A former police chief is demanding $10 million from the city of Baldwin Park after he was dismissed only 49 days after being approved to lead the department. He says his release is retaliation against his refusal to perform political favors for one of the city's councilmen.
In a government claim filed July 20, former chief David Salcedo seeks $5 million in economic damages, $3 million in emotional distress damages and $2 million in general damages for alleged wrongful termination after he was "coerced and required to engage in political activity" at the behest of City Councilman Ricardo Pacheco.
The claim alleges that sometime in March, Pacheco asked Salcedo to "look into" dismissing a citation issued to "a constituent's daughter" by a Baldwin Park police officer. "Pacheco informed Salcedo that she was a good kid, that came from a good family, and the citation would tarnish her record," the claim says.
When Salcedo refused to dismiss the citation, Pacheco told him, "But you're the Chief! Why not? Talk to the officer. This will ruin her life, there had to be something else happening for her to do that, she's a good kid," the claim alleges. "Several times thereafter," Pacheco "pressured Salcedo to take action," but Salcedo refused, according to the claim.
Pacheco categorically denies that he ever asked Salcedo to dismiss the alleged citation.
"I never asked him that," Pacheco said. "Mr. Salcedo is a disgruntled employee. He's angry that he was dismissed. He's just making things up."
Will Reed, an attorney at Shegerian and Associates, Inc. — the law firm representing Salcedo — said there is evidence to contradict Pacheco's denial.
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"I can definitely confirm that there were electronic communications between (Pacheco and Salcedo)," wherein Pacheco went so far as to send Salcedo a copy of the citation, Reed said.
The government claim also alleges that around March, Pacheco asked Salcedo to leave in place "no parking" signs that had been posted in violation of a city code in order to prevent "political opponents" from parking a truck with an "anti-Pacheco" banner in front of a local park during the park's grand opening.
"I never gave him any direction like that," Pacheco said. "He's just fabricating issues that aren't true."
Around the same time, Pacheco also allegedly asked Salcedo to tow a legally parked truck that had a large banner depicting Pacheco as a donkey. Because the truck was advertising a business, it was in violation of a municipal code and was therefore parked illegally, Pacheco allegedly informed Salcedo.
Salcedo refused to cite or tow the truck, according to the claim, telling Pacheco that the banner displayed "political speech," not the advertisement of a business. As a compromise, Salcedo allegedly told Pacheco he would monitor the truck to see if it overstayed the amount of time a vehicle could be parked on a public street.
Pacheco disputed the claim's version of events, saying he asked Salcedo to "look into" the truck because it was "violating an ordinance that does not allow a commercial truck to be parked without doing business."
The truck later left the spot, Pacheco said.
Pacheco also allegedly asked Salcedo to "send him an update" on a code enforcement case against Prestige Auto, a local business that also displayed a banner depicting Pacheco as a donkey.
"The only logical inference was that Pacheco wanted to use his influence to take action against a political opponent," the claim says, adding that Pacheco was "none too pleased" when Salcedo told him that code enforcement had given the business' owners a "short extension."
Pacheco did not dispute that he asked Salcedo to check on the code enforcement case, but he did dispute that the "update" was politically motivated, saying that the business was in legitimate violation of city codes.
Salcedo, who was chosen as chief in a 3-2 city council vote on March 1 - receiving a vote in favor by Pacheco - was dismissed April 19, one day before he was to be sworn in, again by a 3-2 vote. During the April 19 vote, Pacheco sided with councilwoman Cruz Baca and Mayor Pro-Tem Susan Rubio in favor of Salcedo's termination. The reason he flipped his decision was because of concerns of "improper" actions by Salcedo, Pacheco said.
Pacheco, Baca and Rubio are all specifically named as defendants in the claim.
An at-will employee during his time with the city, officially Salcedo was, "Dismissed without cause." His contract included a clause that said he could be fired "for any reason, with or without cause, at any time," contingent on a majority vote by the city council.
The terms of the contract, however, do not prevent litigation on the part of Salcedo, said Anthony Nguyen, an attorney at Shegerian and Associates working on the case. "It's common for such agreements to be signed, but they don't supersede California law when it comes to retaliatory behavior or other forms of wrongful termination," Nguyen said. "So it basically means nothing."
After he was dismissed, "ranking officers" "ransacked" Salcedo's office, "took many items, and copied numerous documents," a violation of the Police Officers Bill of Rights, according to the claim. A memorandum of insubordination against a police department captain had also been removed from the office, the claim alleges.
"They were gathering dirt," Reed said, to make claims that Salcedo was running a consulting business out of his office and during work hours. "They went through his personal briefcase. They went through personal and medical documents," Reed said.
Pacheco said there is "an ongoing investigation" into whether or not anyone ransacked Salcedo's office. City attorney Robert Tafoya said it was "absolutely untrue" that officers "ransacked" the office.
While Tafoya did not have a first-hand account of what happened in the office, he said it was his understanding that if officers had entered, it would have been to "gather" Salcedo's things. Furthermore - even if anyone had gone into the office - because Salcedo has been fired by the city at the time, he would not have been covered by the Police Officers Bill of Rights, Tafoya said.
Since his termination, Salcedo has been back at Baldwin Park. Tafoya has responded by sending a cease and desist letter.
The letter claims that Salcedo has contacted city police officers "requesting that they illegally provide him City documents." At a "concerts in the park" event, Salcedo improperly entered an area reserved for city employees and "misrepresented himself to citizens," the letter says.
"If Mr. Salcedo was treated so poorly by the City of Baldwin Park, its City Council and the Baldwin Park Police Department, as is claimed in this new amended government claim, why does he keep coming back to Baldwin Park and interacting with the very people and the very department he now claims caused him 10 million dollars ($10,000,000) in damages?" the letter asks. Salcedo had initially filed another claim with a different law firm, as reported by the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
Reed said Salcedo was at the "concerts in the park" event, but that he crossed no barriers, physical or otherwise. Furthermore, Salcedo was not doing anything inappropriate by talking to officers, Reed said.
The reason Salcedo has been back at the city, Reed said, is because he "still has a lot of followers there." "There's nothing wrong with him seeing the people that support him," Reed said.
Calling the amended claim a "money grab," Tafoya said Salcedo's allegations are baseless. "I continue to believe that Mr. Salcedo is apparently making up these claims as he goes along," Tafoya said.
Pacheco was not as diplomatic. "He is a liar and he is not telling the truth," he said of Salcedo. "I think it's important for the people of Baldwin Park to know that he wasn't fired just because," Pacheco said.
"Pacheco is the guy who has it out for him and the one individual who would probably speak the worst about him," Reed said. "Mr. Salcedo is not a liar. There's evidence to back up all his claims."
The Baldwin Park city council voted Wednesday to reject Salcedo's claim. The next likely step is a formal lawsuit against the city.