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Former police department member cites causes for Lt. Dave Sears' firing

Dave Sears

Published: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 4:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 4:19 p.m.

The recent firing of longtime Petaluma Police Lieutenant Dave Sears is connected to issues surrounding his approval of overtime for a police sergeant and not reporting to work during an out-of-town training session, according to Greg McClish, a former police department member.

Sears was fired for undisclosed reasons on Aug. 22 after a two-month internal investigation.

McClish — who worked as a parking enforcement officer with the city of Petaluma for 25 years and maintains close ties to several department and city employees — said he learned about the causes for Sears' firing from a member within the Petaluma Police Department familiar with the situation, but declined to say whom. McClish, who left city employment in 2011 on an agreement to retire early known as a “golden handshake,” said that he spoke out because he respects Sears and felt it was time for the truth to come out.

Sears — who has previously said that the department fired him on “false allegations of dishonesty”— declined to comment on McClish's statements on the advice of his attorney.

Assistant City Manager Scott Brodhun, filling in for City Manager John Brown who is on a six-week sabbatical, said Wednesday that police officer personnel records — including those related to discipline — are confidential and cannot be disclosed. He said he could not comment on any of McClish's statements.

Petaluma Police Chief Patrick Williams did not return requests for comment and police department spokesperson Lt. Tim Lyons said that the department could not comment on the matter, citing personnel issues.

Sears was originally placed on administrative leave in June, after fellow department administrators filed at least two complaints against him. After an outside investigator hired by John Brown spent two months looking into the complaints, Sears says he was ultimately fired for dishonesty. Because the city will not comment, it is unclear if there are additional reasons beyond those McClish disclosed that led to Sears' firing. Sears said the first complaint originated last summer just before Williams was hired as Petaluma's permanent police chief, while the second came in 2013.

According to McClish, who said he has spoken with several department members this week, the first complaint stemmed from Sears authorizing overtime pay for a department sergeant attending the Sherman Block Leadership Institute.

“While I don't know the specifics of the dishonesty in that complaint, I do know that incident is where the department got him,” said McClish.

It is not immediately clear why Sears' authorization of overtime for a sergeant attending the two-month intensive training program would be considered a fireable offense. The Petaluma Peace Officers' contract with the city specifically says sergeants are eligible for overtime if they attend classes to further their police training.

According to Lt. Lyons, sergeants are paid overtime if training is in addition to the officer's regular 40-hour week. He added that every sergeant in the department has gone through the program. Lyons could not comment on whether Sears authorizing overtime for a sergeant attending the class led to his firing.

The second complaint, said McClish, came earlier this year during a required two-day training session Sears attended in Sacramento.

“He went to the first day of training, came up to Santa Rosa during the evening to attend to a personal matter, and then left and headed straight back to Sacramento,” said McClish.

During his time in Santa Rosa, Sears received a call from the department asking him to come in and handle a situation, McClish said.

“Since he was heading straight back to Sacramento to finish his training, Sears said he was unavailable to come into work — which he was,” said McClish. “And they called that dishonesty.”

McClish claims that department administrators had been looking for a reason to fire Sears for years, partially because of Sears' management style, which he said clashed with that of other department leaders. Sears has been known to work with outsiders in the community, often taking on some of the department's most difficult citizen complaints.

“He (Sears) wasn't one of the cowboys,” said McClish. “He was an outsider that was either going to work with or against them. And they ultimately decided he was working against them.”

McClish also pointed to Sears' competition with former interim police chief and current Lieutenant Dan Fish for the police chief position.

“It became a power struggle between them,” he said. He added that he has spoken with members of the department who said they were afraid for their jobs — that if someone like Sears can be fired, they could be next.

But Petaluma Peace Officers Association Union President Paul Gilman said Tuesday that while he has no knowledge of the circumstances around Sears being fired, he does not believe there is an air of fear within the department.

“The chief (Patrick Williams) has been going to department briefings and being as open as possible with the scenario, answering questions that he's lawfully allowed to answer and keeping lines of communication open,” said Gilman, adding that he believed Sears' firing was an isolated incident. “I personally have no concern that I'm next in line or in some sort of danger of being fired.”

Sears said the city offered him several incentives to resign instead of being fired over the past month — which he said he declined in order to clear his name. He maintains that he was wrongfully terminated and has vowed to fight the matter.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)

(Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this article, Greg McClish's last name was mistakenly mispelled McGlish.)

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