Sheriff Pat Hedges was told by SLO County's chief administrative officer, David Edge, that if the law official weren't in an elected office, he probably would have been fired by the county for covertly videotaping a meeting between Chief Deputy Gary Hoving and Sgt. Jay Donovan a year ago.
That's one of many revelations contained in court documents
- FILE PHOTO
- UNDER PRESSURE : Seen here in an undated file photo, SLO County Sheriff Pat Hedges is asking a court to restrain county employees from discussing an ongoing investigation into his office. He also wants the county to pay his legal fees.
As an elected official, Hedges can't be directly fired by the county or forced to step down during investigations into his actions.
Superior Court Judge Roger Picquet heard arguments on both matters on Oct. 16, but said he didn't plan to rule on them until Friday, Oct. 19.
At the heart of Hedges' argument seeking the so-called gag order, Hedges' attorney, Paul Coble, argued that a state law that guards the privacy of police personnel records should prevent county employees from giving out documents or talking to the press about ongoing investigations involving Hedges' acknowledged eavesdropping.
Deputy County Counsel Rita Neal said the county hasn't broken the law.
"There has been no disclosure by county employees that's from personnel records per se," she said.
L.A. attorney Karen Henry, appearing on behalf of The Tribune, said that a temporary restraining order would amount to an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech and noted that, whatever Hedges was doing, he was doing it as part of his public duties, thus the information should be public.
The court filing arose in part out of an Oct. 4 New Times article that quoted from a letter Edge sent to Hedges, in which Edge noted that the Board of Supervisors had backed a request that Hedges take a temporary leave of absence from his job until various investigations were completed. Hedges has refused, saying such a move isn't necessary. The article is listed as Exhibit No. 1 in the filings.
New Times received the letter through a public records request.
Perhaps ironically, however, Hedges' own court filings, which were meant to buttress his case for getting the county to pay his legal bills, reveal far more intimate details about the case--and about the personnel files of others--than county employees have in statements in the press.
Asked if he didn't himself reveal information from personnel files in the court documents, Hedges' attorney Coble answered "I'm not quite sure," but stressed that they "had to make the case" so Picquet would reconsider an earlier decision that allowed the county to not pay Hedges' legal bills.
Among the revelations in the documents:
Hedges says, for the first time publicly, that when he set up the videotaping he was investigating allegations made by Donovan that deputies in the narcotics unit were fraudulently billing for overtime, had seized money from drug busts, had failed to properly book seized drugs into evidence, and that drugs ended up in the hands of jail inmates.
Coble said in court that none of those allegations were found to have merit, but insisted that Hedges had a responsibility to investigate them.
Donovan was later transferred and was concerned he'd been retaliated against by Hoving after making the allegations. That, according to the filings, is what led to the secret taping.
The allegation of a criminal investigation will be key to Hedges' defense. Under state law, it's illegal to eavesdrop on someone with only a handful of exceptions, and one of them is when a police officer is conducting a criminal investigation.
Deputy County Counsel Neal said in court that the county had already considered Hedges' stated reasons for the eavesdropping when it decided that a criminal investigation into his actions was warranted. The Attorney General's office is leading the probe, and the county is leading two other inquiries.
A law enforcement source with close knowledge of the case told New Times that if Hedges were conducting a criminal investigation of his deputies at the time of the taping, there would have had to have been a paper trail documenting the case.
Neal argued in court that, by revealing the allegations about the narcotics unit, Hedges was essentially articulating his defense rather than laying the groundwork for Picquet to reconsider the county's position on the payment of legal fees.
The documents also reveal that an internal affairs investigator, retired Judge James Warren, has been hired by the county to conduct an administrative investigation into Hedges' actions. Hedges maintains that the county doesn't have the authority to conduct that investigation. They also show that Hedges is questioning the right of the county's human resources department to have granted Hoving a leave without Hedges' authority.