A former SLO city police officer claims he was wrongly booted out of the department. Now, he’s prepared to take the matter to court.
The former officer, Kevin Waddell, filed a lawsuit in SLO County Superior Court Oct. 12, claiming that the SLO Police Department erred when it disciplined and terminated him for misconduct.
According to the lawsuit, the department took disciplinary action against Waddell and then fired him in 2014. Waddell was accused of multiple violations of the standards of conduct. Those included policies that require department employees to be punctual and prohibit them from giving false statements to supervisors or investigators, or conducting themselves in a way that is “detrimental or damaging” to the department’s reputation or image.
Waddell’s case went through a lengthy administrative process, including meeting with then-chief Steve Gesell and a multi-day evidentiary hearing before an investigating officer in 2015. Eventually the hearing officer submitted his findings to the SLO City Council, who voted 4-1 to uphold Waddell’s discipline and termination at a July 2016 closed-session meeting.
The lawsuit contends that there wasn’t enough evidence for the findings and that Waddell was wrongfully terminated. It also states that Waddell’s punishment was too harsh.
“The penalty imposed is patently excessive and a manifest abuse of discretion in the light of the misconduct found under the facts and circumstances of the case,” wrote Michael Morguess, the Riverside-based attorney representing Waddell.
The lawsuit asks the court to set aside the findings against Waddell, reinstate him at full rank with back pay, and scrub any and all references to the disciplinary action against him from his personnel file.
Waddell’s complaint didn’t describe a specific scenario or incident that brought about his termination. Some of the details of the alleged misconduct are likely contained in a report created by department’s hearing officer and submitted to the City Council prior to its vote. In an email exchange with SLO City Attorney Christine Dietrick, Morguess said he would not authorize the city to release the report to New Times, saying that Waddell had not waived his privilege to keep the report confidential under California law.
“At this time, we object to the release of the hearing officer’s report or any other administrative disciplinary materials to members of the press and public,” he wrote.
Based on his objections, Dietrick said the city could not release the records.
“As you know, the city’s ability to release police officer personnel information is narrowly constrained by state law,” Dietrick wrote in an email to New Times. “And we certainly regret any obstacle this presents to your ability to inform the public on these important issues.”