Monterey County, Confidential - Seaside
Bullfight in Cop Shop: City administrator, police chief lock horns.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Compared to the scandals erupting in cities to the south, Seaside seemed to be keeping it together this summer, though sweating under the economic stress of stalled developments and declining revenue.
But like a struggling welterweight late in the fight, they got into the messy action when, 10 days into August, City Administrator Ray Corpuz abruptly placed Seaside Police Chief Steve Cercone on administrative leave, dropping an interim chief into his position within 24 hours.
A muffled wail sounded from the police department.
In a flurry of comments posted to online news stories about the ouster, readers – some of whose knowledge of internal drama indicate they’re department employees – started making connections. Anonymous tipsters began contacting the Weekly.
Shortly before he was excused, Cercone had placed three officers on leave: Deputy Chief Louis Lumpkin, Officer Barry Pasquarosa and Cmdr. Mike Kimball. The suspensions are rumored to be related to sexual harassment allegations by Code Enforcer Vanessa Alcaraz against Pasquarosa.
A former department employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said Corpuz is punishing Cercone for involving the District Attorney in the Alcaraz case, rather than treating it as a personnel matter.
Bolanos of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, who is handling the Cercone matter for Seaside (as well as the Carmel scandal; see sidebar, p. 24), says the Alcaraz complaint – or that fact that Cercone may have handed it over to the D.A. – is unrelated to Cercone’s leave. “The reason Mr. Cercone was placed on leave was to allow for the department to respond to and address matters under investigation internally,” he says. “It had nothing to do with the D.A.”
The details are still sketchy, but the DA’s office has confirmed that Cercone made a criminal inquiry within roughly 24 hours of being put on leave.
The leaves “shouldn’t be viewed as punitive,” Corpuz said. “All these leaves have to do with making sure people’s rights are protected, the city is protected.”
Cercone says he’s been ordered not to comment.
Stephen Willis is interim chief in Cercone’s absence – though without proper vetting, he may not be qualified to wear the chief’s badge, according to state peace officer standards (see story, p. 13).
Corpuz says he doesn’t know when Cercone will return.
Cercone, meanwhile, is pushing back. He submitted a grievance to the City Council and city attorney Aug. 19 alleging, among other things, that “Corpuz and his staff obstructed a criminal case investigation by refusing to turn over complete evidence on a crime that happened in Seaside to the chief or his detectives.” Cercone’s suspension was retaliation for telling the district attorney about Corpuz’s meddling, the complaint alleges.
Corpuz says he hasn’t seen the grievance. He refers related questions to Bolanos, who could not be reached for a followup by press time. Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hulsey says her office is not currently investigating Corpuz.
Mayor Ralph Rubio says he’s under legal advice not the discuss the matter. And City Councilman Dennis Alexander, a former SSPD officer now on Sand City’s force, calls for calm.
“Wait until this all shakes out legally,” he says. “All I can really say is the SSPD knows they’re facing some difficulty here, but the officers on the street just want to move forward and do their job. The level of safety has not been compromised.”
The level of gossip, meanwhile, is whirring toward full juice. [KA]