The San Jose Police Department will face another investigation after it was reported that Chief Larry Esquivel accepted free tickets from the San Francisco 49ers in violation of city rules.
Esquivel, Assistant Chief Eddie Garcia and Deputy Chief Jeff Marozick all received tickets to a preseason football game in August last year as part of "Law Enforcement Appreciation Day." Garcia and Marozick's attendance at the game, which violated city policy regarding police accepting gifts, had already been reported. NBC Bay Area broke the story that Esquivel also violated city rules.
It appears none of the three officers reimbursed the cost of the tickets until after Garcia and Marozick's attendance was reported.
San Jose policy prohibits city officials from accepting gifts worth more than $50 and specifically bans tickets to sport events. SJPD policy bans it as well, noting that officers shouldn't be allowed to receive gifts not offered to the general public. Police spokesman Sgt. Albert Morales downplayed the violation when speaking to NBC.
"The duty manual says that in our official capacity, our position, we will not 'seek' tickets," Morales told the news station. "Now, again, this law enforcement appreciation was an invitation by the 49ers."
Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell disagrees, insisting that the duty manual is pretty straightforward on that point. She also says the fact the indiscretion was committed by San Jose's top cop could complicate an investigation of the matter.
Normally, Cordell forwards citizen complaints to SJPD's Internal Affairs unit, as she did when someone called about Esquivel accepting free tickets. The police then conduct an internal review and Cordell audits that work. In this case, however, that's not happening, because it would require officers to investigate their boss, Esquivel. So, the city manager's office has taken over.
What that means is the review won't get audited by Cordell, who only works with cases coming out of Internal Affairs.
"Does this pull it out from civilian oversight?" asked Cordell. "These are unchartered waters, as far as I can tell."
Cordell worries that exempting SJPD's top brass from her oversight could hurt public trust in the department, which has already been shaken by reports of cozy relationships between officers and secondary employers, such as the 49ers.
"We are set up to build trust in the process," Cordell said. "What message does this send to the rank and file?"
City spokesman Dave Vossbrink said the city manager dealt with the issue, so it's case closed.
"It was never an IA investigation," he said. "The facts were simple, and as the [city manager's] memo explains, the city will review policies and make any changes that will help prevent future mistakes. I’m not aware of any IPA role in this matter."
In a memo sent out Thursday evening, City Manager Ed Shikada said he would update the language of the gift ordinance to make it "clear, unambiguous and practical, and to confirm and clarify the prohibition of acceptance of tickets to professional sporting events."
Although, existing language seems to state that pretty clearly.
In her year-end reports, Cordell has often recommended that the city come up with a procedure to handle reviews of of high-ranking officers. Otherwise, police have to investigate their superiors, creating an inherent conflict.
"There's an issue building here that needs to be addressed," Cordell said. "If I'm told to butt out, then I'm not going to be quiet about this. I think it's wrong."
Police were already conducting an internal investigation into the relationship between officers and the 49ers after concerns were raised about conflicts of interest from allowing officers to moonlight security details for the club.
Complicating that probe is the fact that one of the officers in charge of the Internal Affairs unit allegedly falsified evidence that led to a man's arrest. On Tuesday, the City Council will consider shelling out $190,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by 22-year-old Ammir Umar, who claims that Sgt. Craig Storlie made false statements that landed him behind bars.
In a motion rejecting Storlie's call for summary judgment, U.S. Northern District Judge Howard R. Lloyd slammed the officer for lying under oath, calling statements he made incriminating Umar "patently incorrect" and "materially misleading."
Also, Storlie is reportedly overseeing the investigation of officer Geoffrey Graves, who was accused of raping a woman while on duty.