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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Whistle-blower Claims Police Chief Abused Power

Whistle-blower claims Oakland police chief abused power promoting union head
The Oakland Tribune by Thomas Peele - January 14, 2008

OAKLAND — Police Chief Wayne Tucker stopped a rank-and-file vote of no confidence in his administration by unilaterally promoting the police union president to boost his pension eligibility, according to whistle-blower and internal affairs complaints sent to city officials last week. The complaints, filed by Lt. Lawrence Green, a patrol commander and SWAT team leader, accuse Tucker of misappropriating public funds by making Oakland Police Officers Association President Robert Valladon an "acting sergeant" last year — a move that increased Valladon's pay and the amount of monthly pension payments he can receive upon retirement. Green's complaint, which also was sent to the police Internal Affairs Division, names Assistant Chief Howard Jordan and Deputy Chief David Kozicki in addition to Tucker.

Tucker, Jordan and Kozicki did not respond to messages Monday. Department spokesman Officer Jeff Thomason said it was against department policy to discuss personnel complaints and misconduct allegations. Tucker "improperly assigned and paid Valladon as an 'acting sergeant' for a position that does not exist as a quid pro quo arrangement to delay or prevent a vote of no-confidence against the chief within the (union)," Green wrote in the complaint, a copy of which was obtained by Bay Area News Group-East Bay. The complaint does not provide specifics about when such a vote may have been discussed. Tucker has been chief for nearly five years and has instituted several unpopular policies, including 12-hour patrol shifts. Green is a former union official. The complaint also alleges that when Green questioned another union official about why Valladon was given the acting sergeant position, Tucker plotted to transfer Green to a lesser-paying job as retaliation. Tucker and Jordan "are threatening to move me from patrol to (detectives) as retaliation for my public airing of my dissatisfaction with the (union) and the improper quid pro quo arrangement," Green wrote. Valladon told Green's brother, an Oakland sergeant, about the transfer last month before Green or his immediate supervisors knew of it, according to the complaint. "It appears Valladon is a direct line to the chief and may be, in part, responsible for my possible transfer," Green wrote in the complaint.

Green, a veteran of more than 20 years, filed the document in late December with auditor Courtney Ruby under a new whistle-blower program that followed the firing of former City Administrator Deborah Edgerly last year. Last week he made the same allegations to internal affairs and sent copies to Mayor Ron Dellums, City Attorney John Russo, council members and others.

He refused to discuss the complaint Monday but did issue a short statement. The police chief and the union president "represent different interests but appear to be in bed together during the darkest times in the history of (the department)," he wrote in an e-mail. That "may explain why the (union) president has been silent while the department has been placing officers on administrative leave and firing others for what amounts to mistakes, not misconduct," a reference to a scandal in which at least one officer has been fired and others suspended for making false statements in search warrant affidavits. Police documents show Valladon, who has worked for more than 29 years in the rank of officer, now has the title of acting sergeant and is assigned to a patrol desk. He was named an acting sergeant in February. According to a statement posted on the union Web site, his last day as union president is Wednesday, ending 18 years in the position. It is unclear when he is retiring. The maximum hourly pay rate for officers is $47.16, according to city records. The pay rate for sergeants is $54.41. The yearly difference, under a complicated formula the city uses because police work 12-hour shifts, is roughly $15,800. Pension payments under the Public Employees Retirement System are calculated on the highest amount of base salary paid in a 12-month period. In 2006, the last year for which salary data is available, Valladon received $87,172.81 in base pay. A year of pay at the sergeant's rate would be roughly $113,000, effectively allowing Valladon to retire as if he had worked at the higher position earned through civil service testing and promotion, and draw a pension as high as 90 percent of his highest pay year. Green is not the first to raise concerns about Valladon's promotion. In an undated letter to Jordan that was attached to Green's complaint, retired Oakland Lt. Patrick Garrahan wrote that several "red flags" existed with the promotion, including the fact that others were not eligible to seek the job, which is based at the Eastmont Substation. "Many officers, supervisors, and commanders "believe" there is some form of quid pro quo agreement between the executive management team and the (union) president," Garrahan wrote. "I believe this is a form of corruption." Garrahan also wrote that he had a telephone conversation with Jordan about the Valladon promotion in which Jordan told him that Tucker "kind of signed off on" the promotion and that "it doesn't pass the smell test." In the letter, Garrahan also wrote that Jordan told him the department "takes care" of officers as they near retirement, an apparent reference to pay increases that boost pension benefits. Staff writer Kelly Rayburn and independent journalist Bob Butler contributed to this report.

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