The man selected as Petaluma’s next police chief is leaving his job in Desert Hot Springs in the midst of a federal lawsuit filed recently by a female officer alleging she was harassed and fired because she testified against two rogue colleagues.
The lawsuit filed last month by former officer Andrea Heath names, among others, Chief Pat Williams, who was selected this month as the top candidate among 42 applicants for the Petaluma police chief slot.
City Manager John Brown said Williams will start in Petaluma on Aug. 13, pending a full background check.
Heath is seeking $5 million for what she claims was harassment and intimidation over several years at Desert Hot Springs after she cooperated with an FBI investigation into two fellow officers accused of torturing two in-custody suspects.
The officers pleaded guilty in February to federal civil rights violations for using excessive force. One was sentenced to a year of probation and the other is awaiting sentencing.
The incidents of excessive force occurred in 2005, two years before Williams took over the department. But Heath alleges she was demoted, harassed, intimidated and ostracized by her fellow officers and supervisors when it became known that she was cooperating with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office during their investigation.
In the 81-page lawsuit, she lists numerous incidents she says were meant to shut her up, endanger her life and discourage her from continuing to cooperate with the federal prosecution.
Williams and his boss, Desert Hot Springs City Manager Rick Daniels, didn’t return calls seeking comment Friday.
Petaluma City Manager Brown couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, but earlier he told the Petaluma Argus-Courier this week that he wasn’t aware of the suit, filed June 28 in U.S. District Court in Southern California. He said he was confident that any potential problems would be uncovered during the background investigation.
Mayor David Glass didn’t return messages seeking comment Friday. Councilman Mike Harris said he couldn’t talk about the suit until he learned more.
“It concerns me, however, I will reserve comment at this time until I speak with the city manager,” he said.
The council is set to meet Monday evening to discuss several other issues. While this issue isn’t on the agenda, it could come up during the sessions set aside for the public, council members or city manager.
Health’s lawsuit names Williams as the chief, the two officers who were convicted, and several other colleagues and supervisors who she says engaged in a department-wide conspiracy to intimidate her.
She claims Williams discouraged her from speaking with federal investigators who wanted to interview her in 2009 while she was off work on medical leave after surgery. When she acted against his order, he “scolded” her, the suit claims.
Heath stopped working at the department when she went on stress leave in March 2010. Late last year, she was retired from the city on disability. She is appealing the decision.
Brown said last week that Williams’ background check would take three weeks.
(Contact Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)