The Arroyo Grande Police Officers Association will not participate in the selection of an independent investigator to determine what occurred in a July 3 incident between the city manager and a subordinate, and whether any city policies were violated.
“It is not the duty of the police to investigate personnel matters and policy violations of our city leaders,” Sgt. Shawn Cosgrove, president of the police union, said at Tuesday’s Arroyo Grande City Council meeting.
“All we ask is that the selection process, all communications, and the investigation itself be made completely public so that everyone can determine for themselves what the truth is,” he said.
At least 75 people packed the council chambers Tuesday with many wearing black and applauding in a show of unity with the police union. About 15 police union members, wearing black shirts with their association logo, stood in silent support as fellow officers spoke to the council.
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The tense meeting was the latest turn in an ongoing controversy that has rocked Arroyo Grande since the public learned that five police officers had found City Manager Steve Adams and Community Development Director Teresa McClish alone late at night in City Hall.
Some residents have accused the council of disgracing the city by not holding Adams more accountable for what they considered numerous city policy violations.
"If any other employee of the city had been in that building during off hours, they'd be gone," resident Cynthia Alarcio said.
A deputy city attorney investigation found no violations. Adams and McClish told the attorney that they had a few drinks at two restaurants in the Village that night and were talking in Adams’ office to ensure they were safe to drive home.
But on Saturday, faced with mounting anger from the public and a vote of no confidence from the police union, the city council decided to hire an independent investigator to review the incident.
On Tuesday, six police association members spoke in response to Saturday’s meeting and a statement issued afterward by Mayor Tony Ferrara inviting the union to participate in a task force with councilmen Tim Brown and Jim Guthrie that would choose the investigator.
Nineteen people, including the six union members, spoke during public comment. Some called for the district attorney, sheriff’s office or other outside agency to choose the independent investigator to ensure it is truly unbiased.
“To have two city council people be the people to select a business to do an investigation is like a fox in the hen house,” resident Heather Jensen said.
Resident Beatrice Spencer likened the repeated requests for an independent investigation from the public to a parent asking their kids to clean their room.
“A lot of us feel like you guys should have known to clean your room on your own, without us having to badger you,” she said. “Why does it have to get to where we pit each other against each other?”
In their comments, the police officers said they waited for the city to conduct a thorough and formal investigation of the matter — but that wasn’t done until the union came forward last week with votes of no confidence in Adams and Ferrara.
“Only when it was clear that you had no intention of seeking the truth and holding those responsible accountable were we forced to come forward,” Officer Shane Day, one of the five officers who responded to City hall on July 3, said. “This is the last thing we wanted and you have forced us into an extremely uncomfortable position.”
Officer Jeremy Burns responded to a comment in Ferrara’s statement Saturday. Ferrara said the deputy city attorney was “not interested in innuendo, he was inquiring about facts.”
“Did the officers at any time observe the parties involved in anything illegal or inappropriate? Their answer was no …” Ferrara said in the statement.
In response, Burns called this a misstatement and said the five officers were directed, after the July 3 incident, to document the facts.
In their reports, several officers described Adams as looking disheveled and one officer said McClish initially hid behind a door, holding a shirt or some article of clothing in front of her.
“At no time did anyone ask the officers, ‘Did you observe anything inappropriate?’ because that would be the officer’s interpretation of the facts,” he said. “They were never asked for additional information or to draw conclusions about what they observed based on their training and experience as professional police officers.”
Senior Officer Vince Johnson said some of the conduct that evening — using city hall to sober up with a subordinate, for example — violated the city’s policies.
Sgt. Michael Smiley said the police officers association stands by its no confidence votes.
The union will pursue “all available options to have an investigation not only into the initial incident, but the more concerning and now more important lack of appropriate investigation and hasty dismissal of obvious misconduct and dishonesty,” he said.