More than three years after he pleaded guilty in federal court to transporting some 850 misbranded pharmaceuticals containing methylphenidate—a component of Ritalin—across the U.S.-Mexico border, a former San Luis Obispo Police Department officer is taking the city to court in a last-ditch effort to win his job back.
Former patrol officer Dan McDow, 35, formerly of Los Osos, filed a petition in SLO County Superior Court on July 31, the last option available to him after the city denied the appeal of his August 2010 termination.
In his petition, McDow’s attorney alleges that the former officer’s due process rights were violated and that the city failed to serve him with a copy of its May 2013 decision to uphold his termination. He further alleges the penalty imposed was “patently excessive.”
McDow is seeking reinstatement with full back pay, seniority, and rank; the removal of all references to the disciplinary action from his personnel file; and reimbursement for all costs associated with the lawsuit.
McDow’s new attorney, Michael Morguess—of the Sacramento-based law firm Lackie, Dammeier, and McGill, whose slogan is “former cops defending current ones”—did not respond to a request for comment on his client’s case.
In May, New Times called out the law firm over a press release drafted by McDow’s former attorney, Andrew Dawson, which claimed on the firm’s website that McDow was victorious in his fight with the city and that his termination was “overturned.”
That turned out to be untrue, as did other assertions made in Dawson’s account, which remains posted online.
In his undated writing—which doesn’t mention McDow by name—Dawson called the city’s tactics “reprehensible” and claimed McDow and his co-worker and friend were only out for a “fun-filled excursion” that “turned into a three-year nightmare.” He wrote that McDow had to miss work the next day due to his detention at the border, and argued that when he pleaded guilty to the federal misdemeanor charge, he was doing so under the impression that it wasn’t a fireable offense.
Dawson wrote that the city tried to argue that the crime was the state equivalent of possession of a controlled substance. The lawyer countered that McDow would have to have known transporting the pills was illegal as a “requisite mental element” for a criminal conviction. He chided former chief Deb Linden for allegedly not knowing about the requirement.
Finally, Dawson wrote that a third-party arbitrator sided with him in his appeal hearing and “ordered” McDow’s reinstatement.
Multiple phone calls and e-mails to Dawson over a three-week period were never answered, and McDow couldn’t be located for comment by New Times.
In serious disciplinary matters for public safety employees, the city is required to follow a strict confidentiality policy, but city officials are allowed to make comments to respond to false information released by another party. According to the process, termination appeals are heard by an impartial arbiter who conducts an administrative hearing. The officer hears testimony and examines evidence before issuing written findings and recommendations, which aren’t legally binding, but considered advisory to the City Council.
According to City Attorney Christine Dietrick, the council disagreed with the hearing officer in McDow’s case and upheld the termination.
She said the City Council will once again address the McDow issue at an Aug. 20 closed session. There’s currently a case management conference scheduled in SLO Superior Court on Sept. 16; Dietrick explained that the parties will discuss how to proceed, including when the city will file its formal response.
She declined to comment further, citing the early and ongoing nature of the civil case.