Incoming Petaluma police chief meets city council
Published: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 4:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 at 7:52 a.m.
Petaluma's incoming police chief received a warm, if unofficial, welcome at his first City Council meeting Monday, where city leaders supported his hiring and downplayed a recent civil suit filed against him and his old department.
Pat Williams is set to start as Petaluma's new chief on Aug. 13, pending final background checks and psychological exams. He is wrapping up his time as chief of the Palm Springs-area town of Desert Hot Springs, where he has served as chief since 2007.
Several city council members and City Manager John Brown responded Monday to news coverage of a federal lawsuit filed last month against Williams and other Desert Hot Springs managers by a former police officer who claims she was harassed, demoted and fired for testifying against two rogue colleagues.
The two officers were convicted of federal civil rights violations for using excessive force in separate incidents in 2005. One was sentenced to a year of probation and the other is awaiting sentencing next week.
Former Officer Andrea Heath alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy, ranging from fellow officers on the street to the city manager, to shut her up and eventually force her out of her job for cooperating with the federal investigation. The city has not yet responded in court to the June 28 suit and no court dates are set.
Williams, contacted Tuesday in Petaluma, said he cannot comment on the lawsuit.
But in comments to the council Monday night, he said his service to Desert Hot Springs was done “with honor and integrity, as will be my service to you and the entire community of Petaluma.”
Brown selected Williams from 41 candidates for the chief's job, including two in-house candidates. He said Williams stood out from the others in several categories, including his high ethical standards.
Williams, who has been in law enforcement for three decades, won the “ethical courage award” from the California Police Officers Association in 2011.
“The allegations are inconsistent with what I believe I've come to understand as the chief's character,” Brown said. “He's indicated to me that the allegations are entirely false . I believe that he's telling me the truth.”
Brown said the initial reference checks didn't uncover the suit, but he was confident the detailed background investigation would “clear the air on this question one way or the other.”
Councilman Mike Healy, a lawyer, said the suit was “just a lawyer talking off the top of his head,” not a verified complaint in which the allegations are made under penalty of perjury. He noted that the complaint “basically names the entire management structure” of Desert Hot Springs. The suit seeks $5 million in damages.
“I see no red flags here and I see no reason to be concerned,” he said.
Desert Hot Springs City Attorney Ruben Duran declined to comment on Heath's allegations, but said the FBI interviewed several others in the city and hasn't discovered any other criminal wrongdoing, including by Williams.
“Anybody who knows (Williams) knows that he would never engage in that sort of activity,” he said.
Brown said he is moving ahead with the hire and expects to swear Williams in at a special council meeting on Aug. 27.
Contact Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or email@example.com.
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