The personnel file of Deputy Chief Frank Mannix, alleged to have retaliated against Santa Barbara Police Department whistleblower employees, has been ordered handed over to the judge overseeing the lawsuit of a dispatcher who said she was fired after complaining about staffing and training of people who handle 9-1-1 calls.
Santa Barbara County Superior Court records indicate at least two people, an officer still with the department and a former sergeant, swear by way of written declarations that the deputy chief “engaged in acts of retaliation against other whistleblowers within the department who made complaints regarding health and safety issues.”
On Friday, Judge Colleen Sterne ordered the city hand over within 10 days Deputy Chief Mannix’s complete personnel file so she can determine “whether he has ever been disciplined or avoided discipline, for retaliating against whistleblower employees.”
Plaintiff Bridget Bryden filed suit against the city claiming her 24 years as a dispatcher came to an end when she was wrongfully terminated in 2016 after complaining to superiors that the dispatch unit was critically understaffed and that trainees were not qualified or able to competently learn and do the job.
This, she believes, created a health and safety risk for peace officers and the public.
In a tentative ruling that is the subject of a hearing on Monday, Judge Sterne also ordered the city to turn over documents in the personnel file of Ms. Bryden’s immediate supervisor, Lt. Mary Linda Arroyo, “reflecting the reasons for her transfer out of the dispatch unit.”
The judge also wants to see the complete investigative file from Ms. Bryden’s personnel records, “including all interviews of witnesses and written findings” relating to an internal affairs investigation of Ms. Bryden that was launched less than a week after she made her complaints.
None of the information provided to the judge will be made public at this time.
Leading up to her separation from the department, Ms. Bryden had complained that there must be something wrong with the testing system used to evaluate dispatcher trainees. She later learned that the passing score for prospective dispatchers was actually reduced, perhaps in violation of the law, and that Mr. Mannix allegedly approved the change.
Taking her claims to higher-ups set in motion the alleged retaliation by Mr. Mannix, according to court records, and Ms. Bryden was constructively discharged.
The tentative ruling details for the first time the internal investigation against Ms. Bryden. On March 15, 2016, she was called into Lt. Arroyo’s office and told she was the subject of an investigation “for laughing at a racially insensitive joke made by a subordinate in the presence of dispatcher trainees.”
This, she was told, was in violation of city policy.
When the lieutenant refused to provide a copy of the investigative report, Ms. Bryden “became upset and abruptly left the room” to seek out her union representative, Sgt. Eric Beecher, at the time president of the Santa Barbara Police Officers Association.
City officials are of the opinion that Ms. Bryden’s leaving the room amounted to her quitting – a claim Sgt. Beecher, in his capacity as union rep, at least twice referred to what the News-Press will paraphrase as BS.
Ms. Bryden, who is represented in the lawsuit by attorney by Jonathan D. Miller, claims the city, and specifically Frank Mannix, “has a pattern and practice of abusing the internal affairs process to threaten and intimidate employees.”
When she tried to return to work, Ms. Bryden claims, she was not allowed to resume her duties, city officials claiming she had quit.
Over objections from the city, the judge granted nearly all of Ms. Bryden’s requests.
Judge Sterne writes that Ms. Bryden argues that the documents requested “are necessary to establish that city, and in particular, Mannix, have a history of abusing the internal affairs process, but what is relevant here is whether city abused the process when investigating plaintiff.”
“This can easily be determined by comparing city’s written procedures with the actions taken against plaintiff,” the judge concludes.