WEBSTER'S DICTIONARY DEFINITION OF "COP-OUT": A failure to fulfill a commitment or responsibility
It all started innocently in the predawn hours of April Fools Day, 2004, with a woman renting a room from someone, frighteningly awakened with the Santa Maria Police Department's detectives, along with the Santa Barbara County SWAT team, banging the door down to her room, hollaring "Get on the ground!" They were searching the home for a suspected drug dealer.
After they left, her room was torn apart -- mattresses, closet, drawers, "everything".
Recovering from a major knee surgery, she had filled her doctor's prescription for 80 hydrocodone tablets -- a synthetic opiate -- the night before the raid. After the officers left, only 15 pills remained in the bottle.
And so started the long saga of the reporting and subsequently claimed mishandling in reputed prescription drug thefts by an officer of the Santa Maria Police Department.
The Santa Maria Sun published their cover story about these events -- Betraying the Badge -- on August 3rd, 2011.
The woman whose room had been torn apart reported the theft to now retired Santa Maria Police Sgt. Greg Carroll. Upon investigating, Carroll felt the complaint was valid.
His investigation ultimately centered on an officer named "Joe Friday" in the Sun's article.
At the request of his supervisor, Larry Ralston (now captain with the Lompoc Police Department), Carroll wrote up a routine citizen's complaint. Ralston, following protocol, forwarded the complaint of an officer possibly stealing drugs to Police Chief Danny Macagni.
According to Carroll and Chuck Rylant, a former Santa Maria Police detective who served for 15 years, instead of sending the complaint to Internal Affairs for investigation, per usual procedure, Macagni showed the complaint to Friday and asked him if he had stolen the drugs. Friday denied the accusation.
Carroll knows the report was shown to Friday, because he afterward came "ranting and raving" into Carroll's office, claiming no involvement in the alleged theft.
Carroll later heard it wasn't the first time Friday had been suspected of such behavior. At the time of the suspected thefts, Friday was dealing with an injury that required doctor-prescribed medication.
According to Rylant, who also worked in the officer bureau, it was believed around the station that the accused officer had an addiction to medications, which caused no small amount of concern.
Another Santa Maria officer had reported suspecting Friday of stealing prescription drugs during a previous search warrant, served in 2003.
Months passed, and Carroll claims whenever he inquired about the status of the 2 complaints, he was told by Macagni that he was taking care of it.
On June 17th of 2011, angry that no proper action had yet been taken by Macagni to inquire into the reported drug thefts, former SMPD detective Rylant filed a citizen's complaint with Santa Maria city attorney Gil Trujillo regarding the allegations against Friday.
The complaint accuses Macagni of violating California Penal Code Sec. 832.5, a state law requiring police departments to conduct prompt investigations of suspected employee misconduct.
"This is the most serious allegation I've ever been privy to during my 15-year law enforcement career. However, it was brushed under the carpet as being insignificant," Rylant wrote in the complaint.
"If you study police corruption such as the famous Rampart scandal, it was City Council and City Management overlooking these serious seeds that led to even more serious corruption (emphasis added), such as drug sales and murder by police officers."
"This is where it begins, with small crimes," Rylant told the Sun. "When you overlook that kind of stuff, it keeps going and going."
The Sun noted that in the highly pulicized Rampart scandal, uncovered over the course of a decade in the early 2000s, more than 70 officers in the LAPD Rampart Division's anti-gang unit were implicated in crimes ranging from stealing and planting evidence, to dealing drugs and gang activity.
The Sun contacted Catherine Lombardo, a Los Angeles-based attorney and legal expert with a background in Internal Affairs investigations regarding this case. Lombardo said she was "shocked" that the suspected thefts appear to have never been subject to an independent probe.
"Absolutely it should have gone to Internal Affairs" she said. "It should be thoroughly investigated. If the case isn't investigated, then the system is broken."
In a smaller police department such as Santa Maria's, Lombardo said, "the buck stops on the chief's desk." (emphasis added)
So where is Rylant's official complaint now?
According to Trujillo, the city retained a third party independent investigator, a retired Orange County sheriff's lieutenant named Art Romo, to examine Rylant's allegations against Macagni and determine whether the complaints against Friday were ever seriously investigated.
Romo has until June 17, 2012 -- this year! -- to complete this inquiry.
Attorney Lombardo says that, "If there's dirt inside a police department, a dirty cop, a dirty higher up (emphasis added), they bury things. Was this buried? Maybe. Will the officer eventually be punished if the facts come out and it's true? Absolutely."
LOMBARDO'S BOTTOM LINE: "The entire department is going to be subject to ridicule, scrutiny and questioning. Now, all the focus is going to be on the department."
Heads may roll.