Warning: This article contains graphic content.
A former UC Santa Barbara police officer filed suit against the UC Police Department on March 27 for violations of the California Whistleblower Protection Act, failure to take corrective action and emotional distress.
This marks the third lawsuit filed by an officer against the UC Police Department (UCPD) during the 2018-2019 school year. Lieutenant Mark Signa filed the first case in November 2018, and Officer Tiffany Little and Officer Michael Little filed another case in early March of this year.
The officer who filed the suit – former UCPD officer Ryan Smith, referred to as John Doe in the case filing – last served as acting lieutenant for UCPD, according to court documents. Smith’s lawyer, Peter Horton, confirmed Doe is Smith.
The suit makes several allegations against current and former members of UCPD, including former Chief of Police Dustin Olson, former Assistant Chief of Police Cathy Farley, Lieutenant David Millard, Lieutenant Mark Signa, Lieutenant Robert Romero, Officer Tiffany Little, Officer Michael Little and Officer Ryan Hashimoto.
The suit alleges Smith was consistently retaliated against by UCPD staff for bringing attention to concerning practices and behaviors within the department. Some of Smith’s concerns included alleged police mockery of Chancellor Henry T. Yang, of fellow officers and of sexual assault and rape victims, as well as falsifying sexual assault reports and racial discrimination.
The suit is the most recent of the three to be filed. It alleges that Lieutenant Signa, the plaintiff in the Mark Signa v. UC Regents case against UCPD filed in November 2018, consistently retaliated against Smith. Smith allegedly brought repeated grievances about Lieutenant Signa and other officers’ behavior to former Chief Olson, but court documents state Smith “has continued to be the target of harassment and retaliation” – even after resigning from the department in November 2017.
In Mark Signa v. UC Regents, court documents allege that Smith participated in a “Good Ole Boys’ Club” within the department, which allegedly fostered and condoned misconduct, favoritism, harassment and retaliation.
The final of the three suits filed against UCPD since November is from Officers Tiffany and Michael Little, spouses working within the department. According to court documents, in Michael Little v. UC Regents the pair alleged that they were retaliated against after reporting Smith for allegedly having an extramarital affair with a subordinate officer.
All three cases referenced specific events in which the officers were both involved but alleged different circumstances and details on what exactly happened.
In the most recent case filed, Doe v. UCPD, Smith alleges that Officer Signa, Officers Tiffany and Michael Little and Officer Hashimoto “engaged in relentless acts of defamation of character and false light” and “have created and promoted a narrative within the UCPD and surrounding law enforcement agencies” about Smith’s resignation and integrity as an officer.
The case also alleges that Lieutenant Signa, the Littles and other officers “conspired” against Smith by making a personnel complaint against him.
Smith resigned near the end of 2017 due to alleged “ongoing harassment and retaliation” and UCSB’s “inaction” in response to the conduct, court documents state.
Allegations in Smith’s case against UCPD date back to 2014, shortly after Smith was hired in the department, according to court documents. Below are the specific allegations the case makes against individual UCPD officers and the department as a whole.
Lieutenant Mark Signa
Court documents allege that since the start of Smith’s employment in August 2012, a group of officers have “consistently failed to leave the station for nearly entire shifts and spent most nights at the station playing video games, watching movies, and/or browsing the internet.”
Lieutenant Signa allegedly participated in these activities and showed “inappropriate ‘Youtube’ videos to the squad.”
As sergeant, Smith allegedly “gave clear directives that officers were to stay out of the station, not to watch TV or movies or play video games on duty,” court documents state. In response, Lieutenant Signa allegedly “scoffed” at Smith’s directives and posted “multiple colored photocopies of [World War II-era] General Patton throughout [the] station” with Smith’s name on them.
Smith also allegedly requested multiple trainings in the time span between 2015 and 2017, but “Signa denied all of these requests, while consistently allowing other sergeants to attend courses,” court documents allege. When Smith asked about this, Lieutenant Signa allegedly said Smith was “developed enough” and that the “Department did not need to spend any money” on Smith.
Around April 2015, amid “scrutiny regarding the handling of sexual assault cases,” the department allegedly took reports in which “males were being listed as rape and sexual assault suspects, despite no evidence of a crime occurring,” according to court documents.
The department also allegedly took reports “where victim’s statements were being exaggerated to meet elements of a crime.” Signa allegedly ordered that officers continue “classifying all males as suspects in any sex-related case, whether or not a crime had occurred.”
Smith allegedly expressed concern that this practice was “libelous” and did not adhere to “standard and appropriate law enforcement procedures, and potentially violated due process.” Signa allegedly “became upset” with Smith and told him to “let the district attorney figure out who is guilty and who is not.”
Signa also allegedly said “UCPD could not afford the political scrutiny.”
UCPD members also allegedly created a “secret log” for sexual or domestic violence cases, which all officers in the department had access to. Officers were allegedly “not to disclose knowledge of this log within their reports to avoid discovery.”
Smith allegedly reported concerns of the secret log to Olson and Farley. Olson allegedly said he would “look into” the concerns. Court documents say this secret log still exists within the UCPD.
Toward the end of 2016, Signa allegedly ordered Smith to continue training “an African American officer, despite the fact that the Officer was not meeting the training standards.” Signa allegedly said “it was a politically sensitive matter because the officer was black,” citing Olson’s desire for greater diversity in the department. Smith allegedly reported Signa’s statements to UCPD staff, but no action was taken.
In February 2017, Smith was allegedly assigned to a “mutual aid response” at UC Berkeley for the upcoming campus appearance from Milo Yiannopoulos. While at the event, UC Berkeley police officers allegedly “refused to allow the officers assisting from various U.C. Police Departments” to intervene with “students and civilians [who] were being brutally beaten by the anarchists.”
Smith allegedly reported the events at UC Berkeley and his concerns to Olson and was questioned by Olson upon his return from UC Berkeley. Olson allegedly “received a call from U.C. Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennett,” who yelled at Olson and was “furious” with Smith for voicing concerns regarding the Milo Yiannopoulos event.
Further incidents regarding Signa can be viewed on pages 5 through 10 of the court documents.
Officer Ryan Hashimoto
While Smith served as sergeant for UCPD, he allegedly “reported several violations of policy and law to Signa,” which continued to create points of retaliation against Smith. Some of those violations pertained to Officer Hashimoto’s alleged misconduct in the office.
Officer Hashimoto allegedly “made multiple cartoon videos” of officers, crime victims, citizens, university officials and employees in which he “used his own voice to play the character of each person.” At times, the videos “were discriminatory toward several protected classes of persons.”
Hashimoto allegedly created a video depicting an officer in the department – referred to as “Officer M” in the complaint – who was known to allegedly contact “female sexual assault victims unsolicited,” as well as sexual assault advocates from the Women’s Center. The video allegedly “depicts the advocates yelling ‘Rape!’ at the victims and forcing the victims to make sexual assault reports.”
Smith also allegedly reported Officer M to Signa after Smith discovered that “Officer M was having sexual assault advocates call his personal phone directly to report cases” without notifying a dispatch or supervisor. Smith ordered Officer M to stop this practice. UCPD allegedly took no action regarding Officer M.
Hashimoto’s alleged videos also depicted Chancellor Yang with Officer Hashimoto using a “Chinese accent, making derogatory and inappropriate statements.” Hashimoto also allegedly mocked an African-American dispatcher through “videos and in person impersonations.” Hashimoto’s alleged impersonations of the dispatcher included mockery of the dispatcher “speaking and eating food.”
On another occasion, Hashimoto allegedly acted out “a fictional situation where the dispatcher was playing with a large black dildo that Hashimoto named ‘King Kong Dong.’” Officer Hashimoto allegedly “often walked into different areas of the UCPD and would yell ‘King Kong Dong’ while impersonating the dispatchers voice. He would position his forearm in front of his groin area, and then slap his arm on desktops as if he was slapping a dildo on the desktop.”
Officer Hashimoto also allegedly “inappropriately joked” and stated to UCPD staff “that the victim in the Daniel Chen rape and kidnap case contracted herpes from the suspect,” while UCPD was conducting the investigation. Officer Hashimoto allegedly “mocked the victim’s Asian accent, and in the accent stated: ‘I have herpes on my pussy.’”
In January 2018, while Smith was working in Montecito following the Thomas Fire and the Montecito mudslides, he was shown a recording allegedly made by Hashimoto in which Hashimoto was verbally “mocking an evidence video and audio recording” related to the sexual assault, sodomy, kidnapping and robbery case of People v. Patrick Galoustian, according to court documents.
In this video – a tape of Galoustian allegedly “sexual[ly] assaulting a transvestite victim” – Hashimoto allegedly mocked Galoustian’s accent in a voice-over, made sexual references to the victim and made “statements in essence of rubbing their (Galoustian and the trans victim’s penis’ together).”
Smith allegedly reported the video to UCPD on Jan. 27, 2018. At the time, Olson and Lieutenant Millard allegedly confirmed that they were “aware of the recording.”
Officer Tiffany Little and Officer Michael Little
Smith also reported alleged misconduct from married UCPD officers Tiffany and Michael Little, who “frequently left their assigned patrol areas while on duty and traveled to their personal residence in Goleta using UCPD vehicles.”
The Littles would also allegedly “stay at their residences for extended periods of time, fail to answer calls for service, and ask other officers to handle calls for service for them.” The suit alleges that the Littles’ actions “are a violation of policy and a theft of funds.”
According to court documents, Officer Michael Little also allegedly “talked about his fantasy to have a black man try to steal his wallet so he can ‘fucking shoot him in the fucking face.’”
Officer Michael Little allegedly approached Smith and other officers and “related a fictitious story about how he (Little) is walking through a parking lot and a black man approaches him and tries to rob him of his wallet. Little would then mimic responding by stating, ‘How about I shoot you in the fucking face!’”
He would then allegedly “slightly draw his firearm from the holster as if he was going to draw his weapon” while reciting the story. Little allegedly “acted out this fantasy, by telling the story” while he was instructing at the firing range and “fir[ed] his duty weapon multiple times” at the shooting target.
Smith allegedly reported Little’s actions to Signa, but “Signa dismissed the claims against Michael Little and Hashimoto as ‘blowing off steam.’” The suit alleges that “Signa deliberately failed to take any action to further investigate the claims against Tiffany Little because of his personal relationships with these officers.”
The suit further alleges that “Signa conspired with Michael Little, Tiffany Little, and Hashimoto to knowingly file false accusations of misconduct against [Smith] in the form of a personnel complaint,” resulting in an Internal Affairs investigation into Smith and an administrative leave that lasted over a month.
Smith allegedly “requested an internal investigation into the false accusations made against him.” As of late March 2019, UCPD has allegedly “failed to investigate the officers who made false allegations against” Smith, according to court documents.
After Smith’s resignation at the end of 2017, Signa allegedly told UCPD staff that Smith resigned “in bad standing, to avoid termination.”
Smith allegedly demanded “for the harassment, retaliation, and first amendment violations to cease, no less than ten times since his departure from UCPD” in person to Olson, Farley and Lieutenant Millard.
When the university allegedly “hired an attorney to investigate” Smith’s complaints, the Littles allegedly “briefed and debriefed several individuals before and after interviews” relating to the investigation and “attempted to recruit members of UCPD” to make complaints against Lieutenant Millard and Olson.
The suit alleges that Smith “continues to suffer losses in earnings and other employment benefits as well as past and future non-economic injury.”
Peter Horton, Smith’s lawyer, wrote in an email to the Nexus that “Smith attempted to address significant misconduct relating to Lt. Mark Signa, Officer Michael Little, Officer Tiffany Little, and Officer Ryan Hashimoto. These individuals have responded by attempting to destroy Mr. Smith’s personal and professional reputation.”
“Smith was forced to take legal action after the University did not take any corrective action against the aforementioned individuals,” Horton said in the email.
UCSB spokesperson Andrea Estrada said in an email to the Nexus that the university “is undertaking a thorough review” of allegations and that they expect the police department “to adhere to the highest of standards.”
A case management conference for Doe v. UCPD is scheduled for Wednesday, July 31 at 8:30 a.m.
The court documents in full can be viewed here.
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.”