A 28-year veteran of the UC Santa Barbara UC Police Department filed a lawsuit against former Chief of Police Dustin Olson in November 2018 for allegedly denying the officer’s First Amendment rights, violating the California Whistleblower Protection Act and inflicting emotional distress.
The officer, Mark Signa, has been with the UC Police Department (UCPD) since 1990. He currently works as a lieutenant within the department.
The suit alleges that Olson’s “favoritism” toward former Assistant Chief of Police Cathy Farley, Lieutenant David Millard, Sergeant Robert Romero and Officer Ryan Smith — which allegedly fostered a “Good Ole Boys’ Club” within the police department — resulted in two “botched” Internal Affairs investigations in 2016 and 2017, according to court records obtained by the Nexus.
The suit further alleges that Lieutenant Signa’s refusal to adhere with the “Good Ole Boys’ Club” and Signa’s “willingness to vocalize concerns about the propriety, integrity and accountability of Smith and the UCSB-PD in general made him a victim of harassment, discrimination and retaliation within the UCSB-PD.”
All three — Savalgio, Rothermel and Smith — were hired by the UCPD in August 2012.
This is the third case filed against the UCPD in recent months regarding allegations of violations of the California Whistleblower Protection Act. Mr. and Mrs. Little filed a case on March 19 and former Officer Ryan Smith filed a case on March 27.
The 2016 Internal Affairs Investigation
The suit states that a complaint was filed in or around April 2016 against two former UCPD officers, Jeff Savalgio and Josh Rothermel, which alleges the two officers committed “sexual assault and the provision of alcohol to a minor [UCSB] student.”
Smith was allegedly not named in the investigation because of his “relationships with the highest levels of UCPD,” according to court documents.
Around the end of May 2016, Lieutenant Millard allegedly “advised Savaglio and Rothermel to resign in order to avoid a potentially negative outcome” from the Internal Affairs investigation, which could have banned the two from working as police officers, according to court documents.
Neither are currently working with the UCPD.
Smith’s alleged relationship and involvement with Savaglio, Rothermel and the student was never “investigated or even associated” in the investigation, court documents state.
The suit alleges Olson openly said he wanted the investigation “to go away as quietly as possible.”
Other officers in the department allegedly complained about Smith and Olson’s “Good Ole Boys’ Club,” but “feared retaliation against them for voicing their concerns about the improper and possibly unlawful behavior and conduct of Smith,” court documents state. Other officers also allegedly “confided” their concerns about Smith in Signa.
Lieutenant Signa expressed concern about the “impropriety” of favoritism in the department and was later allegedly retaliated against at a lunch in or around August 2016. Sergeant Romero “attacked Signa’s position as Patrol Lieutenant, stating that the other sergeants were upset with Signa’s leadership style and were contemplating a vote of no confidence in Signa,” according to court documents.
Following the lunch, Lieutenant Signa allegedly met with each of the six sergeants, excluding Sergeants Romero and Smith, during which “none of the sergeants expressed discontent with Signa’s leadership” or the intention to “submit a vote of no confidence against Signa,” court documents say.
Shortly after, Signa was “transferred from Patrol Lieutenant to Administrative Lieutenant,” which was seen as “punishment against Signa for not ‘falling in line’ with the ‘Good Ole Boys’ Club,’” court documents state.
The 2017 Internal Affairs Investigation
In or around September 2017, court documents state that UCPD Corporal Tiffany Little “submitted a letter of complaint alleging improper and possibly unlawful conduct by Smith.”
The following are allegations that were included in the complaint, according to court documents:
- Smith allegedly had “an extra-marital affair” with a subordinate UCPD officer;
- Smith “covered up” for an automobile accident in which the subordinate officer was driving a UCPD vehicle on campus;
- Smith was involved in an alleged hit-and-run automobile accident in which he “hit a parked car” with a UCPD vehicle;
- Smith allegedly used police lights and sirens “to get through heavy traffic” in order to attend “a free breakfast,” while visiting UC Los Angeles;
- Smith allegedly used UCPD resources to visit the subordinate officer in Santa Cruz;
Tiffany Little, with her husband UCPD Officer Michael Little, also filed a suit against several members of the UCPD on March 29 on similar charges.
Millard was allegedly tasked with investigating this complaint and shared concerns with Signa “about how the IA investigation might affect his friendship with Smith,” court documents say.
Smith went on leave in or around the middle of 2017 and by the end of that year received a job at the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, according to court documents.
Olson, Farley and Millard allegedly said during several meetings that “having Smith get the alternate position was the easiest solution to the issues the department was facing,” court documents state.
Court documents allege that the “woefully inadequate” investigation was closed right before Smith left UCPD toward the end of 2017 so the investigation would “not impede his ability to get the job” at the Office of Emergency Services.
Smith was also allegedly treated to “a celebratory farewell lunch” and continued to have lunch with Olson, Millard and Romero after leaving the department.
Signa’s Concerns and Alleged Retaliation:
Signa allegedly reported concerns about Smith and overall UCPD “propriety” to Olson and Farley. Some of Signa’s reported concerns follow:
- “‘Dick jokes’” made on or about a meeting on May 21, 2017 “in front of female officers and staff”;
- Smith’s misuse of UCPD funds and resources;
- “Smith’s impunity and insulation from any form of disciplinary action”;
- Excessively long supervisor meetings, sometimes two or three hours over the regular length;
- “Approval of expenses and travel for members of the ‘Good Ole Boys’ Club’ in or around January 17, 2017, but not for those excluded from such club.”
Signa was allegedly retaliated against for voicing these concerns, according to court documents. The alleged retaliations included:
- Exclusion from “key meetings” essential for Signa’s job duties;
- Not being able to email Olson without notifying Farley as well and receiving criticism for not adequately communicating with Olson;
- “Bullying, harassing, publicly criticizing and blaming Signa in front of other officers and for unfounded reasons”;
- Mandatory meetings with Farley to “check-in,” in which “Signa received contradictory directives and conflicting information”;
- Exclusion from UCPD social events;
- “Resistance” from Olson to meet in private with Signa;
- Exclusion from “leadership, promotional and learning opportunities”;
- Pressure to resign early.
Signa filed a complaint with Human Resources in or around May 2018 about “his departmental concerns and the retaliation he faced for trying to voice them.” Signa met with Cynthia Señeriz, the acting director, human resources and compensation manager at UCSB, who allegedly told Signa “she would have someone follow up with him,” court documents say.
Signa allegedly went on stress leave on or around June 1, 2018. Shortly after, UCSB Employee & Labor Relations Specialist Jessica Graham allegedly contacted Signa and said she would update him on the status of the complaint.
As of November 2018, Signa had not heard back from either Señeriz or Graham, according to court documents.
On June 19, 2018, Signa submitted two whistleblower complaints to UCSB, but had not heard back as of November 2018 when he filed the lawsuit against the UC Police Department.
The suit alleges that more UCPD officers also submitted whistleblower complaints similar to Signa’s. It does not specify whether those are in addition to Mr. and Mrs. Little’s complaints.
UCSB spokesperson Andrea Estrada said the university is aware of the lawsuits filed against UCPD and “is undertaking a thorough review.”
The lawsuit in full can be viewed here.
Updated [May 8, 10:54 p.m.]
Sofia Mejias-Pascoe is an assistant news editor. She likes to read The New York Times, Washington Post and the tiny blurbs underneath random bottlecaps. She is a proponent of the term “YOLO.”