Police Chief's past actions questioned
Published: Friday, August 31, 2012 at 8:58 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 31, 2012 at 8:58 a.m.
Petaluma's newly sworn in Police Chief Patrick Williams is facing criticism for the way he handled a complaint against a police officer at his former department, who is alleged to have repeatedly sent sexually explicit text messages to a married female resident.
The news comes on the heels of Williams being announced as Petaluma's new police chief and the filing of a $5 million federal lawsuit by a former police detective that named Williams as a defendant.
In a television interview that aired last week on Palm Springs ABC network affiliate KESQ, former Desert Hot Springs dispatcher Araceli McDougall said she filed a complaint with the department in September of 2011, claiming that DHS police officer Jason Hunter “sexted” nude photos of his genitals to her cell phone against her wishes. McDougall said that her 16-year-old daughter saw the photos when McDougall asked her to answer her cell phone while she was driving.
McDougall also alleged in a second complaint dated November of 2011 that when she reported the sexual harassment to Desert Hot Springs Sgt. Gabriela Mendoza, the sergeant blamed her for the incident and ignored her allegations.
Williams, in letters to McDougall dated July 11 and July 30 of 2012, said that the internal investigation conducted by the department had sustained McDougall's allegations against the officers. The letters stated that both officers had “acted outside department policy.” The response took 10 months to arrive, during which time no action was taken against the officers involved.
A leading police ethics official has questioned both the length of the investigations and why the officers weren't put on administrative leave immediately after the complaints were lodged.
Michael Josephson, a police ethics expert who founded the Josephson Institute for Policing Ethics in Los Angeles and has been commissioned by the Department of Justice to write a book on ethical policing, said that though he doesn't know the specifics of the case, Williams' slow response concerns him.
“Even if the victim didn't object to the “sexting,” it's not appropriate behavior for any police officer,” Josephson said. “We should be asking why this officer wasn't fired, and why he was allowed to continue to work during the investigation.”
Speaking to the Argus-Courier, Williams said that by law, he had one year to handle the complaints and that he did so in as timely a manner as possible. He added that while department policy bars him from discussing the specifics of the case, every internal investigation is different and that there were valid reasons for the investigation to take as long as it did.
“There's no cookie cutter approach to any one single investigation,” said Williams. “As a matter of rule, citizen complaints are investigated thoroughly and competently to get to the truth of the matter.”
While McDougall said that the lengthy investigation and entire situation has left her daughter emotionally scarred, she is also relieved that Williams has finally acted on her complaints.
“My daughter has been traumatized,” McDougall said. “Since I filed the initial complaint, it's been a year of being harassed and it has impacted my daughter very negatively. I get people calling my home, saying terrible things and other officers have harassed me as well. My daughter has been upset, depressed and even attempted suicide from all of this.”
Josephson said that while Williams handled the complaint within the legal timeframe, he said that he thinks the officers involved should have been held accountable for their actions immediately. “The victim is entitled to a more rapid solution to this. The fact that you could take a year, doesn't mean that you should,” he said. “It's the job of the police chief to vindicate
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