Inspector General finds ‘significant deficiencies’ in CDCR employee misconduct investigations
The most common investigation misstep is lack of timeliness, but in one case an officer accused of molesting a teen was paid for more than 2 years before termination
By Maya Miller
The Sacramento Bee
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s corrections department has room to improve its investigations of employee misconduct, the Office of the Inspector General found — in fact, less than one-quarter of disciplinary probes examined over a recent six-month stretch were found to be fully up to par.
The corrections watchdog, which monitors discipline at the state prisons, found that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation performed “sufficient” investigations in only 23% of the cases the office monitored in the first half of this year, a new report says.
The Inspector General’s office followed 192 employee discipline cases between January and June 2023. More than 75% of those investigations into employee misconduct contained “significant deficiencies,” some of which resulted in the alleged offender avoiding discipline due to an expired statute of limitations.
While those deficiencies vary from case to case, the most common misstep was a lack of timeliness in moving cases from one stage of the investigation to the next. Investigators only have one year after the discovery of misconduct to discipline a peace officer under state law. That means a guilty officer could avoid discipline simply by running out the clock.
“CDCR takes every allegation of employee misconduct very seriously, and is committed to ensuring allegations are properly, fairly and thoroughly reviewed,” wrote CDCR spokesperson Terri Hardy in a statement to The Sacramento Bee. “OIG’s findings indicate CDCR’s process is sufficient in most instances and this report provides valuable feedback. CDCR appreciates the recommendations provided, and is reviewing them.”
Out of 192 total cases that the Inspector General’s office monitored, 23% were deemed “sufficient,” 49% were “sufficient with recommendations” and 28% were “insufficient.” The report noted that while nearly three-quarters of the cases were not insufficient, more than three-quarters of them had enough flaws to disqualify them from a sufficient rating.
“Insufficient” investigations typically include those where the statute of limitations expired and the officer evaded discipline, or cases where an unreasonable delay in the investigation allowed an officer to remain on staff and collect pay or administrative leave before being disciplined.
In 37 cases, allegations were discovered in time to take disciplinary action, but delays caused the statute of limitations to expire or nearly expire before discipline could be imposed. That’s up from only 16 cases in the previous report from six months ago.
In one egregious case, the report found, a prison warden waited two-and-a-half years to dismiss an unnamed officer who was accused of molesting and sending inappropriate sexual text messages to a 15-year-old.
The department’s Office of Internal Affairs determined there was enough evidence to support discipline without needing to open an additional investigation. Still, the warden at the undisclosed prison chose to wait until after the criminal case was finished – a decision that caused an unnecessary delay, the Inspector General’s report said.
The officer remained on staff and on payroll for that entire period before finally being dismissed on July 27, 2021.
How does the Inspector General monitor conduct cases?
Although the Inspector General’s office does not directly investigate prison misconduct, it watches over CDCR’s shoulder and reports out on how well the department investigates and disciplines its employees. September’s report marks the office’s 37th semiannual review.
As part of a new methodology introduced in this report, the Inspector General’s office assessed the performance of each stakeholder — the prison’s hiring authority or warden; CDCR’s central Office of Internal Affairs; and departmental attorneys with the Employment Advocacy and Prosecution Team — and rated its role in the investigation.
The three possible ratings are “sufficient,” “sufficient with recommendations,” or “insufficient.” Previously, the Inspector General used a scale of “superior,” “satisfactory,” and “poor,” and rated each step of the investigative process rather than the stakeholder as an entity.
Under the new rating system, less than one-fourth of the cases that were examined were deemed “sufficient” — meaning they contained no deficiencies in the Inspector General’s opinion.
Did CDCR adequately investigate misconduct?
Employee misconduct cases at CDCR start at the prison level. When a hiring authority, usually the warden, believes that misconduct may have occurred, they’ll refer the case to CDCR’s Office of Internal Affairs.
That referral is supposed to happen within 45 days of discovering the alleged misconduct, but the Inspector General’s report found that wardens only met that threshold in 74% of cases — two percentage points worse than the last report six months ago.
“Hiring authorities continued a pattern of referring allegations late in approximately one of every four cases,” the report said. “Of the 53 cases we rated insufficient, 15 had untimely referrals of allegations.”
If the Office of Internal Affairs approves an investigation, it will then assign a special agent and interview witnesses along with the employee accused of misconduct. The Internal Affairs office generally performed sufficiently, although the report notes that the office frequently delayed criminal investigations.
Internal Affairs then sends its findings back to the hiring authority, which ultimately decides whether disciplinary action is appropriate, what type of action to take and whether to enter a settlement with the accused employee. The hiring authorities also faltered once they had findings in-hand, the report found. In more than 40% of cases, the wardens did not meet their 14-day time limit for conducting a “disciplinary findings conference,” in which they review the evidence and decide whether discipline is warranted.
“(D)elays in making disciplinary decisions are a persistent and recurring deficiency in hiring authority performance,” the report said.
In one case tagged as “insufficient,” an officer allegedly struck his girlfriend with his car, threatened to shoot her and also injured her hands and wrist by pulling her purse away. The officer lied during an interview with the Office of Internal Affairs by denying the entire incident and was also convicted of false imprisonment, the Inspector General’s report said.
The prison warden originally dismissed the officer but ultimately reversed the decision and reduced the penalty to a 75-day suspension after the officer appealed during a pre-disciplinary “Skelly” hearing.
The Inspector General’s office disagreed with the downgraded punishment and appealed the decision five times up the CDCR chain of command. Eventually, CDCR Secretary Jeff Macomber concurred and dismissed the officer. But the officer appealed that decision to the State Personnel Board. Since his girlfriend declined to testify against him, he ended up settling with the department for a five-month suspension rather than termination — a move that the Inspector General’s office disagreed with.
The officer received his full pay during the 14 months that it took to investigate the incident.
In some cases, CDCR’s “vertical advocates,” or the in-house Employment Advocacy and Prosecution Team attorneys who specialize in personnel matters, made inadequate and inappropriate recommendations to the hiring authority, the report found.
One case involved a CDCR officer who allegedly subjected his wife to domestic violence. The officer reportedly kicked a security guard, was intoxicated in public and used rude and offensive language toward outside law enforcement while resisting arrest. The report said the officer was so intoxicated that the outside law enforcement officers put him in a body restraint.
The department attorney assigned to the case didn’t recommend a domestic violence allegation, nor did the attorney recommend dismissing the officer. In contrast, the attorney advised against dismissal due to the officer’s intoxication, “as if that somehow mitigated the officer’s misconduct,” the Inspector General’s report read.
The officer kept his job, to the Inspector General’s dismay.