Fired employee’s lawsuit again puts focus on campus police

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An hourly employee illegally hired by the former police chief to perform law enforcement work has filed a lawsuit against the college and the former CSEA vice president charging wrongful termination and sexual harassment.

Former Southwestern College Police Department hourly employee Bryan Pendleton claims former CSEA VP Silvia Lugo was behind an effort to have him fired by the college. Lugo said Pendleton’s claims have absolutely no merit, but would not discuss details on the advice of her lawyer.

Pendleton and at least three other SWCPD employees were immediately terminated in October 2016 by Interim President Bob Deegan when he learned they had been illegally hired by former Campus Police Chief Michael Cash to perform policing tasks they were not authorized to. Deegan also suspended Cash, who never returned to active duty. Cash was given the choice of resigning or being fired in February, and chose to resign effective Dec. 31. He received 14 months of full pay during his suspension.

Cash had run the police department during five tumultuous years that included him firing his gun in police headquarters and narrowly missing three college employees, filing a specious EEO complaint against the faculty adviser of The Sun following coverage of the shooting incident, filing late and inaccurate campus crime reports, mishandling a sexual harassment complaint that allegedly included an attempted rape in police headquarters, failure to provide police escorts for sexual assault victims who had requested protection, overspending his budget by at least $1 million, and illegally hiring and arming former San Diego Police Department friends as campus police officers.

Pendleton was one such hire. Cash brought the retired SDPD sergeant in as an hourly employee on April 15, 2015 to assist with investigations, but soon designated him an SWCPD sergeant even though there had been no position authorized by the governing board. Pendleton was issued a uniform, a gun and was given supervisory powers over other SWC officers. Cash hired another former SDPD contemporary, Joseph Bane, under identical circumstances. Though both men were hired as at-will, hourly employees for desk jobs, Cash issued them guns and had them do the work of sworn police officers. Cash also hired former SDPD officer Jorge Sanchez as a sergeant even though his Police Officers Standards and Training (POST) certification had expired and he was not authorized to carry a gun under color of a police badge.

Cash also hired Emalee Pallis and employed her illegally. Pallis, an SWC Police Academy graduate, was hired as a Rape Aggression Defense Systems (RAD) officer, a desk position. Cash, however, issued her a uniform and gun, then put her to work performing the duties of a sworn police officer, even though she had not completed her POST training and was not qualified to be an armed peace office.

Pendleton and Bane were hourly, at-will employees extended twice by Cash. When campus police officers and classified union representatives presented evidence that they were working outside of their hourly job descriptions, on September 30, 2016 Cash changed Pendleton’s title from sergeant to investigation supervisor.

All were immediately let go October 28, 2016 when Deegan learned that they were hired outside the college employment process and performing police officer work for which they were not qualified or not hired for. As at-will employees they could be let go without cause.

Pendleton blamed his firing on Lugo and claimed it was the result of a romance gone bad. Pendleton and Lugo both acknowledged going on a lunch date to Miguel’s Cocina Restaurant in Eastlake during the fall 2015 semester. On Sept. 9, according to the lawsuit, Pendleton received a text from Lugo suggesting their relationship “go no further than being colleagues at work.” He agreed, the court document says.

Later, according to Pendleton, he began to spend time with another SWC employee. In the court documents Pendleton said he learned from a third party that Lugo had seen him kissing the other employee on campus, and that had upset her. Pendleton also claimed that Lugo reported him to former Vice President of Human Resources Trinda Best for harassing her when instead Lugo was harassing him.

“Pendleton, on information and belief, alleges that Lugo as both an SWC employee and Vice President of CSEA falsely accused Pendleton of sexually harassing her (because she believed he had chosen another woman over her) and voiced her position that SWC should terminate Pendleton’s contract,” the suit reads.

Lugo said none of Pendleton’s allegations are true.

Pendleton said his employment contract was rescinded after the October 11, 2016 governing board meeting. Pendleton’s contract was initially renewed until May 15, 2017 along with Bane when both had their titles changed from Sergeant to Professional Experts in Crisis Management and Post Investigation Training. Pendleton said he was made aware of his contract being terminated October 28, 2016 when he was told by Cash.

Cash was placed on administrative leave February 2017. The Sun reported Cash’s resignation in its Sept. 1, 2017 issue. Pendleton expressed his unwavering support of Cash and unhappiness with The Sun in a comment posted to The Sun’s website, theswcsun.com. He said The Sun was out to get Cash and that removing Cash will not solve the college’s problems.

“Getting rid of Chief Cash does not heal the department or the SWC campus of the growing cancer inside of it,” Pendleton wrote. “He did nothing but attempt to bring a sub-par department up to par.”

SWCPD spending increased dramatically following the hire of Cash on July 1, 2012, according to college records. In three years SWCPD spending increased more than $1 million. It increased another $600,000 from fiscal year 2014-15 to 2015-16. SWCPD Classified Overtime pay tripled to $75,000 in the first year Cash was hired. It continued to skyrocket, hitting $157,000 in 2015-16. Money spent on hourly employees increased from $23,000 in 2013-14 to $198,000 in 2015-16. Other substantial increases were also found on the budget lines Non-Instructional Equipment, Equipment, and Repairs and Maintenance. (see corresponding graphs)

Cash has received full pay since being placed on leave in October 2016. His salary was $116,000 in 2015 and $103,000 in 2016. Human Resources staff would not reveal his 2017 salary.

Announcement of Cash’s leave was followed shortly by a lawsuit filed by former a SWCPD student worker against the college and the police department. Jane Doe (a pseudonym) accused former employee Kevin McKean, Emergency Management Officer Joseph Martorano and Cpl. Ricardo Suarez with continuous sexual harassment and assault at police headquarters. She also said in her court brief that McKean and Martorano tried to rape her, and that Cash did nothing when she reported it to him.

Doe’s situation was not the only alleged crime that went unreported. Cash had a history of filing incomplete, inaccurate and late crime reports, particularly regarding sexual assaults. Acting Police Chief Dave Nighswonger said the last annual security report filed was audited and had 122 errors. It was produced by Cash.

Cash’s career has been checkered with controversy. He was suspended by the SDPD in 1987 for excessive force and police brutality. Officers who worked with Cash at SDPD said he was about to be fired, but Cash adamantly denied that. Cash said he retired.

Cash was later fired as a security consultant to the NFL and by the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers fired Cash after a well-publicized episode in which a number of players missed curfew or engaged in activities that violated team rules in a Minneapolis hotel after lights out. The Chargers lost the game later that day.

Pendleton was hired by the SDPD in 1982 and retired as a sergeant on March 22, 2015. He was hired at Southwestern by Cash on April 15, 2015.

College officials said they have not yet been served with a lawsuit from Pendleton. The first hearing is scheduled for April 20, 2018 in Superior Court.

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