Paso Robles residents challenge chief’s rich deal
March 26, 2012
By DANIEL BLACKBURN and KAREN VELIE
When the Paso Robles City Council agreed last week to pay Police Chief Lisa Solomon $250,000 for the embattled 46-year-old’s early “retirement,” more questions were raised than answered.
Meanwhile, additional details of the city’s first female police chief’s checkered career are emerging, even as Paso Robles’ top appointed official heaps praise on the departing Solomon.
North County community members are attempting to digest the widely criticized decision, and residents and business owners have announced formation of a group called “Change Paso Robles Now” (CPRN2012).
“We need to know a lot more” about the council’s late-night unanimous endorsement of a bountiful agreement with Solomon, Paso Robles resident Sally Reynolds said.
That agreement also opened the door for Solomon to apply for disability pay, which will allow her to retire early and enjoy tax freedom for a large chunk of her lifelong income.
Reynolds emphasized the importance of citizens “keeping up the pressure” on city officials to reveal details now being hidden from public view.
Karen Daniels, a downtown business owner, said, “I have found nearly everyone in Paso is buzzing about the payout to Solomon. There is a deep-rooted mistrust of the entire city council, mayor, and city manager. This new group will voice the concerns of the citizens of Paso Robles, and demand action from our employees and representatives who make and enforce the laws for our town”.
Daniels and Reynolds will serve as interim co-chairpersons of CPRN2012 during its formative stage.
Solomon has been accused by a number of current and former police officers and other department personnel of sexually fondling them during social and official occasions, on and off-duty. She initiated an illegal ticket-quota scheme and has used firings, suspensions and other retaliatory measures against those who offended her, some officers have alleged.
Also, she and City Manager Jim App freely discussed in an exchange of emails their collaboration in arranging the planting of “moles” in police officers’ union negotiating meetings.
But despite the bevy of assertions from her own ranks of illegal and immoral behavior, Solomon was allowed to take what city officials term “early retirement” with the fat payout because of the “damage to her reputation” caused by resultant news coverage.
As long as two years ago, several department employees said Solomon had committed sexual battery on a couple of officers, but were reticent to go forward with their claims.
Then, in Oct. 2011, Sgt. Brennen Lux informed city officials that three years earlier, Solomon had stuck her hand in his swimsuit and grabbed his penis during a “team building workshop” her command staff was required to attend.
App subsequently authorized a city-financed internal investigation by Debra Estrin, a private investigator from the Bay area.
A month after the start of that probe, during an interview with Estrin, officer T.J. McCall said that Solomon grabbed his penis while he was leaving a department holiday party and that Solomon’s husband was present when the alleged sexual assault occurred.
Former officer Dave Hernandez said he told the investigator that Solomon sexually harassed him while he was on the job in full uniform.
On an evening in 2008, Hernandez and another officer 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, Hernandez said.
None of these allegations deterred City Manager App from lauding Solomon’s “outstanding” career with the Paso Robles Police Department.
“She is a fine leader and we will miss her,” App said minutes after the council awarded her the quarter-million dollars under an agreement which prevents either party from making negative comments about the other.
App has insisted in several subsequent interviews that Solomon was forced to step down because of news reports and not because of her actions and deportment as chief of police.
“Her separation agreement makes no reference to those (sexual assault) allegations,” App said. “It is based on her 24 years of service and a clear record of accomplishments. These allegations are recent, but they allege behavior of many years ago, and they do not pertain to this separation agreement. Her accomplishments do.”
App’s dedication notwithstanding, sex scandals and allegations of unethical behavior have plagued Solomon’s law enforcement career.
She started as a dispatcher for the Pismo Beach police department 26 years ago, and shortly thereafter entered the police academy. Her time there culminated with her lodging a claim of sex harassment against a trainer at the rifle range. The trainer, she claimed, said her poor shooting skills were because her large breasts hampered her aim, officers interviewed for this report told CalCoastNews.
Several local female officers, who followed Solomon into the academy, said their instructors informed them that changes had been implemented because of multiple issues with a female cadet who preceded them — Lisa Solomon
Upon graduating from the academy, Solomon headed to Paso Robles were she served as a street cop for about three years before becoming pregnant with another officer’s child. The relationship did not last long and shortly thereafter Solomon married another officer in her first of three marriages, all to Paso Robles police officers, department sources said.
Because of the pregnancy, Solomon was taken off the street and given a DARE officer position. She spent a short time as a detective, but soon was promoted to sergeant, then lieutenant.
She served as a police commander during the day, and a bar room entertainer at night. She regularly performed in a band at the Paso Robles Inn with a former boyfriend of Wendy McIntire.
“She would end her show by strutting across the bar top at the Paso Robles Inn singing ‘Let’s give them something to talk about,’ ” McIntire said. “At that time she was a police lieutenant.”
Several Paso Robles bar owners, bartenders, and a gaggle of long-time local saloon patrons happily recall numerous incidents of Solomon dancing on bar tops during her time on the force. Police sources tell of her giving lap dances to other officers at social events.
Solomon has denied allegations she danced for her troops, or on bar tops, but in 2009, asked by CalCoastNews about her reported conduct, Solomon said “Well, I am an entertainer.”
Solomon won her chief’s post without competition. In 2007, the city council agreed not to do a search for a new chief and instead took the recommendation of App and the former police chief Dennis Cassidy, to name her to the city’s top cop position. No others were invited to apply.
Solomon’s current husband, Christopher Chitty, left the Paso Robles police force shortly after they married. The husband and wife team opened a sign company and T-shirt shop in 2004.
In 2008, Solomon and her husband filed a voluntary bankruptcy petition for their promotional printing company. Chitty subsequently filed for individual protection in Santa Barbara’s U.S. District Court. In court documents, Chitty and Solomon listed debt totaling $1,039,182; assets of $512,000; and $550 in available cash.
Chapter 7 is designed for debtors in financial trouble who do not have the ability to pay their existing debts, according to the bankruptcy code. Debtors whose financial difficulties are primarily due to consumer debt are subject to a “means test” — if income is greater than the median income for the state in which they reside, the court may deny the petition.
In California, the median income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was $61,021 in 2008 for a family of four. Chitty and his wife’s combined income was approximately $220,000 per year, according to their sworn statements on the bankruptcy petitions. Chitty and Solomon have stated in court documents that their “debts are primarily business debts” and that no inventory from the business remains.
Those court documents also suggested the pair had “50 to 100” creditors including Kohl’s, Mervyns, and Gottschalk’s. And while they owed Levitz Furniture $13,119, Chitty and Solomon claimed their household goods and furnishings were worth approximately $3,000 in 2008.
Even though the couple filed bankruptcy on their business, they continued to sell T-shirts, allegedly utilizing equipment they had moved to their garage in violation of bankruptcy laws, through a company they called Trick Tape. At that time, Chitty denied Trick Tape still existed.
However, in 2008, Chitty was contacted on his cell phone by a CalCoastNews reporter posing as a customer seeking information about volume T-shirt sales. Chitty, on duty in his patrol car at the time, said, “Yes, this is Trick Tape. I can help you with those.”
Later that same evening, Chitty telephoned the reporter to discuss further details of the sale, including pricing and specific T-shirt brands.
Throughout all Solomon’s troubles including leaving an unlicensed gun in an unlocked car that was later recovered during a police action in Atascadero, App has stood by his choice for chief.
At last Tuesday’s city council meeting, App said he could not confirm or deny that he had hired Estrin to perform an investigation into allegations of sexual assaults by the chief or if a report detailing the results of the investigation had been completed.
However, according to a report in The Tribune, several council members admitted the existence of the investigation, and claimed the report was never finished. Councilman John Hamon was reported to have said that if Solomon had not agreed to step down, the council would have voted to terminate her.
Reynolds of the new group CPRN2012 said unanswered questions abound: Why wasn’t the report completed? Why didn’t council members get to see the report, even if it was unfinished, and why the verbal briefing by App and City Attorney Iris Ping Yang?
“We hope everyone will get involved for change,” she added. “For more information we want people to contact us at CPRN2012@gmx.com or 805-400-5652.”
Daniels said the the group would maintain a “narrow focus.”
“Public safety is high on our priority list. We look to have a well staffed police department with a chief of police whose reputation is not tarnished by serious mistakes. We want to have a city manager who does not reward poor behavior by paying employees off with the citizens’ tax dollars. And we will work to replace those council members who have proven to be highly motivated only in serving themselves.”