Three former city of California police officers' allegations of evidence mishandling in the police department are being investigated and addressed, the mayor and Board of Aldermen said Sunday in a statement.
The California Democrat first reported alleged misconduct in the California Police Department, per former officer Christopher Tew and corroborated by former officers Jared Allen and Nick Stobbart, in a digital story last weekend. Tew alleged — among other claims regarding the CPD's operations — the department mishandled evidence via improper storage and labeling and a lack of security.
In the statement, Mayor Norris Gerhart and the California Board of Aldermen said they are aware of the officers' allegations. Though they said they could not fully address all of them publicly, an investigation is underway and the city cannot comment on legal or personnel matters, per city policy, city officials stated.
"The city wants the citizens of California to know that the integrity of the police department, and its operations, are of the utmost importance to the city, and we had already begun to address those issues prior to former officer Tew's interview with the media," the statement reads.
City officials state they first learned of concerns regarding aspects of the CPD's operations the evening of Dec. 30, 2020, when Tew contacted the mayor directly about the matter. The letter states Gerhart then called City Attorney Ann Perry to advise her of the situation, and by the morning of Dec. 31, all appropriate city officials and employees were working to address those concerns.
Tew and the other former officers allege they walked CPD Chief Daniel Hurt through the department so he could see what was going on later that night.
According to the city's statement, immediate steps were taken within the Police Department to address the storage and management of evidence and to make certain all evidence is secure. Per the letter, the Board of Aldermen voted in closed session to initiate a formal review of the allegations, as well as a review of the general operational condition of the CPD.
The Board of Aldermen voted in that same closed session to terminate Allen and Stobbart's employment. The pair would be fired the next day, Jan. 5; they alleged they were not given a reason their employment was terminated. Tew resigned that evening.
According to the letter, the city then worked immediately to retain the services of Gary Kempker, doing business as GBK Advisors LLC, who started to work with the CPD to address the evidence management issue. Kempker's role, the city states, will be "to analyze the current conditions, policies and procedures, and operational effectiveness of the California Police Department and to identify potential areas for improvement or correction that complies with applicable laws, statutes and police standards."
Kempker is working with the CPD to address all concerns, according to the city's statement, and has assured city officials the evidence issues have been addressed and all evidence is secure.
The city also retained the services of Amanda Grellner as special counsel to assist Perry in the investigation. Grellner has also initiated her investigation, according to city officials.
Kempker served in the U.S. Air Force as a law enforcement specialist; with the Jefferson City Police Department as an officer, shift commander and as chief of police; as director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety; as director of the Missouri Department of Corrections; and as interim Cole County sheriff. He now has a consulting firm called GBK Advisors LLC.
Grellner has been in the private practice of law since 2000. She has served as part-time prosecuting attorney of Osage County since 2002. Her undergraduate and law degrees are from the University of Missouri. Grellner serves as president of the Board of the Community Health Center of Central Missouri; as a board member of various community and service organizations; and is a member of the 20th Judicial Circuit Bar Association, the Cole County Bar and the Phelps County Bar. She is a member of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National District Attorney's Association, a board member of the Prosecuting and Circuit Attorneys Retirement System, and a committee member of the Statewide Treatment Court Committee.
According to the letter from city officials, the city is unaware of any theft or wrongdoing with respect to evidence or lost or stolen property in the city's possession.
City officials also state, contrary to allegations from the former CPD officers, that the Police Department and its evidence rooms have been long secured from public access. The letter also claims all evidence maintained by the city is secure.
City officials stated they are aware that turnover within the CPD over the past few years, starting with former CPD Chief Michael Ward's termination, has created a lack of continuity in management policies.
"Chief (Daniel) Hurt has been working vigorously to address these concerns; the issues did not develop overnight, nor will they be resolved overnight," the city's statement reads.
The letter from city officials closes by stating integrity will be maintained for the CPD and the evidence it obtains.
"The city of California will continue to provide its citizens and visitors to the city with professional, qualified and highly-trained police officers and services to ensure public safety," the letter reads.