A fifth officer filed a lawsuit against the UC Santa Barbara Police Department on May 17, marking a total of four suits filed against the department since November 2018.
The plaintiff in the most recent case, Jonathan Lee Reyes v. University of California Regents, is UC Santa Barbara UC Police Department officer Jonathan Lee Reyes. In the suit, Reyes alleges he was retaliated against for reporting misconduct in the department relating to the retention and promotion of an unqualified police trainee.
The suit alleges that Reyes’ whistleblowing led UCPD Lieutenant David Millard and UCPD Sergeant Gregory Smorodinsky to block Reyes from receiving a promotion to higher positions and that the two gave Reyes an unfair poor performance review.
According to an individual within UCPD who asked that their name not be used, Millard is currently at a training course at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) National Academy; the individual provided photographic evidence to the Nexus that Millard was there and not on the UC Santa Barbara campus as of May 9.
UCSB spokesperson Andrea Estrada was unable to comment on whether or not Millard was at the FBI academy, but could confirm that he is still an active member of the UCPD.
The suit alleges that UCPD “retaliated against other employees based on the same protected class [as Reyes].” The suit also alleges that UCPD failed to “discipline other employees outside [Reyes’] own protected class as severely” for the same actions.
Reyes’ lawsuit is the latest of four lawsuits filed against the department since late last year, all of which allege that the plaintiffs were retaliated against for blowing the whistle on misconduct in the department.
The other three suits — John Doe v. UC Regents, filed in March 2019, Michael Little and Tiffany Little v. UC Regents, filed in March 2019 and Mark Signa v. UC Regents, filed in November 2018 — are currently active cases.
Millard, Smorodinsky and the UC Regents are defendants in Reyes v. UC Regents; Millard and Smorodinsky are also defendants in Littles v. UC Regents.
In Reyes v. UC Regents, the complaint alleges that Millard repeatedly promoted a trainee officer from lower positions despite opposition from Reyes and others in the department who were concerned about the trainee’s performance. Reyes alleges he brought concerns forward to Millard multiple times, including when the trainee was first assigned to Reyes and later when Millard announced the trainee had completed Field Training Officer (FTO) training.
The case alleges that Millard’s approval to promote the unqualified trainee created “a threat to the safety of the public and the University” and violated California Penal Code 832, which states that “a peace officer shall satisfactorily complete an introductory training course.”
The allegations in court documents begin in June 2017, when Reyes was assigned as an FTO with the trainee. Court documents say that after Millard announced in an email that the trainee will advance to the next phase, Reyes, along with several other officers, objected the promotion, pointing to “multiple evaluations by FTO’s [which] indicated that the trainee was failing,” court documents allege.
Despite an FTO’s recommendation for the trainee’s termination and the trainee’s failure to pass a program from the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards Training (P.O.S.T.) — the body responsible for creating law enforcement training requirements — Lieutenant Millard “successfully released [the trainee] from FTO training,” court documents allege.
Reyes then allegedly emailed the region coordinator for P.O.S.T. to relay his concerns about the failing trainee. Millard later met with Reyes and accused him of “not following an order” to promote the trainee, court documents allege.
In August 2017, Reyes was denied a promotion to corporal, despite being “better qualified for the position than other candidates selected for the position,” court documents state.
Then, in September 2017, Reyes applied for a position as a sergeant but was again denied the promotion in March 2018.
Reyes alleges that he did not receive these positions, despite his qualifications, due to retaliation from Millard regarding the trainee.
The suit also alleges that Reyes’ poor performance review from 2018 was another result of the department’s retaliation, this time from Smorodinsky “under the direction of [Millard].”
Court documents state “the review was very critical” and omitted “various positive things throughout the year.” Reyes submitted a grievance to the department “which detailed each point in his review that he felt was inaccurate or unwarranted,” and his review was later overturned in response.
The allegations in the suit involve a handful of other officers as well, including former Police Chief Dustin Olson, former Assistant Chief Cathy Farley, Sergeant Gregory Pierce and Sergeant Rory Sheehey, who are named in the other cases as well. However, none of the aforementioned officers are being sued in Reyes’ case.
Three of the four cases filed since November 2018, including Reyes v. UC Regents, are represented by the same law firm, Richie Litigation, based in Los Angeles. Antonio Castillo, a lawyer handling the cases from Richie Litigation, said in an email that the three cases “are exposing long-term systemic systems of bullying and the suppression of the advancement of minority police officers.”
Ryan Smith, the plaintiff in John Doe v. UC Regents, is the only officer of the five who worked with a different attorney, Peter Horton, to file his claim.
The lawsuits brought forward by Reyes, Signa and the Littles are steps toward addressing the department’s alleged misconduct, according to Castillo.
“That these brave officers have come forward and inspired many more to do so means that we finally have an opportunity to make real progress in changing how the UCSB Police Department operates,” Castillo said.
A version of this article appeared on page 3 of the May 30, 2019 edition of the Daily Nexus.
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.”