The city of Paso Robles is asking a Superior Court judge to block the release of personnel records of a police sergeant under investigation by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office for alleged criminal misconduct.
Christopher Scott McGuire, who has been with the Paso Robles Police Department since December 2012, is on paid administrative leave while Sheriff’s Office detectives investigate what Paso Robles Police Chief Ty Lewis would only describe as allegations of “a serious criminal act.”
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Cipolla said that the agency’s investigation remained ongoing as of Wednesday. Cipolla wrote in an email that the Sheriff’s Office is committed to a comprehensive and thorough investigation in response to a question regarding the length of the now at least six-week-long investigation.
On July 2, Jeffry Radding, attorney for a Paso Robles man facing misdemeanor charges of child endangerment and being under the influence of a controlled substance after being arrested by McGuire in April, filed a motion in Superior Court for disclosure of five years worth of the officer’s personnel records.
So-called Pitchess motions are a common means for criminal defendants to have a judge review an officer’s history of complaints, discipline and other records and rule whether the information is relevant to the defense’s case for credibility purposes if the officer testifies in the case.
The Tribune is not reporting specifics of the case against Radding’s client because it involves the custody and well-being of a child.
On June 11, Deputy District Attorney Nick Quincey, who is prosecuting the child endangerment case, also filed a motion to join in Radding’s request for McGuire’s records to meet prosecutors’ obligations to provide the defense with any evidence they have that’s favorable to the defendant.
But on July 18, Michael Seitz, an attorney who’s representing the city of Paso Robles in the child endangerment case, filed an opposing motion arguing that not only are McGuire’s personnel records privileged, but the city doesn’t have any records reflecting the allegations recently brought against McGuire.
Cities also commonly oppose motions to release officers’ confidential records in a criminal case, though they are not legally required to.
It is unusual in San Luis Obispo County, however, to have an officer publicly under investigation for more than six weeks as criminal cases based on his or her work continue to play out.
Lewis said McGuire was placed on paid administrative leave May 9 shortly after the department was made aware of allegations, which the chief said were immediately taken to the Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney.
Lewis said he was unable to elaborate on the allegations Wednesday, but that he’s “as anxious as anybody” for the Sheriff’s Office’s findings.
Once the Sheriff’s Office investigation has concluded, Lewis said that his department will then conduct their own internal investigation using a third-party. Until then, the city has no records to release regarding the recent allegations against McGuire, Lewis said.
In his opposition motion, Seitz argued that both Radding and Quincey’s requests “seems to be based upon the recent news article” about the Sheriff’s investigation.
“(The) personnel file has been reviewed and there are no records RELATING TO THE ONGOING INVESTIGATION in the Paso Robles Police Department files,” Seitz wrote, calling the requests for McGuire’s records a “fishing expedition.”
Radding on Wednesday called Seitz’s argument disingenuous, noting that McGuire has worked as an officer for Paso Robles for six years.
Superior Court Judge Hernaldo Baltodano is scheduled to rule on the motion Aug. 28. Radding said he hopes that will allow enough time for the Sheriff’s Office to finish their investigation and for the Paso Robles Police Department to carry out theirs, in which case even more material relevant to his client’s case may be available.
“No one wants incomplete information, either,” Radding said.
Lewis said that if Baltodano rules in favor of disclosing McGuire’s personnel files in Radding’s case, he expects it to be the “first of many” motions for McGuire’s records for other ongoing cases.
McGuire began his law enforcement career in 2003 with the Farmersville Police Department and moved to the Porterville Police Department in 2007.
In 2009, McGuire fatally shot an unarmed man following a physical confrontation in Porterville, where McGuire and another officer confronted a man they said was tampering with vehicles.
The man, later identified as 25-year-old Joe Edwin Bowles of Porterville, ran from the officers before being caught by McGuire. During a struggle, McGuire fatally shot Bowles.
The officer was later cleared by a departmental panel, which determined that his actions in the fatal shooing were within department policy, according to local news reports.