who are alleged to have improperly informed a detective about a serious complaint made against him, filed their own report with the DA, who couldn’t find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
In the next paragraph of the Register’s report, Mr. Felz first states that the ‘“alleged inappropriate relationship” between Castaneda and Bair involved “two mutually consenting adults,” before crossing an ocean sized gap in logic behind settling a case for over half a million dollars to “to minimize legal expenses.”
If there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and the relationship was consensual, why is the city afraid to continue fighting the civil suit? Sure, lawyers cost money, and in the real world cities settle lawsuits to save taxpayers money all the time, but this time there is a $ 550,000.00 payout. That’s a large sum of money for what is effectively claimed to have been a non-issue.
$ 550,000.00 should also be more than enough to fund a Citizen’s Independent Police Commission. As we noted last September, an oversight board would have received the plaintiff’s disturbing complaints when they were filed, and investigated any alleged mishandling of it. Just having such a commission in place might alone discourage such behavior. Instead, a majority of the Fullerton City Council chose a periodic and incomplete independent audit model, citing the alleged cost of commission investigations.
As it now stands, we have no independent civilian oversight, and we have to pay over half a million dollars to settle a lawsuit over acts between a crime victim and a Fullerton Police Detective the City Manager claims were consensual. I wonder how the members of the City Council whose campaigns were backed by the police union, and later voted against a Civilian Police Commission, will explain that one to the people of Fullerton?
At press time Police Chief Dan Hughes has yet to weigh in publicly on the case, and it doesn’t seem to have made Behind the Badge’s Fullerton page…