CORONA, Calif. (CN) – A former lieutenant claims top officers in the Corona Police Department harassed and denied her promotion to retaliate for her true reports that the head of the police gang unit hung out with the Vagos motorcycle gang.
Kelly Anderson sued the City of Corona, Police Chief Richard Madory, two police captains, and Lt. Brent Coleman, in Riverside County Court.
Anderson worked for 26 years for Corona, a city of 150,000 southwest of Riverside. She says she received “outstanding” performance ratings, regular promotions, and never had any problems at work until she reported a fellow lieutenant’s misconduct.
“In January 2008, after Anderson learned that a lieutenant in her agency, Brent Coleman, was closely associating with members of the Vagos outlaw motorcycle gang (an active criminal enterprise, ‘Vagos’), Anderson reported Coleman’s improper relationship to Captain Ray Cota, and documented the information in writing on Jan. 19, 2008,” according to the complaint. “The report showed that Coleman had been and was presently associating with Carlos Padilla, who at the time was a chapter vice president of the Vagos. Included in the documentation was Padilla’s confirmed gang member status along with photos of Padilla in full gang attire.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
Anderson said Coleman’s association with the gang “was unethical and constituted a conflict of interest, especially since Coleman was in charge of the Corona Police Gang Unit and the Regional Gang Task Force,” according to the complaint.
She says that “during 2008 and 2009, another Corona police member, Officer Jessica Welde, carried on an open association with members of the Vagos. Upon information and belief, Coleman knew of this association and failed in his duty to intervene, investigate and report the information to his supervisors. Instead, Coleman acquiesced in her association. In fact, Coleman was her supervisor in the Special Enforcement Bureau. Anderson reported this information to [defendants] Cota and Slane.”
But Anderson says her bosses – including then-Chief of Police Richard Gonzalez – took no action and told her “the matter had ‘been handled’ and to ‘get over it and let it go.'”
She adds: “Anderson expressed to Chief Gonzalez that officers were concerned that ongoing criminal cases or they themselves had been compromised since Coleman had access to confidential information and gang intelligence which could pose a significant threat to officer safety. Despite Anderson reporting Coleman’s activities to Cota, Madory and Gonzalez, the reports were never appropriately addressed by management, which created hostility in the ranks between Coleman’s friends and those who objected to his close association with an outlaw motorcycle gang.”
Anderson says that “on Sept. 25, 2008, Anderson was confronted by Coleman, who angrily threatened her, ‘stay out of my way.’ Coleman continuously glared at and ‘mad-dogged’ Anderson, whenever he encountered her, and openly showed his contempt for her on account of her reports about him. On Sept. 26, 2008, Anderson was also confronted by Lieutenant Tom Weeks, a close friend of Coleman’s. Weeks encouraged Anderson to leave the Coleman situation alone because ‘it is none of your (Anderson’s) business.’ A heated argument ensued over Coleman’s involvement with the Vagos gang between Anderson and Weeks.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
Neither Weeks nor Gonzalez are named as defendants.
Anderson says she was not alone in thinking that “Coleman’s association with an ongoing criminal enterprise was corrupt, a conflict of interest and posed an intolerable risk of compromising officer safety and gang investigations and intelligence. Anderson persisted in her efforts to report and expose Coleman’s inappropriate and corrupt conduct to no avail. Anderson’s efforts were supported by at least four (4) other Corona police members who also believed Coleman’s association with the Vagos was illegal and unethical. One of these members reported Coleman’s association directly to Chief Gonzalez and was told not to worry about the situation and that it would be looked into.”
When the top cops continued to ignore Anderson’s reports and cover up Coleman’s misconduct, Anderson says, she told defendant Madory, who had become police chief, that she would report Coleman’s gang ties to an outside law enforcement agency.
In response, she says, Madory issued a memorandum warning police officers about Padilla’s presence at local public events.
“Finally Madory launched an internal investigation, which ultimately proved to be ineffective to deal with Coleman,” according to the complaint. “The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department (‘RCSD’) initiated an independent investigation. Coleman was placed on administrative leave. Coleman told witnesses in the department that anyone who said anything against him during the investigation was ‘going to pay for it.'”
Anderson claims that shortly after she exposed Coleman and Welde to the RCSD investigators, the defendants retaliated against her and other whistleblowers:
“Thereafter, in retaliation for her whistle blowing activities … Anderson lost command over her ‘Flex Team’ in January 2010, two months after she told Madory and Slane of her intention to report the information to an outside agency and one month after she spoke to RCSD investigators. Some of the Flex Team’s enforcement activities concerned the Vagos. The Flex Team was removed from Anderson’s command after she had been promised by Slane that she could keep the team under her command in her new assignment at Zone 5.
“The Flex Team was disbanded five months after Anderson was removed as the lieutenant in charge. The disbanding coincided with two Flex Team members cooperating with the RCSD investigation. In retaliation for reporting Coleman’s illegal activities to RCSD investigators, each of the four informant officers were transferred from their coveted positions to less desirable assignments.
“In April 2009, and thereafter, Anderson was denied special assignments open for lieutenants in the Investigations Division. When asked why she was not selected, Cota stated that Anderson could not have the position due to the fact that her husband was a detective and they could not work in the same division. Anderson alleges this reason was pretextual because in the past Anderson and her husband worked together within the same division without incident or controversy.”
Anderson says the defendants refused to promote her to captain, and punitively transferred her for reporting on Coleman and Welde.
Anderson, who was temporarily disabled due to neck surgery, says she retired for medical reasons in June this year, after the department told her “the city would not accept the risk of liability for Anderson’s condition if Anderson were to return to duty.”
She seeks compensatory and punitive damages for retaliation. She is represented by Michael Stone with Stone Busailah of Pasadena.