Police chief accused of sexually assaulting her officers
January 26, 2012
By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN
Law enforcement officers have names for the girls offering them sex on the beat: Badge Bunny. Holster Sniffer. Uniform Jumper. Handcuff Hugger. In Paso Robles, brethren in blue have one more: The Chief.
A flurry of complaints and mounting grievances alleging sexual misconduct, illegal management practices and retaliation have been lodged against Paso Robles’ first female chief of police, Lisa Solomon. Those known to have made accusations against the chief include five current and former police officers, as well as a growing record of non-sworn police department personnel.
The criticisms against Solomon include allegations of sexual assaults, many committed in the presence of others, repeated affairs with a list of subordinates, and bearing a child out of wedlock fathered by a former lieutenant in the department.
The city has retained the services of an outside investigator to look into the numerous complaints, officers say. Solomon, 43, is married to a San Luis Obispo police officer. She has not responded to detailed emails from CalCoastNews asking for comment.
Numerous officers and department staffers contend that crossing Solomon is dangerous. They say their boss threatens them with trumped-up criminal charges if they rebuff her advances or question her management practices.
After Officer T.J. McCall reported to the city claiming Solomon grabbed his penis while he sat in her car, city officials hired an outside investigator to interview officers about other allegations of unwanted sexual contact.
Former officer Dave Hernandez said he told the investigator of an instance in 2007 when Solomon also touched him inappropriately. In August, Hernandez and another officer in full uniform entered a saloon then called the Crooked Kilt, to do a bar check.
Solomon, who had been out on the dance floor, approached Hernandez in a room full of people and allegedly pushed the officer’s face into her breasts.
“She grabbed my head and pushed it between her breasts,” Hernandez said. “I was shocked.”
Last month, the investigator asked Hernandez why he had not reported the incident back in 2007. He told the investigator he was afraid Solomon would have had him fired if he told, Hernandez said.
“Her MO (method of operation) is to make criminal charges against anyone who crosses her,” Hernandez said. “She will do whatever she can with her power.”
In June 2011, Hernandez, then the union steward, said he complained to City Manager Jim App that Solomon had hired another sergeant at a time when the department was low on officers and heavy in command staff.
In what officers say is typical in the North County department, the chief and several of her top level officers allegedly retaliated against Hernandez and began writing him up for issues such as speeding while transporting a drunk man who was bashing his feet against the back of his seat to the San Luis Obispo County Jail.
In this case, Solomon set out to charge him with negligent operation of a vehicle and being discourteous to a member of the public. Hernandez resigned Jan. 11 and is contemplating filing a civil lawsuit suit against the city.
In 2008, Solomon required all members of the command staff to attend a team-building workshop at the Carmel Valley Lodge during Super Bowl weekend. While there, Solomon allegedly sexually assaulted two officers, according to four officers who told CalCoastNews they were present at the time.
The men, several of whom first told reporters of the incident more than two years ago, have asked to remain unnamed, fearing retaliation.
During the Super Bowl, the officers put work aside and watched the game. After drinking heavily for several hours, Solomon said it was time to get back to work and ordered the seven attending officers to the hot tub for a mandatory meeting, the officers related.
Shortly after they suited up and sat down in the tub, Solomon said, according to the men, “You wanna see boobs?” She removed her top and allegedly rubbed her breast in a commander’s face, officers said.
She then scooted up close to Sgt. Brennen Lux, slid her hand into his shorts and grabbed his penis, the officers said. Lux quickly got out of the hot tub and jumped into the unheated pool.
Solomon then reportedly turned her focus on Lt. Tim Murphy, whom she also groped, the officers said.
The following day, Solomon reportedly warned her command staff that information about the incident was not to leave the conference room they had rented at the retreat.
After Lux rebuffed her advances repeatedly and began questioning the chief about her policies, Solomon began taking actions against him, officers said. She wrote up her former “golden boy” for issues such as speeding to a report of a three-month-old who was not breathing, and speeding to assist another officer who was grappling with a suspect. Lux was a combat Marine and 15-year law enforcement veteran.
In Nov. 2011, Solomon terminated Lux for allegedly committing battery, use of excessive force, and unlawful detention during the arrest of a combative suspect.
Hernandez, the watch commander at the time, said he saw the video of the arrest and contends that Solomon trumped up the charges in a failed attempt to have the officer charged with a crime. And while Solomon sent reports of the alleged assault to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s office, charges were never filed.
Lux is also contemplating filing a civil lawsuit against the city and Solomon.
Several former employees said they informed city management of the alleged problems in the department during exit interviews, but their concerns were ignored.
City Manager Jim App declined to comment on the alleged investigation. He also demurred when asked why Solomon was not on administrative leave, a question several of her officers are also asking.
When City Attorney Iris Ping Yang was asked if she was aware of an investigation into Solomon’s behavior, she said, “I can’t tell you. I have no comment to make.”
Mayor Duane Picanco said he was surprised by the assertions: “That’s news to me,” he said. “And I mean that.”
And while most of Solomon’s threats of criminal charges against her employees are never filed, or result in the district attorney’s office refusing to prosecute, several employees have been criminally charged after crossing Solomon. Officers say Solomon and a few top-level commanders regularly search videos of employees they are looking to get rid of in an attempt to claim excessive force, and check the employee’s computers for unlawful access of driving records, a misdemeanor.
In 2010, Solomon was allegedly looking to get rid of Officer Jeff Bromby. After the district attorney’s office rebuffed attempts to have the officer charged with theft for helping his girlfriend remove items from an elderly relative’s home, she was successful in having him charged with unauthorized access to driving records.
A few years ago, dispatcher Deleena Rankin began making mistakes at work. Though unknown at the time, she was suffering from a brain tumor.
Solomon went to the dispatcher and asked her to resign or face criminal charges for pulling the driving record of a former boyfriend, Rankin said. And while officers contend Solomon would usually follow through on her promise to not file charges if the employee agreed to resign, in this case Solomon asked the district attorney to file charges on the dispatcher after she resigned. The court sentenced Rankin to one year of probation.
“It was common practice (pulling driving records without a legal reason). Sgt. Dave Buffard looked his son up, and the chief also had her son looked up,” Rankin said. “I had been a dispatcher for 29 years.”
Officer Jon Tatro, the current police officer association president, recently filed a lawsuit against the department regarding the chief’s implementation of illegal ticket quotas. Ticket quotas are illegal under state law because they can pressure police to write bogus tickets to meet the goal, something Tatro refused to do.
Union officials are currently considering a vote of no confidence against the controversial chief.
Solomon was appointed chief of the 30,000-resident city in 2007. She was the first woman to hold positions of sergeant, lieutenant and captain in the department.
During her 20-year career in Paso Robles, she has been past president of the North County Women’s Shelter and chair of the San Luis Obispo County Sexual Assault Recovery and Prevention Program.
Clarification: The incident with Solomon allegedly touching McCall occurred in her car, not his. The incident was reported to the city, but not through a formal grievance. Jon Tatro’s Los Angeles attorneys sent the lawsuit for filing and have not yet received confirmation.