The former head of the California Highway Patrol and other top agency officials retaliated against a chief who had sought the top job and reported unfair practices in the agency, a state panel has concluded.
The California State Personnel Board found that former CHP Commissioner Dwight "Spike" Helmick and four other command officers improperly acted against former CHP Chief Hubert Acevedo. In a decision earlier this month, the panel ordered Helmick, the agency and the others to pay $40,000 in damages to Acevedo for emotional distress.
"I have steadfastly maintained that I was the target of illegal retaliation, and this is vindication," Acevedo said Tuesday.
The former second-in-command of CHP operations in the Los Angeles area, Acevedo left the CHP last year after 22 years to become chief of police in Austin, Texas. Helmick was replaced as the head of the CHP in 2004 by Michael Brown.
The personnel board found that Helmick "orchestrated" retaliation against Acevedo in the weeks after Acevedo applied for and lobbied for Helmick's job in 2004.
Acevedo also had complained to his supervisors in 2003 and 2004 that it was improper for the CHP to allow officers to work past their 60th birthdays to gain enhanced benefits.
In a 71-page report, based on a hearing by Administrative Law Judge Gregory Brown, the board found that Helmick and other command officers acted "to cause maximum stress, embarrassment and damage to complainant's reputation."
The report, which was released earlier this month, noted as "particularly egregious: disturbing profane threats to 'remove' him, smearing his reputation . . ., placing dubious corrective memoranda in his official personnel file and interfering with his chances to promote."
Chief Mike Nivens, the only officer involved still with the CHP, was ordered by the board to serve a 30-day suspension. He did not return a phone call seeking comment.
CHP spokesman Tom Marshall said neither he nor Brown, the current chief, could comment on details of the report because of ongoing civil litigation, but he said the findings will be reviewed by the department and the state attorney general.
"During the last three years, the CHP has strived for responsible leadership and management within the CHP," Marshall said. "The CHP does not condone and will not tolerate retaliation of any kind by anyone within the organization."
The board decision was welcomed by state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), who heads the Senate Public Safety Committee and testified at the hearings on retaliation.
"This was done as a vindictive way to keep Chief Acevedo out of the realm of possibilities of being considered by the governor for the commissioner job," Romero said. "This was a political hatchet job."
In March 2004, Acevedo applied to replace Helmick, then CHP commissioner, after the election of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A few weeks later, the governor and the CHP received two anonymous letters purported to be from several women in the uniform ranks alleging that Acevedo had engaged in sexual harassment.
Command officers provided a written warning to Acevedo regarding the anonymous sexual harassment allegations, even though the CHP's head of internal affairs at the time refused to participate in investigating the charges, which dated to 1989, because he believed that the statute of limitations had expired and they were meant as retaliation against Acevedo, the personnel board found.
"While it cannot be proven that Helmick or the other commissioners helped to generate these letters, they reek of retribution," the board's report said.