Interim chief announces investigation into allegations about Anthony Wagner
Anthony Wagner, the public information officer for the Santa Barbara Police Department, has been placed on administrative leave following allegations about his conduct and his involvement with awarding cannabis dispensary licenses.
Interim Chief Bernard Melekian on Monday announced his decision to have an outside firm investigate Mr. Wagner.
Chief Melekian also said he was placing Mr. Wagner, who served briefly as a spokesman for Mayor Cathy Murillo, on administrative leave.
The chief’s decisions followed allegations published March 12 in Los Angeles Magazine. Mr. Wagner, who is not a sworn police officer, was accused of flashing a badge and bullying a business owner, and he became the point person who awarded cannabis dispensary licenses for the city of Santa Barbara.
“Most of these allegations have been previously investigated, either within the police department or by the city attorney’s office,” Chief Melekian said in a statement Monday. “In addition, the city prevailed in a federal lawsuit by one of the unsuccessful cannabis permit applicants, which was dismissed in December 2019.
“Nevertheless, the Los Angeles Magazine article makes new allegations concerning the nature of Mr. Wagner’s role in the process of awarding cannabis licenses that support further investigation,” the chief said. “To that end, the department will be retaining an outside firm to conduct that investigation for the police department.
“I have placed Mr. Wagner on administrative leave pending the outcome of this inquiry,” Chief Melekian said. “I should note that Mr. Wagner has been fully cooperative with this inquiry and welcomes the involvement of an outside reviewer.”
Mr. Wagner has been with the Santa Barbara Police Department since 2017, when he arrived here from San Diego. He joined the department at the request of Police Chief Lori Luhnow, who is also from San Diego. Chief Luhnow recently retired from the Santa Barbara Police Department.
In a statement to the News-Press, Mr. Wagner said, “I am in full support (of) and welcome a thorough third-party investigation to clear my good name of these unsubstantiated accusations. I am confident in the process, without reservation.”
Mr. Wagner also said the Los Angeles Magazine story contains multiple errors and “misstates and misrepresents my
background, significant events in my life, and past professional
interactions and personal relationships.”