Questions surround San Bernardino police sergeant's leave

10:00 PM PST on Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The Press-Enterprise

In the 10 weeks since San Bernardino authorities placed a police sergeant on paid administrative leave, he's attended leadership classes at city expense and entered city facilities, records show.

Police union President Rich Lawhead said he's also received reports of Sgt. Bradley Lawrence using computers on weekends at a secure narcotics squad facility that is separate from the Police Department headquarters.

While no city policy forbids such access, it's unusual, Lawhead and two City Council members said.

They noted that officials ordinarily assign administrative leave to employees facing misconduct allegations serious enough to warrant firing.

"For me, if somebody is on admin leave, they have no business being around the city, period, because you don't know what they're going to get into," City Councilwoman Esther Estrada said.

City Councilwoman Wendy McCammack also questioned the accommodations.

Lawrence has been on administrative leave since early August, when other officers accused him of supervising an improper narcotics search. Six weeks before that search, another sergeant had accused Lawrence of arresting drug suspects without probable cause and seeking to hold them "on ice" at the city jail so they couldn't alert other suspects to a pending police raid.

Lawrence refused to comment Wednesday.

City records show that Lawrence attended three four-day sessions of the Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute, a state-run course for police field supervisors, in September, October and earlier this month.

Reimbursement requests listed costs, including lodging at a Costa Mesa hotel and training at $427 per session. Lawrence also drove a Police Department car to attend the sessions, records show.

Deputy City Attorney Stephanie Easland said officials decided to keep Lawrence in the program because he was already enrolled before he was placed on administrative leave and withdrawing him would not have exempted the city from course charges.

The leadership course has no bearing on any investigation into Lawrence's conduct, Easland said.

Retired San Bernardino police Capt. Jeff Breiten said allowing Lawrence to attend the class might expose the city to liability if he were injured during a class session.

But Ron Cottingham, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, said it's not unusual for a department to allow an officer on administrative leave to complete department-ordered training.

A computer-generated record of Lawrence's entry into police facilities during his administrative leave shows two visits in August, one in September and one in October.

Lt. Scott Paterson, a Police Department spokesman, said the tabulation shows all visits, and none of them occurred on a weekend, contrary to the reports Lawhead said he received that Lawrence had used computers on weekends. But Lawhead said it's possible to enter the narcotics facility without registering on the system.

Paterson said Lawrence has computer access "as appropriate." He declined to elaborate.

However many times Lawrence visited police facilities, the permission contrasts with the orders given to other officers denied access to department buildings, Lawhead said.

At the request of union members concerned at the apparent disparity, Lawhead asked Police Chief Mike Billdt on Monday to explain his leave policy, and Billdt called it consistent with prior department policy.

Billdt could not be reached for comment, but Paterson also called the policy consistent.

Reach Chris Richard at 909-806-3076 or crichard@PE.com

No comments: