The Petaluma Police Department has placed one of its lieutenants, Dave Sears, on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation, city officials said this week.
Sears, who was informed of the decision last Thursday, said Tuesday that he was unable to comment on the matter.
Police Chief Patrick Williams also refused to comment on the situation, but City Manager John Brown confirmed that Sears has been placed on paid administrative leave, pending the completion of the investigation. Brown added that if the investigation found any wrongdoing by Sears, disciplinary action could follow. Brown did not give an estimate on how long the investigation would take or say why Sears is being investigated.
"We are not legally allowed to talk about personnel matters," Brown said, adding that if the city broke its employer confidentiality agreement it would be open to lawsuits. "The goal is to complete the investigation expeditiously and fairly and to make sure that all due process has been given to the employee. It will take the time that it takes."
Sears has been with the Petaluma Police Department since 1999, when he was hired as a lieutenant after spending 12 years with the City of Benicia. During his career in Petaluma, Sears has worked in patrol, criminal investigations, SWAT, the Field Training Program and administrative services. He was eventually promoted to police captain.
In 2009, Sears and fellow officer Dan Fish — both captains at the time — became candidates for the police chief position that opened when Chief Steve Hood retired. Fish was appointed as interim Police Chief. Two years later, the City Council removed the two captain positions from the department at Fish's suggestion, in order to cut costs within the department.
Sears was subsequently demoted to the rank and salary of lieutenant, which drew public outcry from community members who supported him, while Fish remained the interim chief. Upon receiving the demotion, Sears filed a lawsuit against the city, which he later decided to drop.
After the city hired current Police Chief Patrick Williams to lead the department last year, Fish was also demoted to lieutenant.
While Brown said that placing employees on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation is not uncommon, he could not remember the last time the police department had done so. He did recall several other city departments doing it during the past few years.
"The department has a responsibility to investigate any complaint raised against an employee, by members of the public or other employees," said Brown. "We place people on leave to work through the concerns. We don't do it every time there's an internal investigation, but it's not uncommon either."
Sears is actively involved in the community, serving on the Petaluma Youth Network, the Sonoma County Housing Land Trust and is on the Board of Directors for the Healthy Community Consortium. He is currently attending law school at the Empire College in Santa Rosa and is a member of the Petaluma Kiwanis Club.
(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at firstname.lastname@example.org)