According to court records, California’s Attorney General is prosecuting 54 decorated Highway Patrolmen to cover up terminations, investigations, and overtime practices at the California Departments of Transportation and Highway Patrol.
The National Association of Attorneys General defines the role of its members as chief legal officers of the states, to serve “as a representative of the public interest.” So while crime in California reaches record levels, one would think that the attorney general – who has sweeping law enforcement powers – would be directing public resources to help protect his constituents. In California, this assumption is amplified by the fact that in particular, the attorney general has been a high-profile political stepping stone to national office. Kamala Harris, for example, ascended to the Senate and then vice president, and Xavier Becerra now serving as President Biden’s Secretary for Health and Human Services.
However, amid rare recall efforts against the district attorneys in both San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as record crime increases in at least four of the state’s large cities; Attorney General Rob Bonta has focused taxpayer dollars on the prosecution of 54 (that’s right, 54) California Highway Patrolmen for alleged overtime abuses ending over four years ago. This, coupled with Bonta’s high-profile investigation into insensitive private text messages between Torrance police officers, is sending a message that Bonta is more concerned with being tough on police and less concerned with the dire public safety needs of his constituents.
More importantly, in examining court records relating to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) prosecution, the case appears to be a cover-up for a massive civil rights violation conducted by rogue CHP commanders; that is also wasting millions in taxpayer funds.
Inheriting a Corrupt Case
Before resigning to join the Biden cabinet, Bonta’s predecessor Xavier Becerra was referred to a case by the California Highway Patrol regarding alleged overtime abuses at the East Los Angeles Station. In 2018, the California Highway Patrol conducted an investigation resulting in their termination of the 54 officers for, as the LA Times puts it, “fraudulently receiving hundreds of hours of overtime pay“. How? By allegedly exaggerating hours worked protecting California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) roadwork crews, receiving the pre-scheduled eight-hour overtime shift if CalTrans crews left after only four to six hours on site. Like in most states, CalTrans pre-paid the CHP for overtime to protect their crews; but finished work early on many occasions. Court documents reveal, pursuant to a 2012 CHP Standard Operating Procedure, the officers in question are required to have CalTrans supervisors sign paperwork indicating when their crews left the scene, and the Officer assigned is required to stay on call in their district in case the road crew needed them within the remaining hours of the shift.
Put simply, if you paid a contractor for eight hours of work, but you only needed three hours to finish the job, you still have to pay for the hours you scheduled them for. This is why the CalTrans inspector general cited deficiencies with CalTrans policies in managing these details, noting that the CHP cited their own “investigation” that had supposedly been completed two years prior, for not assisting the Office of Inspector General (OIG) with their report.
Regardless, court records show the CHP used millions in taxpayer dollars to terminate the now-charged 54 officers, nearly half of the 115 officers serving the high-crime East L.A. station, for the supposed waste of $226,556 in pre-scheduled overtime funds, which averages only $4,195.48 per defendant.
“Attorney General Bonta may not have originally bought this but if he does nothing to rectify it becomes his.” said Joe Weimortz, a former deputy district attorney for Ventura County and Los Angeles County who is now defending the CHP officers in their criminal case “He and us top criminal law advisors should address this immediately if not they are part and parcel of an unprecedented miscarriage of Justice of epic proportion.”
If not they are aiding and abetting in harming dozens of law enforcement families and furthering baseless retaliation by some in CHP management.
Aside from the misplaced priorities related to this case, stunning conflicts of interest and civil rights abuses have emerged in the CHP investigation fueling Bonta’s prosecution. This may have been why the case had not been prosecuted for the last four years by both former Attorney General Becerra and former L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. This is largely because the CHP investigation was conducted by traffic officers and area supervisors, as opposed to assigning such a large-scale case to an Internal Affairs division or Office of the Inspector General – presenting clear conflicts of interest.
“I spent 40 years as a prosecutor, 27 as a deputy D.A. and 12 as the D.A..” said Steve Cooley, who served as Los Angeles County district attorney from 2000 to 20012 and is now on the legal team defending the CHP officers. “This criminal prosecution is an abomination that will not withstand the scrutiny of an independent magistrate.”
More alarmingly, witness statements indicate that the complaint originated with a simple workplace union grievance filed by two officers against Lt. Melissa Hammond, who initiated and led the case against all 54 officers. Testimony shows that following the receipt of the grievance, Lt. Hammond personally called Assistant Chief Dan Minor, whom she regarded a “mentor,” to the station – despite the fact that Minor is two ranks above her. The station’s administrative sergeant stated that upon learning that these officers had the temerity to take issue with Hammond’s authority, Minor angrily threatened to arrest the two officers for filing their grievance.
A demurrer filed on December 17, 2021, in L.A. County Superior Court, contained evidence and statements showing that Minor and Hammond were overheard discussing how far back they should go with the audit investigating the two officers who filed the grievance “without affecting those they did not wish to affect.” When the scope of the audit grew throughout the entire East L.A. station, Minor and Hammond personally led the investigation resulting in the charging of these 54 officers. Furthermore, this investigation was conducted without supervision from internal affairs, with little to no oversight from prosecutors, which may have contributed to the potentially unlawful use of criminal search warrants in employment investigations. These statements were corroborated by the testimony of CHP sergeants in personnel board hearings before an administrative law judge, and found to be more credible than the testimony provided by the CHP Command Staff.
As a result of that demurrer, the first six of the 54 officers in question had their cases dismissed.
A Cover-up for Civil Rights Violations?
Between 2018 and 2019, Dan Minor assembled a team of officers and supervisors from the traffic units under his command to investigate Hammond’s overtime abuse allegations. This team, without referring the case to internal affairs, sought criminal search warrants from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for financial records going back to 2016. However, once attorneys for the officers and CHP made pre-filing presentations to L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office, the CHP withdrew their criminal referral, making the case merely an administrative matter.
However, CHP continued to use records seized in criminal search warrants for over two years after withdrawing their referral to the L.A. County D.A. to pursue employment filings against the officers.
Attorneys for the officers argue that CHP investigators violated the California Electronic Communications Protection Act (CECPA) in obtaining criminal search warrants when no crimes were committed – then violating the legal limits of the warrants by illegally disseminating sealed evidence to employment staff outside the scope of the criminal investigation.
This came to light on April 14, 2021, after two years of “COVID-related” delays, in personnel hearings before Administrative Law Judge Teri Block, who ruled against the CHP in termination appeals based on testimony of those who witnessed retaliatory conversations between Hammond and Minor and the fact that the search warrants used to bring termination cases before her had not accompanied any charges since the case began in 2018. In further conflict is the fact that the same Attorney General’s Office that’s prosecuting these officers also represents CHP in state personnel hearings where the officers’ terminations are appealed.
Less than two months later, on July 8, 2021, the Attorney General’s Office filed the first felony complaint against the aforementioned Sergeant who testified as a witness to Chief Minor and Lt. Hammond’s conversation for collecting a total of $1,573.05 in “unearned” overtime. Shortly thereafter, Bonta’s office filed criminal charges against all of the officers involved, despite the revelations gleaned in Judge Block’s ruling.
Not a Crime
In 2019, upon announcing his termination of the officers, CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley said that he was “appalled at the scope of the alleged misconduct”. However, court records show that the officers were in compliance with a 2012 CHP policy, which was instituted under Stanley’s area command. Lt. Hammond herself testified that the policy in place stipulates the officer to be paid the full number of hours listed on the work detail even if the CalTrans roadwork crew leaves early. In her statement to investigators, Lt. Hammond herself admitted to working one such detail as an officer at the East L.A. station in 2010, then investigated officers under her command eight years later, for following the written policy – despite the fact that Hammond was assigned as the “area overtime manager” for over two years before her investigation began.
Therefore, if it has been established that the officers were following normal CHP guidelines, how could they be committing theft?
While the CHP case seemingly criminalizes police overtime practices, court documents illustrate the true purpose of the “investigation” and criminalization of 54 officers was to retaliate against the informal grievance lodged against Lt. Hammond regarding Hammond’s administration of the station’s overtime. Instead of oversight, this situation was made worse by Assistant Chief Dan Minor’s outburst, who expressed his desire to punish those responsible for the grievance. As a commanding officer, Minor should have worked to resolve the situation in a way that assured uninterrupted services to the taxpayers.
Instead, court records show that Minor’s anger even caused Lt. Hammond, who was close to Minor since working for him as a Sergeant, to be concerned. Upon witnessing Minor’s anger, Hammond told Sgt. Connie Guzman (who is also now a defendant) “He is going to burn down the forest in order to get two trees. The rest of us are screwed.”
In legal filings, the CHP and Attorney General claimed that these “criminal” irregularities were isolated to the East L.A. station. However, testimony from several ranking CHP officials confirmed that the overtime policy that these officers were charged with is common throughout California. As the majority of the officers fired and charged are Latino and African American, and were assigned to a station serving a high-crime, minority community, why was this investigation targeting only them and not officers serving places like Orange County, the Bay Area, or Silicon Valley?
This argument was corroborated in the sworn statements of senior CHP officials which include retired Division Chief Art Acevedo (who went on to serve as the Chief of Police in Austin, Houston, and Miami), retired Division Chief Adam Cuevas, retired Assistant Commissioner William Siegel, and retired East L.A. Captain Paul Medeiros, who declared that the overtime details resulting in Bonta’s criminal charges were done according to CHP policy and in accordance with past practice throughout the state.
For instance, Chief Acevedo stated the culture of receiving the full number of hours of overtime for partial hours worked had always existed at CHP, and stated he had personal knowledge that Commissioner Stanley (who authorized the terminations and investigation) received the full number of hours for overtime details when the detail ended early when he was an officer. Furthermore, Caltrans Supervisor Oscar Urias, who oversaw the road work crews in question, stated the East L.A. officers were on time, and that receiving compensation for a full 8 hours when a detail ended early was state-wide policy for his entire 29-year career at Caltrans.
Thus, it is obvious that Bonta’s charges in this case were not the product of a good-faith investigation into overtime fraud, but an apparent cover up for CHP violating the civil rights of its employees by swearing out search warrants make an employment investigation a “criminal” one, giving them the ability to not cooperate with the OIG, the media, or officers’ attorneys.
It was only after testimony at personnel board hearings had surfaced, suggesting that the warrants were used illicitly and the officers were participating in established overtime practices, that the CHP command staff was aware of – for decades – which the attorney general filed criminal charges.
“In an era when prosecution agencies are weaponized to achieve personal and political goals, the Attorney General’s office takes a back seat to no one,” said Weimortz.
So why would an attorney general spend money pressing charges that may result in a costly class-action lawsuit for a flawed investigation that’s more than four years old? The answer may be in Bonta’s political ideology along with the backing of a well-funded Soros PAC.
If Bonta was to act as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, and provide oversight for ineffective local prosecutors in counties like Los Angeles, Contra Costa, Alameda, and San Francisco, he would risk running afoul of his political allies and fundraisers.
A request for comment from the attorney general’s office detailing the points in this article was sent via email, but has gone without reply.
Meanwhile, 54 men and women who honorably served the state – officers who survived gunfights, car crashes, and had been promoted in the years since – lost their jobs, pensions, reputations, and the ability to feed their families in the furtherance of what appears to be corruption and mismanagement. Unfortunately, for Californians, crime still escalates and instead of upholding his duty as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, Rob Bonta is wasting millions in taxpayer dollars to prosecute the officers that protected one of the state’s most vulnerable communities.
A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP served in both municipal and federal law enforcement, leading to his designation as a nationally recognized subject matter expert in security, public integrity, and criminal justice reform. He has served as a consultant and expert witness and as the Director, Office of Investigations for the American Board of Internal Medicine from 2008-2017.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.