Calexico Police Force Wracked by Turmoil

     SAN DIEGO (CN) – Eight former Calexico police officers sued their chief, two City Council members and the city manager in Federal Court, complaining of union busting, witness tampering, conspiracy and corruption.
     Lead plaintiff Joseph Bielma claims he and his former colleagues are victims of “clear corruption and abuse by an out-of-control city council member and police chief who will stop at nothing to violate the law to retaliate against a group of individuals who have done nothing other than exercise their free speech and union rights.”
     The July 20 lawsuit continues: “The plaintiffs have clear evidence that the rogue police chief and his co-conspirator, a lieutenant, concocted a plot to threaten an officer to like, under oath, in order to target the plaintiffs and uphold the terminations he sought to impose. The chief’s motive is money. The lieutenant’s motive is power and control. The City Council member’s motive is retaliation. Their collective actions have brought us to this point.”
     Bielma says he and his eight co-plaintiffs, one of whom remains on the force, occupied leadership roles in the Calexico Police Officer’s Association or were associated with union leaders, and routinely spoke at City Council meetings and with city officials on problems in the police department and city, and how to improve local law enforcement.
     The Calexico Police Department has been wracked with turmoil for months. Interim Police Chief Michael Bostic, the lead defendant, was appointed in October 2014. He promptly compared his predecessor, some of his officers and some city officials to the Mafia.
     “The council members in conjunction with the police officers association and members of that association have used city funds and city resources to run what I would call an extortion racket,” Bostic said in November. “I’ve literally had it.”
     Bostic claimed, among other things, that elected officials and members of the police union were using publicly funded surveillance equipment to follow other members of city government. He asked the FBI to investigate just two weeks after he moved into his new job.
     Bostic told major media outlets, including NBC News, that detectives were using professional tools to break into cars without warrants; that his narcotics, internal affairs and investigations units had no active cases; and that they could provide him with no reports on an alleged kidnapping and assault of a minor in October.
     “Exactly like the Mafioso in New York. That’s exactly how they are operating,” Bostic said in November.
     Bostic was appointed after former Police Chief Pompeyo Tabarez was fired, in October.
     In addition to the FBI investigation requested by Bostic, the Department of Justice said in April this year that it would investigate the Calexico Police Department too, through its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS. In March, COPS issued a highly critical audit of the San Diego Police Department, the nearest large city to Calexico.
     In the police officers’ lawsuit, they say they unsuccessfully opposed the re-election of Councilwoman Maritza Hurtado and another candidate in the November 2014 election. They also organized a no-confidence vote against a lieutenant after several officers complained of “inappropriate and disparate treatment,” the results of which were published.
     After the election, they claim, Hurtado and others “began making retaliatory, harassing, intimidating and discriminating statements” about them and their union “all because they did not like their political actions and their opposition.”
     They claim that Hurtado and others said repeatedly they would “break the union” and fire the officers by accusing them of “‘stealing money,’ knowing that this is not true.”
     Hurtado and her political allies named defendant Richard Warne as the new city manager “for the express purpose of attacking the CPOA and its leadership,” the officers say. Warne was appointed in June 2014. The officers claim in their lawsuit that he fired Chief Tabarez “unjustly, simply because he was perceived to be pro-cop, and because he had a positive relationship with the CPOA.”
     The plaintiff officers then attack Bostic, claiming he had a “checkered past” in his 34 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, including “issues about his credibility and honesty.”
     They claim Bostic and city officials hired an investigator to “conduct a fishing expedition” to “dig up any dirt they could” to fire them, and to “intimidate, harass, discriminate and retaliate” against them.
     All but one of the officers has been fired, and that officer has been subjected to a “retaliatory investigation,” they claim.
     Bielma says he had been a “confidant and supporter” of the defendants but “blew the whistle” by submitting a complaint to the Department of Justice that accused Bostic and Warne of corruption and expressing an “uncontrollable desire to whatever it takes” to fire the officers.
     The plaintiffs are Bielma, Frank Uriarte, Steven Garcia, German Duran, Gabriel Rodriguez, Isaias Navarro and Stephen Frazier.
     They accuse defendants Bostic, Warne, Hurtado and Lt. Gonzalo C. Gerardo of defamation, union busting, retaliation, witness tampering, labor violations, and conspiracy. They seek punitive damages.
     They are represented by Michael McGill, with of Adams, Ferrone & Ferrone, of Westlake Village.
     Neither McGill, Bostic nor Calexico officials immediately responded to requests for comment.
     Calexico, pop. 39,000, is in the desert, 125 miles east of San Diego. Its sister city across the border, Mexicali, has a population of nearly 700,000.

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