SWC police chief on leave again

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Controversy has followed Michael Cash. Photo by April Abarrondo.

Campus Police Chief Michael Cash has been placed on paid administrative leave and replaced temporarily by a former Orange County Sheriff’s Department captain.

College administrators have been secretive about Cash and the nature of the leave. Details regarding the reasons for the leave have not been made public. Cash has not responded to multiple interview requests.

Acting Chief Davis Nighswonger said he was contacted regarding the position last semester and met with former Interim President Robert Deegan in late 2016, though he said he could not specify when. New president Dr. Kindred Murillo announced Cash’s leave in an email to all employees. Murillo said Nighswonger would run the SWCPD until further notice. She said she did not know how long Cash would remain on leave and would not say if it was a disciplinary matter.

“Sometimes bringing (in) someone from outside the organization is wise,” Murillo said. “It gives us a chance to look at ourselves through other’s eyes, an essential part of continuous improvement.”

Nighswonger is currently in charge of managing SWCPD’s finances and other administrative tasks, such as updating the Daily Crime Log on the SWC website, both areas Cash has struggled with. A year-long investigation by The Sun brought to light numerous systemic problems with SWCPD record keeping, including inaccurate and outdated crime logs, and inaccuracies with the college’s federally-mandated Cleary Crime Report. Some of these issues have not been corrected.

In February The Sun received reports that Chief Cash had overspent the SWCPD’s budget.

Tim Flood, vice president of financial and business affairs, said SWCPD is not under investigation for overspending. Flood also denied reports of financial mismanagement.

“Is there financial mismanagement? No,” he said. “Do we need to make budgetary changes based on changing revenues? Yes we do. We’re going to talk about that as part of our planning and budget committees. (We’re going to) talk about revenue streams and the various financial problems the college is working through.”

Nighswonger said he has not been in contact with Cash and has no information about his situation. Campus Police Officer Torrance Carrington said he did not know in advance that Cash would be on leave.

SWCPD Sgt. Robert Sanchez, who has previous experience as acting chief, said he did not apply for the position this time.

A lawsuit filed with the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego on Feb. 16 alleged serial sexual harassment within the police department. The document states that an anonymous Jane Doe faced repeated sexual harassment in the workplace and was sexually assaulted by two SWCPD employees. Named in the suit are former employee Kevin McKean, Emergency Management Officer Joseph Martorano and Campus Police Officer Ricardo Suarez. Doe claims in the suit that she complained to Cash about Martorano’s behavior in 2015. Cash said he would speak with Martorano about his behavior without revealing Doe as the source of the complaint, she said in the court documents. Cash, however, told Martorano the complaints came from Doe, according to the lawsuit.

“As a result,” the suit states, “the tension in the office grew more unbearable for Doe, especially when she worked near Martorano, who continued to repeatedly harass her.”

Cash was not named as a defendant, though 20 unidentified SWC employees were listed as “Roes” and possible future defendants.

Cash was previously placed on administrative leave in August 2013 after his weapon discharged at head level and narrowly missed three people in an adjacent room at SWCPD headquarters. Witnesses reported that SWCPD officers approached Cash and told him to drop his weapon. Cash sat down his pistol, then dropped to the floor, rolled over on his back and had what was described as seizure-like symptoms. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital.

Billy Brooks, a carpenter, witnessed the events.

“He was hysterical and kept hollering ‘Accidental discharge! Accidental discharge!’” Brooks said. “He became more and more hysterical and couldn’t hardly talk.”

Cash later told The Sun there was no medical issue that caused him to fire his gun. He was put on administrative leave by former president Dr. Melinda Nish. An internal investigation by Sgt. Robert Sanchez concluded the gunfire was not accidental, while an external investigator concluded it was an accident.

Nish reinstated Cash after five weeks.

In 2013 The Sun requested that Nish and the governing board release the Cash gunfire report by Betty P. Kelepecz, but Nish declined the requests citing the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights (POBOR). First Amendment attorney Frank LoMonte of the Student Press Law Center said Nish and college lawyers applied POBOR incorrectly and that the report should be released.

The Sun requested the release of the report again this month, but Murillo and college lawyers reaffirmed Nish’s decision to withhold the report under POBOR.

“The parties seeking the report must follow the POBOR procedures to obtain the report,” Murillo said.

When journalism students sought the release of the Kelepecz Report, Cash filed an Equal Opportunity Employment complaint against The Sun’s adviser, Dr. Max Branscomb, charging him with racial discrimination. An investigator hired by the college ruled against Cash.

Cash has experienced controversy throughout his career.

In 1987 he was suspended for excessive force while serving in the San Diego Police Department. He worked for the NFL coordinating security at the Super Bowl, but left under unknown circumstances.

In 2007 Cash was relieved of his position as Head of Security for the San Diego Chargers following curfew violations by several players prior to a loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Nighswonger said he is willing to serve until the Cash situation is resolved.

“I’m not sure what is going on with Chief Cash,” Nighswonger said. “For me, filling in could mean a long-term absence, but I don’t really know. I’m gearing up to continue this role as long as the college needs me.”

Originally published in print on March 6.

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