Police Captain Demoted: Reasons Unreported

Royce Heath, right, was promoted and then demoted shortly afterwards, but the department hasn't revealed why.

For perhaps the first time in its history, a veteran Gilroy police captain has been demoted from the department’s second highest rank to its lowest, according to city officials.
“I have been here a long time and this has never happened (before) to my knowledge, at least not in the 33 years I’ve been here, Police Chief Scot Smithee said this week.
Citing confidentiality laws surrounding personnel matters, he and other city officials, including City Administrator Gabe Gonzalez, would not say why former Capt. Royce Heath was stripped of his management rank and demoted to police officer.
The demotion stems from an alleged violation of departmental policy or city rules that happened long before Heath was promoted in the spring of 2016 to be one of four captains, the rank right under police chief, according to Health’s San Luis Obispo attorney, Dennis Belsamo.
“There are no criminal allegations, it’s strictly internal allegations of a violation of police department rules, city rules,” he said.
LeeAnn McPhillips, Gilroy’s Human Resources Director declined to discuss specifics of the case.
“We are not able to confirm date of a peace officer rank change or if a peace officer employee was on administrative leave as that would require accessing a Peace Officer personnel file,” she said in an email Wednesday.
Without referencing the Heath matter, she said appeals are in process and that the city takes such matters seriously.
Police and fire personnel are held “to an even higher standard,” she said.
“When something serious happens and the facts support that, you will see the city take serious action in what we believe is the best interest of the organization and the city we are,” McPhillips said.
There was no estimate from the city or Heath’s attorney on when the matter might be fully resolved, let alone how it will end.
Then Sgt. Heath was elevated to the department’s second highest rank as a probationary captain by former Police Chief Denise Turner, who retired soon after in December of last year.
Apparently, no indication of possible wrongdoing was ever forthcoming from or alleged by the Turner administration, at least not publically. Heath was the public face of the department as its public information officer dealing with the press and overseeing the department’s social media pages.
Probations can last a year or more and can confirm or derail a promotion.
After Heath ran into trouble, the city conducted a preliminary investigation earlier this year and reached its “initial” conclusion, but its probe was flawed, according to Belsamo, suggesting the investigation was reopened by city officials after he challenged its conclusions.
“I pointed out problems with the investigation,” and so the city now has an “ongoing” investigation, he said.
One problem is how long it took the city to act, Belsamo said.
“They forgot to consider the statute of limitations, which I reminded them of (and) which is why the investigation is continuing,” Belsamo said.
“They did the right thing, the city has been cooperating,” he said.
Under state law, including the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights, the city has one year to act when wrongdoing is suspected or alleged but did nothing for three years, so it has no case, according to Belsamo, who added he would advise his client not talk to the media and hopes the matter is not “tried” in the press.
Except to confirm the basics and outline personnel procedures and appeal policies, city officials had little comment, again citing confidentiality laws.
Based on Belsamo’s comments, the alleged violation appears to have taken place in 2013 or 2014, when Health was a sergeant and Denise Turner was chief.
After Turner’s retirement, 30-plus-year GPD veteran Scot Smithee took over as interim chief and later accepted the permanent position.
Smithee this week said he moved quickly when he learned of the matter in January after coming out of retirement to accept the interim post.
“I react to stuff like this when I become aware of it,” he said.
The highly respected professional rose through the ranks in Gilroy over three decades. His ascension to the chief’s post was widely welcomed by a department whose former chief was not without critics among the rank and file, albeit silent ones, for her style of leadership.
“I came back on December 30th and I became aware of this (Heath matter) the third week of January. I put him on administrative leave on January 24,” Smithee said.
Health, who Belsamo described as a “great guy” and a “stellar” professional, spent more than three months on leave at full pay before he returned to work, with restrictions, according to a city official who declined to elaborate.
“I brought him back on Monday, May 15, and that was in the position of police officer,” Smithee said.
Both sides in any personnel matter can agree to waive timelines that typically dictate how the process moves forward, according to McPhillips. She declined to discuss timelines in the Heath matter.
She confirmed that former Capt. Heath is now a police officer. In cases of a demotion or other disciplinary action, the employee has the right to appeal to the Gilroy Personnel Commission, the city administrator and, ultimately, to the city council, according to McPhillips.
If still unsatisfied, the employee could take the city to court, she said.
An appeal to the commission can be for a confidential hearing or a public hearing, at the applicant’s choice, she said.
The employee can also opt to skip the personnel commission and take the appeal directly to the city administrator, she said.
Belsamo said he is going on vacation soon and hopes the city holds off on any action until he returns.
In 2015, while still a sergeant, Heath was the city’s fifth highest compensated employee in terms of base salary, overtime, special pay and benefits, which combined totalled nearly $245,000. That was just under the police chief’s total compensation at the time.
His overtime pay alone that year exceeded $38,000.
The salary range as of July 1 for a sworn department employee at the rank of Police Officer is $86,539 to $105,192.
At that rank since May, Heath as of June was earning a base salary of $10,019 per month in regular pay, according to the city’s Human Resources Department. That’s just below the highest pay for a sergeant, $124,821 per year or $10,400 per month.
Captains as of July 1 earn from $130,536 to $174,036 per year.
As a probationary Captain in October 2016, Heath earned $12,243 per month in regular pay, or nearly $147,000 on an annual basis.
In April of this year, while still on administrative leave, his salary remained at that level, according to the city’s human relations department.
A month after his return, his monthly regular pay as a police officer as of June was $10,019, or $120,228 per year, an apparent pay cut of $27,000 per year.
Heath was a sergeant part of 2016 and a captain for the rest. He earned nearly $131,000 in regular pay that year and about $17,627 in overtime pay.
McPhillips said, “All of the parties involved in these matters take them very seriously. Anytime you are going to take a significant disciplinary action against an employee, that is a very serious thing; it changes people’s lives and careers and reputations in a department.”

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