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Deputy Lacked Competence, Three Training Officers Testify

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Ventura County Civil Service Commission began hearing testimony Wednesday on an appeal by a sheriff’s deputy who was fired after his superiors accused him of being incompetent to perform his job.

Paul Duron, 28, was fired April 19 for incompetence and inefficiency after two years of service, according to his termination notice. Duron received his notice after he failed to complete a two-month practical training course in 21 weeks. Before that, Duron had served as deputy sheriff at the Ventura County Jail.

Duron’s attorney, Paul Goyette of Santa Monica, said he will try to prove the reason Duron was fired was that after falling behind in his training, “other trainers scrutinized him so closely, there was no way he was going to make it.”

He said Duron’s case was “very, very unusual.” Carolyn P. Goldborough, the commission’s hearing officer, said she could not recall hearing any cases of an officer being terminated for incompetence in her 15 years as commissioner.

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During the first day of hearings, Assistant County Counsel Leroy Smith called on three of Duron’s former patrol training officers, all of whom testified that Duron had trouble reading maps, identifying radio backup requests from other patrol cars, protecting himself and his colleagues and even writing simple parking tickets.

“When we made traffic stops, Paul was unable to find the violation number on the vehicle code and even after I pointed it out to him, it would take him 35 minutes to write a ticket that normally takes 15 minutes,” said Deputy Sheriff Karl Gruen, who was Duron’s first patrol training officer.

“I have a motto: If I can do it, anybody can do it,” Gruen said of routine police work. “But at the end of his first month, Paul was still behind and needed a lot of work.”

Detective Steve Bullington, who trained Duron during the third month of his apprenticeship, said Duron made only one traffic stop and wrote no tickets in a four-day span. “He didn’t see the most basic traffic violations taking place in front of him,” Bullington said. “He missed blatant violations.”

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One night during patrol, Bullington said, they received a backup request from an officer nearby who had spotted a burglary in progress. “He heard the call and he didn’t react. I told him to head over there and we got there real fast. As it turned out, we were needed.”

Another time, Bullington said, Duron was almost run over by a truck during a traffic stop. “Had I not yelled at him that the truck was coming, I believe it would have ran over him,” Bullington said.

The day’s final witness was Detective Paul Gentry, who oversaw Duron’s second month of training and recommended that the Sheriff’s Department extend his training period because he felt Duron was not ready to patrol on his own.

During the first week under his supervision, Gentry said, Duron wore dirty clothes and unpolished shoes to work and his gun was too dirty to operate efficiently.

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“It was so dirty that it was hard for me to rotate the cylinder of the revolver,” Gentry said. “I felt that if he was forced to use the weapon, he would have been able to get off no more than one or two shots, if any.”

Under cross-examination, Gentry was asked if he ever used racial slurs to describe Duron. Gentry said he didn’t recall making such comments, but he did not deny he made them.

Goyette acknowledged Wednesday that he had “no evidence that racial bias was a big issue in this case.” But, he added, “Paul didn’t make any mistakes that everybody else doesn’t make. These are nickel-and-dime mistakes.” Duron had done an excellent job at the jail, Goyette said.

Goyette alleged that Sgt. Mike Lewis, who supervised Duron’s training, decided to fire Duron long before his training was over but kept the officer on duty to “do paper” or accumulate enough negative reports “until he could get away with” firing Duron. The hearing will continue next Wednesday, when the county is expected to wrap up its case. The appellant plans to call his first witnesses next Thursday.

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