Barber doubles down on claims against PIO despite refutation
A local barbershop owner is set to meet with interim Santa Barbara Police Chief Bernard Melekian next week in connection with a recent Los Angeles Magazine article.
In the aftermath of the article published March 12, Anthony Wagner, the public information officer for the Santa Barbara Police Department, has been placed on leave.
In addition, an outside independent investigation will be conducted into his relationship with Golden State Greens, a demand of retraction was issued by the PIO in question, and Classic Barber Shop owner George Trujillo is meeting with Chief Melekian on Monday.
The magazine article shares the complaints of Mr. Trujillo, who alleges that back in 2017, Mr. Wagner was wearing a police ID and bullied a 7-Eleven store clerk and the barber himself, and received no punishment for doing so. The piece — which was written by former Nickelodeon television writer and producer Mitchell Kriegman — also alleges that Mr. Wagner awarded cannabis dispensary licenses for the city.
Mr. Kriegman, a Santa Barbara resident, declined to comment on his reporting.
Mr. Wagner sent a “demand for retraction of false and defamatory material” to Los Angeles Magazine, and he refuted specific lines quoted in the article.
The News-Press reached out to Los Angeles Magazine for comment on the demand for retraction, but received no response by deadline.
Chief Melekian confirmed to the News-Press on Friday that, regarding the incident that occurred at 7-Eleven in 2017, Mr. Wagner was in civilian clothes and not wearing any sort of badge.
Rather, he was wearing his department ID card on his lanyard, Chief Melekian said. “To the best of my knowledge, there is no policy against it (wearing an ID outside of work), nor is there any allegations that he flashed it.”
The interim chief also confirmed that only the profanity portion of the complaint was sustained. In addition, video evidence showed that Mr. Wagner did not hover over Mr. Trujillo as he alleged, according to the chief.
“It shows that he never left the area of the register and then he walked out of the store,” Chief Melekian said.
The interim chief added that video evidence does indicate that somebody saw Mr. Wagner’s ID and said, “He’s a cop,” but noted that Mr. Wagner did not appear to have said he was a cop, as he has no training or history as a sworn police officer.
Chief Melekian said the civilian PIO admitted to using profanity with one of the store clerks, but added that the department was unable to find the store clerk he was originally talking to. He said there was discipline for the use of profanity, but the specifics of that are protected, and any allegations that he wasn’t disciplined are “not true.”
In the past, Mr. Wagner has said that “he regretted saying it and it was beneath him.”
“It does appear the department took this very seriously and was very forthcoming about what he did,” Chief Melekian said. “It certainly wasn’t appropriate, regardless of what he did or didn’t do. It wasn’t appropriate — the department dealt with it.”
The owner, who has run the barber shop on Milpas Street for 25 years, shared his story with the News-Press on Friday, standing behind his words quoted in the magazine article.
He alleged that in 2017, at a 7-Eleven, Mr. Wagner started “interrogating” one of the cashiers for selling cigarettes.
Mr. Trujillo, who was in line buying a coffee, told Mr. Wagner to hurry up to avoid holding up the line.
Mr. Trujillo said Mr. Wagner turned to him and said, “You shut the (expletive) up” and proceeded to hover over the barber, three to four inches from his face.
Mr. Trujillo then said he noticed Mr. Wagner had a police department ID badge around his neck, so the barber started recording video as Mr. Wagner exited the building.
The PIO in question demanded retractions from Los Angeles Magazine and other publications who quoted it, saying the story “violates basic journalistic ethical standards and due diligence.”
However, Mr. Trujillo doubled down on his story, saying “every word is true” and he’s “got nothing to hide.”
“The badge said Santa Barbara Police Department. For any regular person that looks at it in the streets — that’s a cop,” Mr. Trujillo said. “I’ve been here for 25 years in my business, and I know all the local cops. He didn’t look familiar, so that’s why I started recording.”
The barber referred to other tales of being mistreated by the police department as well.
“I have videos. I have proof, which they keep throwing under the table,” Mr. Trujillo told the News-Press, referring to local officials such as City Administrator Paul Casey and Mayor Cathy Murillo. “Why don’t they get rid of him (Mr. Wagner)? If he’s allowed to tell people to ‘(expletive) off,’ then when I see a city official or cop, I can tell them to ‘(expletive) off’ if that’s how they conduct themselves.
“The city can’t hide anymore. It’s going to come out … There must be a paper trail, and that’s why he’s not gone,” Mr. Trujillo said. “I think it’s really funny that these people think they can tell you something and you’re not smart enough to keep the evidence and the paper trail … They’re just trying to cover their butts.”
Now, on Monday morning, Mr. Trujillo said he’s meeting with Chief Melekian, who also confirmed this meeting. The interim chief told the News-Press, “I reached out to him, and he is somebody that is deemed important to get to know.”