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Calexico Fired Officers
Calexico Police Department | File photo

Info Scarce on Outcomes of 2015 Calexico Cop Firings

CALEXICO — It’s been about five years since several Calexico cops, most of them high-ranking members of the police officers’ union, were suspended and most later fired amid allegations that never resulted in criminal charges.

At least one of the officers, Luis Casillas, was given his job back, but all indications are he has yet to return to work. It is not clear what his job status is today other than he is possibly still earning a paycheck.

The saga of the eight officers began with their suspensions in 2014 and continued with seven being fired in 2015. In the years since the cases have taken several legal paths that to this day appear to be ongoing, but it’s difficult to tell. There is scant information about developments since 2017.

With so many officers disciplined and so many separate lawsuits and administrative hearings and appeals having taken place over time, just where everything stands is elusive. How much money has been paid out and to whom is also unknown, because some of the officers have been awarded back pay, but it’s not known how many of them or to what degree.

What is available is from short interviews, a few documents released by the city and online federal court information.

Inquiries Fail

City officials are not rushing to help clarify the issues, either. Several inquiries into the status of the seven fired police officers’ cases have resulted in the current police chief and city manager not addressing the situation directly or saying at various times they don’t know how all of the cases turned out or don’t remember.

City Manager David Dale and Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo have not returned messages and emails specifically seeking information for this story. Also, a call to City Attorney Carlos Campos has not been returned.

Several calls and messages left with an attorney who represented the seven fired officers–and one suspended officer–in a federal wrongful-action lawsuit have not been returned as well. It appears that lawsuit at some point turned into a First Amendment suit.

Again, what exactly happened is unclear without the assistance of the attorney of record, Michael McGill with the firm of Adams Ferrone & Ferrone.

The latest known development is at least one fired officer who appealed his termination through an administrative hearing recently had his termination upheld by an administrative law judge in San Diego in late 2019.

For reasons unknown, the decision was to go before the Calexico City Council, Dale said a few weeks ago, but that did not happen.

However, Dale did turn over the Nov. 22, 2019, decision affirming the firing of Officer Gabriel Rodriguez.

Documents Released

To understand the fate of all seven fired officers who were initially put on leave by then-police chief Michael Bostic in October 2014–Rodriguez among them–this newspaper requested other documents similar to the Rodriguez decision.

Dale sent along arbitration awards and decision documents for officers Rudy Alarcon and Casillas.

Those documents are under review by this newspaper.

Alarcon’s Dec. 30, 2017, decision shows that his termination was upheld but he was awarded years of back pay while the arbitration process reached finality.

Casillas’ March 9, 2018, decision shows his firing by the city was found unwarranted, that he could get his job back as a police officer and that he was to be paid from the time of his 2015 termination to what apparently is the present, although that is unclear as well.

Casillas could not be reached for this story, but it does not appear he has returned to work. He has made various appearances at city council meetings over the last year to speak in public comment about the backpay the city owes him and about returning to the job, but so far he has yet to again don a uniform.

Gerardo has previously alleged there are “administrative things” that Casillas has not done to return to the job.

Other than this, it’s been difficult to figure out what happened to the other officers.

Recent Activity

The most recent legal action that can be found online pertaining to the federal civil lawsuit against the city by the officers is a May 2019 opinion by a U.S. District Court in San Diego denying a new trial for three of the original eight officers.

In the decision/opinion, the judge denies a new trial for fired officers German Duran, Frank Uriarte and Stephen Frazier.

The decision/opinion is tied to the July 2015 First Amendment retaliation suit filed by McGill collectively on behalf of Rodriguez, Alarcon, Casillas, Duran, Uriarte, Frazier and fired Officer Steven Garcia and suspended Officer Isaisis Navarro.

In the suit, the plaintiffs claim they were fired or, in Navarro’s case, became the subject of an investigation, for exercising their First Amendment right of free speech and union activity. Six of the seven fired officers were members of the Calexico Police Officers’ Association.

Summary Judgments

In the background to the decision, it is alluded to that “the Court” has issued summary judgments previously in favor of the defendants, former Chief Bostic, former City Manager Richard Warne, Gerardo (then a lieutenant) and the city of Calexico, over plaintiffs Uriarte, Garcia, Duran and Frazier. Former Calexico City Council member Martiza Hurtado was listed as a defendant on an earlier version of the suit, but it was not immediately clear when she was removed or why.

What the summary judgments mean wasn’t known by deadline. It isn’t known if the collective cases remain in some part active and whether that is so with either all or some of the original plaintiffs.

Just whose firing has remained and whose has been challenged through some other arbitration or employment-related process is unclear as well.

A former member of the council at the time of the firings did not want to be quoted as part of this story, but said they were also unclear as to how all of the various machinations played out, including who appealed their firings and in what venue.

As of Feb. 18, it only appears Casillas was given his job back and it wasn’t available whether suspended officer Navarro remained with the department.

In 2014, then-city manager Warne and the council at the time fired then-police chief Pompeyo Tabarez and hired former top-ranked Los Angeles Police Department official Bostic as interim chief to come in, investigate the department and clean house. Within weeks of Bostic’s arrival, at his request, the FBI raided the department and began looking into reports of corruption within its ranks and Bostic suspended most of the eight officers.

At the time, the moves got the attention of the national news media as Bostic accused officers involved in the police union of running a mafia-style “extortion racket” within the department. 

By mid-2015, seven of the officers were fired for various reasons, none of those reasons ever rising to the level of criminal charges. Some were fired for allegations such as falsifying documents related to a federal grant program, threats to co-workers, excessive use of force, among others.

The political tide shifted in Calexico over the next couple of years, and a new council fired Warne, Bostic, a former public works director, Nick Servin, and suspended then-Lt. Gerardo and police executive secretary Martha Gomez. By mid-2016, Bostic, Gerardo, Gomez and Servin all sued the city in federal court for retaliation and won their case.

When the political tide shifted again Gerardo ended up emerging from a 408-day suspension unscathed and was eventually named interim police chief in 2018. He was made permanent chief in December that same year.

This story is featured in the Feb 20, 2020 e-Edition.

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