SAN FRANCISCO -- The Monterey County district attorney is expected Tuesday afternoon to reveal the nature of charges against five members of the King City Police Department, the former longtime police chief and one civilian.
Earlier reports noted that there had been six arrests, but Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Terry Spitz has confirmed an additional arrest.
Those taken into custody are: longtime Chief Nick Baldiviez, who retired in September; acting Chief Bruce Miller, Sgt. Bobby Carrillo, Sgt. Mark Allen Baker, officers Mario Mottu Sr. and Jaime Andrade, and Brian Miller, a civilian, of Miller's Towing.
Citing unnamed sources close to the investigation, the Monterey Herald is reporting that the case involves the sale of vehicles stolen when owners, largely undocumented immigrants, were unable to pay fines and towing fees.
King City Councilman Carlos Victoria said he would reserve his comments until he received more detail on the nature of the charges.
“I am so shocked that this is happening in our town,” said Victoria, “but I will leave it in the hands of the district attorney. What I can say is if there is any wrongdoing I can tell you that there are going to be consequences.”
KSBW said it obtained an early copy of the district attorney’s news release, which confirmed that the investigation relates to impounded vehicles.
"Most disturbing was that evidence was uncovered of a scheme whereby people participating in the scheme would receive free vehicles that had been impounded by officers," the release said, according to KSBW. "Victims were economically disadvantaged persons of Hispanic descent who were targeted by having their vehicles impounded, towed, and stored by Millers Tow."
Victoria said that when he began his term four years ago he met with Baldiviez and pressed him to change a department practice of impounding the vehicles of undocumented immigrants for 30 days -- a practice that resulted in high fees almost no one could pay.
Victoria said he believed the length of the impounds had since been shortened.
King City is a small agricultural town of fewer than 13,000 residents and is more than 80% Latino. It is a tight community where “everyone knows everybody,” said City Manager Michael Powers.
The department has 17 sworn police officers, an evidence clerk and a senior records technician. But Powers and Mayor Robert Cullen said the relationship with the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department -- which has a substation in town -- is strong and both reassured residents that staffing would not be an issue.
The Sheriff’s Department has already offered to lend King City some deputies, Powers said. He placed a sergeant in temporary command on Tuesday and the two were working out a schedule.
Police departments in Soledad, Gonzales and Greenfield, which conduct gang suppression activities with King City, have also offered help, he said.
Powers said the district attorney's office had been investigating "for several months.... It was a criminal investigation so they weren’t exactly forthcoming in sharing information for obvious reasons, because you never know who’s involved. Finally today, they obtained and executed arrest warrants.”
Powers said of the investigation that “you always hope they come up with nothing, but when handed lemons, the lemonade here is the investigation has resulted in arrests and this is the first step toward making some changes in the Police Department.”
Cullen, an insurance agent who like other council members works a day job, said he was stunned, both as a public official and a resident.
“I’m the mayor but I’m also a citizen. I’ve got my family here, I’ve got my friends here,” said Cullen, who has been serving on the board of the Chamber of Commerce with Carrillo.
“I know all of them,” he said of the men arrested.
A search warrant was served at Carrillo's home in January, according to local news reports.
Baldiviez retired in September after taking a long leave, and news reports indicate he had a rocky relationship with the police union.
However, Cullen said that morale had improved since the interim chief, a former captain, took over.
“By all regards the job that he’s done at the Police Department seemed to be very good,” he said. “He undertook a lot of team building.... The feedback I’ve gotten has been positive. That’s what makes this so surprising and shocking to me.”
[For the Record, 2:37 p.m. PST Feb. 25: In an earlier version of this post, King City Councilman Carlos Victoria was incorrectly referred to in some references as Salinas.]