The firing of a long-time police lieutenant in Petaluma is likely just the start of a lengthy legal battle that could end up publicly airing internal strife that may have contributed to the termination.
Dave Sears, one of the department's highest-ranking officers since 1999, was fired last week by City Manager John Brown, the day before Brown left for a six-week vacation.
Sears said the department accused him of “dishonesty,” but he declined to be more specific on the advice of his attorney. He said it did not involve allegations of inappropriate behavior, theft or improper conduct with any members of the public or the department.
Several city employees contacted by The Press Democrat would only speak off record, saying they feared retribution if identified publicly. Many said there is a general fear among employees that if Sears — who is widely respected for his even temper and fairness — can be fired, so could they.
Contacted at home after his dismissal, Sears, 47, said he will fight the order.
“This is about clearing my name and reputation,” he said.
The complaint originated within the department, not from a citizen's report, sources said.
Sears is represented by Mastagni, Holstedt, Amick, Miller & Johnsen, a Sacramento law firm that specializes in employment law and labor law. His attorney, Chris Miller, didn't return messages seeking comment.
Assistant City Manager Scott Brodhun would only confirm that Sears no longer works for the city. He would not discuss the process that will begin should Sears challenge the decision.
“I can only say he has a right to appeal,” he said.
Police Chief Pat Williams has not returned several calls seeking further information.
But others who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss it said it could take 18 months or longer to conclude.
The case of a Santa Rosa police captain fired in 2008 is still pending with appeals in state and federal courts, Santa Rosa City Attorney Caroline Fowler said. Then-Capt. Jamie Mitchel sued the city after his dismissal, challenging an arbitration ruling in the city's favor.