News

East Palo Alto police sergeant sues police department, city

Sgt. Ronald Rhodes claims the city and police department violated a settlement agreement filed in 2013

An East Palo Alto police sergeant who reported another officer's March 2012 misconduct – a racial slur in reference to then-police chief Ronald Davis, posted on Facebook – is suing the police department and city for breaching a contract filed after the conflict.

Sgt. Ronald Rhodes, who has worked at the police department since 1985, filed the lawsuit in San Mateo County Superior Court on Feb. 24.

The March 2012 incident involved an unnamed officer who at the time was placed on administrative leave and eventually fired. The lawsuit alleges that after Rhodes made a copy of the Facebook post and gave it to his higher-ups, he "became the target of series of complaints by the friends and supporters of the individual that was terminated." The police department launched a series of internal investigations as a result.

At the conclusion of one of those investigations, in January 2013, Davis issued Rhodes a notice of intent to discipline, according to the lawsuit. At a pre-disciplinary conference held on April 2, Rhodes and the police department entered into a handwritten settlement agreement to essentially close the door on any future investigations or allegations by both parties.

Over the coming months, the settlement was negotiated, revised and eventually finalized, with Davis signing it in July and Rhodes in November.

In August, an internal investigator hired by the city and police department contacted Rhodes and requested that he participate in an internal investigation relating to unspecified allegations of misconduct, according to the lawsuit. Rhodes' lawyer told the investigator, Camille Hamilton Pating of Meyers Nave law firm in Oakland, that the scope of the investigation was a breach of his contract with the city and police department. Rhodes also notified Paul Coble of Jones & Mayer, the attorney who drafted and approved the settlement agreement, objecting to the investigation.

The city and police department decided to continue with the investigation and on Oct. 31, issued Rhodes a notice of intent to discipline. The lawsuit does not name the allegations Hamilton Pating investigated and Rhode's lawyer, Alison Berry Wilkinson, denied to name them, citing her client's confidentiality.

A second notice of intent to discipline was also issued on Dec. 4 for a separate set of allegations, also stemming from Hamilton Pating's investigation.

In January of this year, the city countered with the defense that the settlement agreement was not enforceable because it was not approved by the city manager. Wilkinson said that until January, "at no point in time was there any mention that city manager needed to be involved in the process, should be involved or that her approval in any way, shape or form was required."

Wilkinson said she has negotiated two prior settlement agreements with the City of East Palo Alto and neither required the city manager's approval to be completed.

"It's never been a part of the process before," she said.

The lawsuit cites a chapter in the city's municipal code that establishes a personnel system that is "directly overseen" by the city manager, but the city manager can delegate his or her authority "to any other officer or employee of the city." Another personnel rule does state that "The approval of the city manager shall be required before a disciplinary action becomes final," but also allows the city manager to delegate this responsibility to another person.

Wilkinson said the city and police department have not yet responded to the Feb. 24 lawsuit; they have 30 days to do so.

The city did not return requests for comment.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by The Truth
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 26, 2014 at 5:50 pm

Good for him...cant wait to see him back where he belongs. All the officers/sgts with their personal agendas have fallen flat on their faces. Those of you who took part in this which hunt against Sgt Rhodes claim to be holier than thou!!!! All you have to do is look in your own back yard to see all of your own faults and shortcomings. That man has served this community since most of you were in diapers. not to mention his honorable military service to his country through 3 wars!!!! Yes 3 wars!!!! You should all be ashamed of yourselves. everyone of you who took part in all of these baseless complaints. shame on you all. say what you want about his policing skills or his supervisory skills. bottom line he is a good man.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neil
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 26, 2014 at 9:01 pm

Wow, having to deal with all the crime in EPA and then the drama from your own employer must have been incredibly hard to survive. My prayers go out to the sergeant.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Aquamarine
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 26, 2014 at 10:13 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 12:33 am

>> The lawsuit alleges that after Rhodes made a copy of the Facebook post and gave it to his higher-ups, he "became the target of series of complaints by the friends and supporters of the individual that was terminated."

Then they should have fired the whole lot of them. Clearly whatever police officers their are in EPA are not doing a great job, maybe a culture of corruption and politics is part of the problem.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by D. Johnsen
a resident of University South
on Feb 27, 2014 at 6:39 am

Perhaps a student at stanford should notcoment about things he or she knows nothing about


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tired of the BS
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2014 at 10:13 am

"entered into a handwritten settlement agreement to essentially close the door on any future investigations or allegations by both parties."

What does that mean? Are we suppose to believe that the Chief gave Sgt Rhodes a get out of jail free card and that the other officer could never file a complaint against Rhodes regardless of what he did?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Perhaps D. Johnsen shouldn't assume a commenter from Stanford is a student, and that they've been in the area for a long time. I, too, heard the same rumors, but I am sure that the dept. can't address them.

The whole thing sounds convoluted, complicated and difficult, involving many people with various levels of involvement. Ugh.


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