Claremont Police Chief Accused of Easing Sentence

Times Staff Writer

Police Chief Dexter Atkinson, accused of violating a Pomona Municipal Court order that sentenced a convicted drunk driver to 120 days in the Claremont jail, may also have failed to impose a 60-day sentence ordered for the same man by an Orange County judge, according to court records.

In both cases, Claremont resident John D. Barber was sentenced to jail time for drunk driving and was permitted by the court to serve his sentence in the Claremont jail.

But instead of spending 180 days in custody, Barber, a general contractor, has said he performed 180 days of “community service,” working under Atkinson’s supervision on various remodeling projects at the police station and other city buildings. Barber said he worked eight-hour days and was allowed to go home at night and on weekends.

Atkinson, who is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation by the district attorney’s office, could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Henry Fenton, was out of town and unavailable for comment.


Hearing Date Set

Barber appeared Wednesday in Pomona Municipal Court on charges of probation violation resulting from his apparent failure to serve the required 120 days in jail for his third drunk-driving conviction. Commissioner Ronald L. Gray set a Sept. 28 hearing date on the matter.

Barber is also scheduled to appear Tuesday in North Orange County Municipal Court to face similar charges stemming from an unserved 60-day jail term ordered after his second drunk-driving conviction in August, 1985.

According to court records, Barber was initially sentenced to serve five weekends in the Orange County Jail for his second conviction but failed to do so. In September, 1987, a judge increased the sentence to 60 days.


Earlier in 1987, Barber had been sentenced to 120 days in jail for a subsequent drunk-driving conviction by Pomona Municipal Court Judge Robert Gustaveson.

In September of last year, the Orange County court received a letter from Atkinson stating that Barber was serving the sentence imposed by the Pomona court but would be available to begin serving his 60 days in Orange County on Jan. 8.

Barber was required to submit proof of having served his Pomona court sentence to the Orange County court by March 8. He failed to do so, and a warrant was issued for his arrest on April 11, according to court records. A few days after the warrant was issued, the Orange County court received a letter from Atkinson certifying that Barber “has completed his community service with us.”

But Judge John McOwen of the North Orange County Municipal Court ruled that Barber had failed to fulfill the terms of his sentence and refused to cancel the arrest warrant. Barber appeared in court on the warrant Aug. 15 and denied that he had violated probation.


Neither Barber, who owns a construction firm in Claremont, nor his attorney, Clark Shacklett, returned phone calls. But in an interview last month Barber said he served his time working on projects such as constructing walls to partition offices and designing plans for a patio at the police station.

Barber said he believed that once he was remanded to Atkinson’s custody, the police chief had discretion over how he should serve his sentence. However, state law calls for a mandatory 120-day jail sentence for a third drunk-driving conviction within seven years.

Barber said he had met Atkinson only once before last August, when he asked the police chief whether he could work off his sentence for the department. The two had played together on the Police Department’s basketball team 12 years earlier, he said. But in the months since he completed his work program, Barber said, he and Atkinson have socialized and played golf.

On Aug. 16, the Claremont Police Officers Assn., which represents the department’s 34 non-supervisory personnel, passed a resolution saying that Atkinson was “not able to efficiently administrate” the department for reasons that included “poor ethics.” Of the 28 officers present, 24 voted for the statement of no confidence in the chief.


Deputy Dist. Atty. Lawrence Mason said his investigation should be completed next week. City Manager Glenn Southard said he will wait until he receives the report before taking any action.