“Unsafe work practices,” a “harassing environment” and repeated “threats” are some of the latest allegations brought against the university in a lawsuit filed nearly two weeks ago, bringing the number of active lawsuits against the UC Police Department up to five.
The latest lawsuit was filed by officer Matthew Stern, who has been with the department for over 14 years.
Stern’s lawsuit alleges many of the same claims and names echoed in the four other lawsuits: in particular, that the department has allowed a pattern of repeated harassment and retaliation, violating the California Whistleblower Protection Act – an act that prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who report violations of the law – several times over.
The other four other lawsuits filed against the department, Michael and Tiffany Little v. UC Regents, Mark Signa v. UC Regents, John Doe v. UC Regents and Jonathan Lee Reyes v. UC Regents, are currently stalled while the university attempts internal mediation. All of these lawsuits also allege violations of the Whistleblower Act.
Stern’s complaint stems from the alleged ignoring of several reported cases of misconduct that began in late 2015, and is mainly centered around five other officers: former Officer Josh Rothermel, former Officer Jeff Savaglio, former Officer Ryan Smith, Officer David Millard and Officer Amanda Siegel.
In the lawsuit, Stern says he raised concerns about two fellow officers – Rothermel and Savaglio, who are also mentioned in the other lawsuits – in late 2015, alleging they were “causing safety risks” by not responding to requests for backup, turning off radios and not answering phone calls.
After speaking with the two about his concerns, Stern alleges he was approached by Smith, who told him that Stern’s concerns about Rothermel and Savaglio were “not valid” and threatened to write him up for “speaking with an officer under Smith’s command.”
This would mark the first of several interactions with Smith regarding officer misconduct; beginning June 2016, Stern alleges Smith gave Rothermel, Savaglio and Siegel preferential treatment. Additionally, as detailed in other suits, Siegel was alleged to be having an extramarital affair with Smith.
Stern said that any attempt to address concerns with the three’s behavior – Rothermel and Savaglio’s alleged safety risks and Siegel’s capabilities as an officer – was met with threats from Smith to write Stern up.
Less than a year later, in February 2017, Stern alleges he was accused by outside investigators looking into the department of knowing about Rothermel and Savaglio’s “improper conduct,” but failing “to notify a proper supervisor.” He then informed investigators that he had reported the two officers’ conduct to Smith and that Smith had allegedly threatened him in response.
In the following months, Stern says he was demoted from his position as corporal “without any explanation,” was not chosen for another qualified position and was excluded from receiving an award for his actions during the UC Berkeley riots and during the Montecito mudslides. According to court documents, Stern believes this was because he told investigators about Smith’s alleged misconduct.
Aside from complaints about Smith, Stern also lists several allegations against his superior Millard – who is named as a defendant in the suit, alongside the UC Regents – in court documents.
According to Stern, Millard allegedly lied on a university audit, ordered a dispatcher to lie to a member of the public, mismanaged the release of a trainee officer, “lacked leader and management abilities” and “refused to address issues related to retaliation against officers who made protected disclosures.”
Stern additionally alleges that on Aug. 19, 2018, after he reported to Millard that other UCPD officers were “legitimately in fear of Smith,” Millard dismissed Stern’s concerns and refused to “address harassment concerns of his fellow officers.”
Millard, like Smith, is also named in the other recent UCPD lawsuits. Stern and the plaintiffs of the other lawsuits accuse Millard of covering for Smith, Savagalio and Rothermel’s behavior.
Smith has not worked with the UCPD since December 2017; he filed his own lawsuit under the pseudonym John Doe against the department in March 2019, alleging that he was harassed and retailed against by his fellow officers for reporting a number of behaviors within the department. His suit detailed alleged police mockery of Chancellor Henry T. Yang, fellow officers and sexual assault and rape victims by members of the department, as well as racial discrimination and the falsification of sexual assault reports.
Stern is being represented by the same lawyers representing the Littles, Signa and Reyes. He is scheduled to appear in court again in December.
“Officer Stern filed for the same reasons his fellow officers have, because the UCSBPD and UC Regents fostered an environment of endemic discrimination,” Stern’s lawyer Antonio Castillo said in an email.
“He filed because it’s long overdue that the UCSB and UC Regents take responsibility for the harm they allowed to occur.”