Petaluma Police Owe an Explantion

A Petaluma police officer participating in a police-sponsored golf tournament last October evidently drove a motorized scooter belonging to another officer across the fourth fairway of the golf course, crashed the scooter and had to be taken to the hospital for treatment of injuries sustained in the crash.  Witnesses reported the officer as acting boisterously and having been drinking, yet Petaluma police officers on the scene neither administered field sobriety tests nor took a blood sample.  The Petaluma Police Department then sat on this case for four weeks in an apparent attempt to bury the incident before eventually handing the by then stale case over to the California Highway Patrol.  The CHP produced a 71 page report that eventually led to the filing of DUI charges against the officer.  Still, the failure by the Petaluma Police Department to properly investigate this case from the beginning and collect valuable evidence available only on the night of the incident has compromised its prosecution.

Serious questions regarding how the Petaluma Police Department investigates one of its own are raised.  First and foremost, why was this officer not arrested, either at the scene or later at the hospital as surely any other person would have been?  Why was no blood sample drawn, as is normal practice in DUI investigations?  Why did four weeks elapse before the case was referred to an independent agency for investigation?

Perhaps we should not be surprised by these events.  Chief Williams came to Petaluma last summer under a cloud of suspicion.  At the time of his hiring here, there was then pending a lawsuit in which it was alleged that while Chief of Police in Desert Hot Springs, Williams wrongfully terminated an officer.  The fired officer had apparently incurred Williams’ wrath for having cooperated with an FBI investigation of two Desert Hot Springs sergeants accused of abusing prisoners in their custody.  While Chief Williams and his supporters have dismissed the lawsuit as meritless, it should be noted that the FBI investigation resulted in convictions of the two sergeants involved.

The Desert Hot Springs case and the current golf course incident highlight a pattern by Chief Williams of covering up the wrongdoings of officers under his command and helping them avoid prosecution.  Yet in spite of increasing concerns over the Chief’s handling of these events, the Chief, the City Council and the City Manager have for six months remained silent offering only a simple “no comment” to reporters’ questions.  As all law enforcement officers know, silence in the face of accusation is tantamount to confession.

That silence was finally broken last week when two council members and the city manager offered tepid reaffirmation of their “support” of the Chief.  Chief Williams continued his refusal to respond to the growing controversy, but he did send a spokesman, who made matters worse.  When asked why the officer wasn’t arrested, the spokesman replied that no on-duty officers were called to the scene.  But when asked why none of the many off-duty Petaluma police officers on the scene called for an on-duty officer, the spokesman clammed up and refused to comment further.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the spokesman opened another can of worms by saying the reported four-week delay in turning the case over to the CHP was incorrect.  But having so asserted, the spokesman said he couldn’t recall when the matter was referred to the CHP saying only that “it was way before four weeks.”  Dates and times are essential to good police work.  Every report, every citation, every entry in a notebook is preceded by the date and time.  That the police department cannot provide the date this matter was referred to the CHP is simply unbelievable.

Petaluma residents deserve and pay for high quality, professional police services.  When that quality and professionalism are in doubt, we deserve more than silence or generic statements of support.  We deserve answers.

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