Two UC Santa Barbara police officers filed a suit against several members of the UC Police Department and the UC Regents in March 2019, alleging they were retaliated against after they reported a sergeant for allegedly being “in an intimate relationship” with a subordinate officer, among other offenses.
The two officers – spouses Michael Little and Tiffany Little – are suing for violation of the California Whistleblower Protection Act and violation of California Labor Code, according to court documents obtained by the Nexus.
The defendants in the case are all either former or current UCSB UC Police Department (UCPD) members: former UCPD Chief of Police Dustin Olson, former UCPD Asst. Chief of Police Cathy Farley, UCPD Lieutenant David Millard, UCPD Lieutenant Robert Romero, UCPD Sergeant Gregory Pierce and UCPD Detective Gregory Smorodinsky.
According to the court documents, Olson is a current member of the department; however, he can no longer be located in the department’s directory, and he is no longer listed as Chief of Police on the UCPD website.
Farley left the UCPD around November 2018.
Further named in court documents but not being sued is former UCPD Sergeant Ryan Smith, the officer who Mr. and Mrs. Little reported several offenses against.
Smith was awarded a Public Safety Meritorious Unit Citation in April 2015 for his role in responding to the 2014 Isla Vista shooting. He was hired by UCPD around Aug. 2012.
Both Mr. Little and Mrs. Little are currently employed by the UCPD; Mr. Little has worked with the department since March 2014 and Mrs. Little has worked there since November 2014, according to court documents.
This is the third lawsuit filed by an officer against the UCPD during the 2018-2019 school year. Lieutenant Mark Signa filed the first case in November 2018, and former Officer Ryan Smith filed a case on March 27 after the Littles filed their case.
Smith’s Alleged Misconduct (Dec. 2015 – June 2017):
The court documents state that on or around December 2015 and January 2016, Mrs. Little told Smith, who was her direct supervisor at the time, that “a subordinate officer was spending an explicable amount of time in the UCSB Freshman Residence Halls while on duty.”
The subordinate officer would allegedly “[turn] off his radio and refuse to respond to calls for service or other officer’s requests for assistance for multiple hours at a time,” according to court documents.
On or around Feb. 15, 2017, Mr. Little informed Lieutenant Millard that Smith was allegedly in an “intimate relationship with a subordinate officer,” alleging that Smith gave that subordinate officer “preferential treatment by dismissing a vehicle accident that caused damage to Employer’s property.”
Court documents further state that Smith “intervened” when a separate officer and Mrs. Little attempted to “exercise normal supervisory duties over the Officer.”
It is not immediately clear in court documents if the initial subordinate officer referenced is the same as the subordinate officer who was allegedly “in an intimate relationship” with Smith.
“Mr. Little expressed to Millard that Smith’s actions were illegal, unethical, and violated department policy,” court documents state.
Several other alleged incidents of Smith’s alleged misconduct are listed in the court complaint, including:
- While at UC Los Angeles on or around Jan. 20, 2017, Smith allegedly ordered officers in two vehicles to “drive code-three, meaning they were to use their emergency lights on top their vehicles to evade traffic” while on their way to a mutual aid event. Both vehicles “proceed to drive unsafely around vehicles and crossed intersections with only lights, no sirens.” According to the documents, “the officers were not responding to an emergency, instead Smith was trying to get to UCLA in time for a breakfast event.”
- While at a UC San Francisco mutual aid event, Smith allegedly “requested to use an Employer’s rental vehicle to drive to Oakland. On information and belief, Smith did not drive to Oakland and instead drove to Santa Cruz.” Court documents further allege that Smith “used an Employer’s gas card to purchase gas and used the Employer’s rental for non-job related purposes” in May 2017.
- allegedly “attempted to intervene in an administrative investigation” on or around May 19, 2017.
- allegedly “drove recklessly during a pursuit” on or around June 6, 2017 and “hit a parked car and did not stop, in violation of California Vehicle Code 20002.”
- allegedly “committed time card fraud.”
- allegedly was “witnessed committing a hit-and-run while on duty” in June 2017.
- allegedly “ordered an unsanctioned and unnecessary code-three emergency response” during which “vehicles involved in the code-three dangerous maneuvered through traffic in an unsafe manner” in or around January 2017.
In several places, court documents note that Mr. Little expressed to Lieutenant Millard that Smith’s actions were “unethical, against department policy, and were a risk of harm to the public.”
Mrs. Little also met with Lieutenant Millard on or around June 2017 and reported “possible legal violations committed by Smith including but not limited to misappropriations of department funds, improper use of emergency vehicles during mutual aid events, and a possible hit and run that was reported to Mrs. Little by a subordinate.”
Smith was placed on leave in or around June 2017 for “items not related to the complaint” Mrs. Little had filed. He returned briefly in or around September 2017 but left in December 2017.
Alleged Retaliation For Reporting Smith (July 2017 – Sept. 2018):
Mrs. Little and Mr. Little alleged that as a result of the two of them reporting Smith, they faced several instances of retaliation from several members of the department, which included:
- Lieutenant Millard allegedly requesting that Mr. Little “submit a memorandum for a Corporal position” on or around July 31, 2017. He was assigned as a detective at a time, and the move from a detective assignment to a patrol corporal “was in effect a demotion because it did not offer similar opportunities for advancement and development.”
- Mr. Little was allegedly not listed “as an instructor at the upcoming range training” in an email sent out by Detective Smorodinsky on or around Dec. 7, 2017. Court documents state that typically, “all instructors attend scheduled range training.”
- When Mrs. Little was subpoenaed in relation to a criminal case involving a former UCPD officer around December 2017, she allegedly “told Millard that she told the truth regarding the former officer.” In response, Lieutenant Millard allegedly “told Mrs. Little that she talked too much.” The former UCPD officer was “being investigated for sexual assault, providing alcohol to students, and other inappropriate misconduct.”
- On or around Feb. 13, 2018, Lieutenant Romero allegedly “expressed that he was furious at Mr. Little for reporting Smith. Lieutenant Romero told Mr. Little and Smith did not do anything wrong.”
- When Mrs. Little applied for a detective position within the Problem Solving Unit supervised by Lieutenant Romero in or around March 2018, she was not chosen. According to court documents, she had eight years of experience as a police officer compared to the two other individuals who were considered for the position, who had approximately three years of experience. When Mrs. Little asked Lieutenant Romero what more was required for her to get the position, he allegedly told her that he “wanted to see more warrants.” Court documents further allege that “Romero was aware that Mrs. Little missed time the previous year due to FMLA leave and that Mrs. Little’s leave directly affected how many warrants Mrs. Little wrote.”
- When Mrs. Little requested to be moved to “E-schedule after recent openings” Millard allegedly informed her that the department “was not going to have a corporal on E-schedule shift.” Court documents state that “after shifts were changed, Millard placed a less senior Corporal on the E-schedule shift. Mrs. Little was senior Corporal and would have normally been among the first to request an open position.”
- On or around April 2018, Lieutenant Romero allegedly told “Mrs. Little that Romero and Millard believe that Mrs. Little throws a fit when Mrs. Little does not get what she wants.” Lieutenant Romero’s comment was allegedly “in relation to Mrs. Little’s complain about the departments failure to properly investigate Smith’s misconduct.”
- On or around May 11, 2018, Detective Smorodinsky allegedly “expressed to Mrs. Little that the misconduct by Smith was not that bad.” When Mrs. Little allegedly provided examples of Smith’s behavior, Detective Smorodinsky allegedly told Mrs. Little she should have gone to Smith rather than reporting him. He allegedly later “intentionally excluded Mrs. Little from assisting in an overtime assignment” by choosing “less senior and experienced officers to assist in executing a search warrant.”
- In or around July 2018, Mrs. Little was allegedly “not invited to participate or coordinate the new hire training post academy training… despite Mrs. Little creating, scheduling, and facilitating the training for the past several years.”
- After Mrs. Little attended a union meeting on or around Aug. 15, 2018, and “expressed discontent” with Millard’s alleged failures to address complaints, he allegedly talked to her the next day and said he was “upset about comments that were made about him at the union meeting held the previous night.”
- Both Mr. and Mrs. Little were demoted from Corporal and Field Training Officer (FTO) positions on or around Aug. 21, 2018.
- On or around Sept. 3, 2018, Detective Smorodinsky and Lieutenant Romero denied Mr. Little a computer forensic analyst position. Mr. Little “had previously been selected to fill that role during his time as Detective and had twenty-five (25) years of computer programming and software development experience in the technology industry.”
Ethics Point Incident Complaint (Sept. 2018 – current):
In response to these alleged incidents, Mrs. Little filed an Ethics Point Incident complaint with UCSB under the UC Whistleblower Protection Policy on or around Sept. 1, 2018. Mr. Little did the same on Sept. 3, 2018.
The incident alleges they were “subjected… to adverse employment actions in retaliation for their protected disclosures.”
“Since being interviewed by UC Santa Barbara Senior Investigator, no action has been taken to address Plantiffs’ complaints, nor has UC Regents done anything to protect Plantiff’s from further retaliation,” court documents state.
“There has been no indication from UC Regents that it intends to take any action in response to Plaintiff’s complaint.”
While at a meeting with the UCSB Title IX office on or around Sept. 17, 2018, Mrs. Little “reported her concerns that Smith was engaged in a sexual relationship with a subordinate causing a hostile work environment and sexual harassment claims.”
Since filing the violation of the Whistleblower Protection Policy complaint, Mr. and Mrs. Little allege that they have been retaliated against in several ways, including:
- Mr. Little not being assigned to handle annual ROTC training in or around October 2018.
- Mrs. Little has allegedly had “her personal belongings thrown in the trash, her house has been egged and sergeants have ignored Mrs. Little.”
- Mrs. Little was removed from a previously approved overtime shift on or around Feb. 4, 2019.
- A co-worker filed a complaint against Mr. Little, alleging that when the coworker entered a UCSB-PD building, Mr. Little “noticed his co-worker and then turned back around without saying anything,” causing the co-worker to feel “threatened” and “fearful” by Mr. Little’s ignoring him.
UC Santa Barbara spokesperson Andrea Estrada said the university is “aware of the allegations and is undertaking a thorough review.”
The court document in full can be viewed here.
Updated [May 8, 10:51 p.m.]
Correction [May 24, 9:45 p.m.]: A previous version of this article misspelled “Millard” as “Miller.” That mistake has been fixed.