In their May 13 complaint in Federal Court, Former Police Chief Michael J. Bostic and former Public Works Director Nick Servin claim Nick Fenley fired them for cooperating in an FBI investigation of suspected crimes and overtime fraud by police officers and city officials — including Fenley.
“What’s going on is that the people trying to clean up the department and solve the problem of police corruption were retaliated against for doing it,” their attorney Bradley Gage said in an interview.
Bostic once was a top-ranking official in the Los Angeles Police Department and is “well-known for being able to do the right thing,” Gage said.
As in many police departments, the attorney said, one of the biggest obstacles to combating corruption in Calexico is the code of silence that discourages officers from ratting out others for misconduct. Since the LAPD had historically struggled with corruption, Bostic was “vigilant about nipping it in the bud” before it got worse, Gage said.
Bostic’s co-plaintiffs Lt. Gonzalo C. Gerardo and city executive assistant Martha L. Gomez say they reported police misconduct — including drug trafficking, theft and excessive force complaints — to the FBI back in 2013.
Former Police Chief Pompeyo Tabarez seemed complicit in these criminal activities and covered them up, but was fired for threatening people and replaced with Bostic in 2014, according to the complaint.
Soon after Bostic took office, the other plaintiffs told him about their reports to the FBI. Bostic immediately launched his own investigation while agreeing to cooperate with the FBI, the complaint states.
After an FBI raid on the Calexico Police Department, several City Council members suspected Bostic was helping the FBI and schemed to get him fired, but former City Manager Richard Warne, who appointed Bostic, “aggressively fended off such efforts,” the complaint states.
City Council members are not parties to the complaint.
In 2015, Bostic says, he uncovered 38 uninvestigated cases of criminal misconduct by Calexico police officers. Six were fired. He also asked the Imperial County Sheriff’s Department to audit the CPD’s evidence room, which revealed “significant amounts of missing money, drugs, guns, and personal property believed stolen by Calexico police officers, in a scene reminiscent of the Rampart Scandal,” according to the complaint.
The Rampart Scandal revealed widespread corruption in the LAPD’s anti-gang unit in the late 1990s.
Bostic’s crackdown took a hit when three City Council members ousted Warne and appointed Fenley acting city manager, according to the complaint.
In his new position, Fenley immediately discovered the plaintiffs’ investigation and cooperation with the FBI. When Bostic went to Warne’s office to retrieve the investigation file, he says, it was gone.
The plaintiffs say Fenley and his City Council cohorts retaliated against them for their whistleblowing: Servin was put on administrative leave; Gomez was transferred to a secretarial position in another department; Fenley threatened to fire Bostic unless he stopped all investigations, and he canceled funding for them when Bostic refused to cooperate.
Undeterred, Bostic says, he filed criminal charges against former Police Chief Tabarez and several officers and submitted them to the district attorney and FBI to avoid interference from Fenley.
But Fenley found out and fired him and Servin, according to the complaint.
Attorney Gage said Bostic would love to have his job back, but that is unlikely.
“Sometimes money equals justice,” Gage said. “The reality is that sometimes the only way to right a wrong [in employment retaliation cases] is with a lawsuit for money, if getting your job back is next to impossible.”
Gage said the plaintiffs are still suffering retaliation after losing their jobs, Gage said.
“It was bad when they were there, bad when they were gone, bad no matter how you slice it. That’s what these guys are going through,” Gage said.
Fenley told Courthouse News in an email that “the allegations are unfounded and will be vigorously contested.”
Other city representatives did not immediately return emailed requests for comment Monday.
The plaintiffs seek reimbursement for lost wages, loss of future earnings, pension rights, and other employment benefits and punitive damages for First Amendment and whistleblower retaliation.
Gage is with Goldberg & Gage of Woodland Hills.
Calexico, pop. 40,000, is in the Mojave Desert on the Mexican border. Its median household income of $37,539 in 2013 was 38 percent below the statewide median of $60,190, according to city-data.com, and the median value of a house or condo there that year, $154,646, was 59 percent below the statewide median of $373,100. Calexico’s population is 98 percent Latino.
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