Allegations against MHPD detailed


The police report from the July 2011 incident that sparked an internal investigation at the Morgan Hill department shows that officers at the LaRocca Place scene thought two women they arrested later that night were “very intoxicated” as they tried to enter a patrol car.

But the two women – Casey Serrano, 36 of Gilroy, and Regina Partida, 37 of Gilroy – were not charged by prosecutors for the suspected crime of public drunkenness or any other crime, according to police.

Serrano also accused an unnamed officer of posting an “intimate photograph” from her mobile phone to her Facebook account while she was detained.

By state law, the city cannot release details of the outcome of an internal investigation into the incident, which police Chief David Swing began “immediately” after learning of the Facebook complaint. However, one of the corporals involved in the arrest has been inexplicably assigned to a lower-ranking “officer’s” position in recent months.

Neither Serrano nor Partida, contacted by phone earlier this week, wanted to comment about the incident.

Serrano later filed a claim for damages against the city, alleging that while she was detained for the public drunkenness citation, an officer accessed her mobile phone and “posted an intimate photograph of Ms. Serrano that was located on (the phone) to Ms. Serrano’s Facebook page,” the claim written by her attorney says.

“The city of Morgan Hill negligently employed, trained, supervised, retained and assigned police officers knowing that they lacked sufficient training and experience, and were likely to abuse their authority,” the claim says.

Serrano’s attorney Dan Siegel added last week that the city invaded Serrano’s privacy and falsely arrested her.

The city denied the claim, and Serrano’s lawyer said last week that she plans to file a lawsuit against the officers involved in the July 16 incident in Santa Clara County Superior Court by next month.

The claim does not list any officers involved in the incident except for David Ray, the city’s K-9 officer, who is identified in the document as “D. Ray.” The police report of the incident, which was obtained by the Dispatch Tuesday, lists Ray as the arresting officer.

Siegel said last week that he did not know the names of any officers involved in the arrest and booking, and he had not yet received a copy of the police report.

The report also lists officer Melinda Zen as the “supervisor” on duty that night who signed off on Ray’s report. Attached is a supplemental report by officer Jason Broyer, who encountered Serrano and Partida allegedly trying to open the doors of a parked patrol car before Ray arrested them.

The report says that Ray was in the area to assist officer Wayne Bell on an unrelated call. While Broyer was on his way to help with that incident, he saw “a female subject” exiting the driver’s side of Ray’s patrol car which was parked on LaRocca Drive.

Broyer asked the woman and her friend, identified as Serrano and Partida, why they were inside the patrol car, according to the report. The women apologized and said they were “worried” because the car was parked unattended in front of the residence for a long time.

The report added that Broyer smelled alcohol on the women. He told them to go inside the home and if they did not do so, they could be arrested for public drunkenness.

Broyer then locked Ray’s vehicle and responded to the incident where Ray was, at Via Vivaldi and Bellini Way, and told him about his contact with the two women.

Ray then walked back to his car and saw Serrano reaching for the door handle of the vehicle, he wrote in the incident report. He reported they “both had a staggered gait” and “bloodshot/watery eyes and slurred speech.” His statement also said they smelled like alcohol.

The women told Ray that they lived in a home on LaRocca Drive, the report said.

Ray arrested the women about 2 a.m. “Based on their level of intoxication and their behavior, I did not believe they were able to care for their own safety,” he wrote in the police report.

Serrano was cited and released from the police station’s holding cell several hours later. She visited the police department the next day, and accused police of posting the photograph to her Facebook account.

The department quickly launched an internal investigation, without waiting for follow-up from the district attorney’s office or a formal written complaint, and found that unnamed officers acted “inappropriately” during the incident, according to Swing.

In response, the chief took unspecified “corrective action” toward the officers who were the subject of the investigation.

Swing and other city staff members have declined to name the officers who were targeted by the investigation. In fact, the chief said he is prohibited by law from releasing their names as well as other personnel information such as what kind of discipline – if any – any officers received.

California penal code section 832.7 says “peace officer personnel records and records maintained by any state or local agency … or information obtained from these records, are confidential and shall not be disclosed in any criminal or civil proceeding” except by due process.

The police chief added that the allegations against the officers were forwarded to the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office, which found the officers did not commit any criminal or illegal behavior.

The officers identified in the July 16 police report are still employed by the city. City staff cannot disclose if any employees are on any type of leave, city attorney Danny Wan said last week.

However, Zen is now listed as an “officer” in the city’s web site staff directory. In a document from early 2011 listing city employees’ compensation information, Zen is listed as a “police corporal,” which is a higher rank. According to the city’s posted salary schedule for police personnel, a starting corporal makes an average wage of $41.75 per hour, while an officer makes $38.79 per hour.

Swing declined to comment on Zen’s change in rank, or on her involvement in the July 16 incident. The chief also declined to speculate on the possible reasons why an officer’s title might change.

The claim filed by Serrano against the city says during the alleged false arrest, she and Partida were outside by the patrol car because it was parked in front of their driveway.

When Serrano attempted to take photographs of the patrol car, she was arrested, the claim says. Last week, Siegel accused the officers of arresting his client only for questioning the presence of a parked police car in front of her driveway.

In general, internal investigations at the Morgan Hill police department are assigned by the chief to a supervisor such as a sergeant, Swing said. When the investigation is complete, the sergeant forwards the findings to the captain. The captain then informs the chief of the investigation’s outcome, as well as any recommended actions, including disciplinary actions to take in response. The chief then decides what action to take.

At no point are the results of a police department investigation required to be made public, according to state laws protecting the personnel files of law enforcement officials.

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