Embattled Police Chief Arb Campbell--accused of rape and sexual discrimination in a lawsuit brought by 10 current and former female employees of his department--was fired Tuesday.
Saying Campbell's departure serves the long-term interests of the Police Department, City Manager Kevin J. Murphy announced that he had relieved the chief of command in an attempt to quell one of the worst controversies in the city's history.
"This is just a small step in a very long footrace," Murphy said, ushering in what he hopes will be an era of reform for the 250-member department. "The focus is on doing the right thing. I believe that this was best for our community."
Murphy declined to discuss specific reasons for Campbell's firing except to say that the grounds were "many" and "varied."
Neither Campbell, who is reportedly suffering from severe depression and high blood pressure, nor his attorney, Bruce Praet, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But the chief's wife, Newport Beach Police Officer Mary Lavonne Campbell, said, "This is Christmas. As you know, my husband is very ill. This did not help any."
In previous statements, Campbell, 53, has said he is the victim of spurious charges from disgruntled employees who either have psychological problems or want to cover up their own professional incompetence.
He also has filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court, alleging that the city manager improperly put him on paid administrative leave on Oct. 16 and that he has been the target of an ongoing "witch hunt" at the department.
Margaret McInnis, a communications supervisor and one of the women suing Campbell and Capt. Anthony J. Villa, said Tuesday, "It's a very major step. I knew we were telling the truth, and the truth--I hate to sound trite--can win out. The facts stand for themselves. Somebody finally believes us."
Campbell's firing comes four days after the city moved to fire Villa, 47, the chief's friend and professional confidant, based on evidence of sexual harassment purportedly uncovered by a city investigation.
Mayor Clarence J. Turner said on Friday that city officials decided to send Villa a notice of termination, the first step in the formal process to fire an officer. He will have an opportunity to respond before a final decision is made.
Murphy said Tuesday that the firing of both men is just the beginning of reforms for the department, which has more than 70 female employees. When the city's internal investigation concludes, Murphy said, he plans to institute a variety of training programs regarding sexual harassment.
In his preliminary report to the City Council on Dec. 14, attorney Harold A. Bridges, who is handling the inquiry, said there was evidence of sexual harassment on the police force and that a hostile work environment existed.
Bridges recommended that the city adopt training programs, improve its process for investigating sexual harassment claims and intensify efforts to bring more women into all ranks.
City Council members said they thought that firing Campbell was the only way to restore credibility to the department after months of bad publicity over the allegations.
The Times reported that Campbell had diverted to his own personal use a 1985 Mercedes-Benz sedan that was seized in a drug raid and turned over to his department for law enforcement purposes. It was also detailed how Campbell had granted special favors and police service to his friend, Willard S. Voit, a wealthy Newport Beach man who sold Campbell one of his homes on the Balboa Peninsula.
The controversy that eventually led to the move to fire both men surfaced on Sept. 24 when four former and current female employees sued the department alleging sexual harassment and discrimination.
All maintained that they were discriminated against and either fired or disciplined after complaining of sexual harassment. Most of the harassment charges centered on Villa; Campbell was accused of knowing about the alleged abuse and doing nothing.
Shortly after the suit was filed, Campbell said he would retire after 26 years on the force. But he withdrew his retirement in October when dispatcher Peri Ropke joined the case and accused him and Villa of raping her at a department party more than 11 years ago.
Hours after Ropke made the shocking allegation at a news conference, the city manager placed Campbell and Villa on paid administrative leaves.