The Susanville City Council met in closed session at 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 28 for a conference with legal council regarding existing litigation — a lawsuit between the city and former Susanville police officers Michael Bollinger and Matthew Wood. File photos

City settles case with fired cops Bollinger and Wood

The Susanville City Council met in closed session at 9 a.m. yesterday, Monday, Dec. 28 for a conference with legal council regarding existing litigation — a lawsuit between the city and former Susanville police officers Michael Bollinger and Matthew Wood.

Monday afternoon, Kevin Jones, Susanville’s city administrator and chief of police, said he couldn’t comment on the settlement agreement between city and the officers who were fired for their conduct during the hiring of John King, the city’s former chief of police back in 2017.

Kevin Jones, Susanville’s city administrator and chief of police

“I can tell you that out of closed session, the council reported that they agreed on a settlement, and that’s all I can say,” Jones reported. “There’s a confidentiality clause in there, so all I can say is a settlement has been reached.”

Lassen News was unable to contact Eugene Chittock, the Susanville attorney who represents the officers, for comment on this story.

According to Jones, “It will be in the minutes of next week’s council meeting – the exact verbiage of what was reported out this morning.”

Lassen News has filed a California Public Records Act request for the settlement agreement.

At Monday’s meeting, the council also approved Resolution No 20-55844, “a resolution of the city council of the city of Susanville authorizing the finance manager to increase the risk management fund for $440,000. According to that resolution, the city announced it has reached a settlement with Bollinger and Wood and “the city needs to increase the Risk Management Fun (sic) to produce fiduciary payments to said past employees” in the amount of $440,000.

The vote on either matter was not recorded on the city’s website where this information was posted.

Jones said the resolution was a city budget transfer and not a settlement with the former police officers.

 

Background

More than four years ago, Bollinger filed a formal grievance with the city regarding the process followed in the hiring John King as Susanville’s police chief. The Susanville Police Officers Association, the union that represents local police officers, also expressed concerns.

Bollinger’s Dec. 22, 2016 letter cites three concerns — cited three concerns — that King does not possess and will not be able to obtain a POST (Police Officer’s Standards and Training) Management Certificate within one year of appointment, the minimum standard in the recruitment announcement; that the new chief should have seven years of extensive California law enforcement experience with a minimum of three years at the management or mid-management level, and he does not; and that the new chief be experienced in maintaining municipal operating budgets and he is not.

In January 2017, Jared Hancock, then city administrator, denied Bollinger’s grievance and defended the city’s hiring process.

In March 2017, the city called for an investigation into the concerns surrounding King’s hiring.

“At this point, it’s an investigation,” King told the Lassen County Times. “The investigator’s been told there’s a situation, and he’s been given no direction … I’d rather just let the investigator come in and let the investigation take him where it takes him. I don’t have anything to hide, but I don’t want it to look like I’m pointing him in the wrong direction or in a particular direction. I don’t want to make it look like a witch hunt, and I don’t want to make it look like I have to hide to protect myself.”

While King said he did not want to discuss the exact scope of the investigation, he said he expects the investigator will investigate every part of the city’s hiring process from the beginning to now. He said different factions in town might accept the results of an investigation conducted by an independent party.

The results of that investigation have never been released to the public, and some critics believe the investigation launched by the city did not investigate the new chief, but rather the two officers.

Later that month, Crime Report No, 17-0061 was filed alleging a Susanville police officer’s signature was forged on a document used in hiring the city’s new police chief. The crime report contains two allegations— impersonating an officer and forgery. Allegedly the officer’s signature was photocopied onto a form he did not sign.

Jessica Ryan, then city counsel, rejected the newspaper’s California Public Record Acts request for the crime report.

The officers then went to Lassen Superior Court seeking a writ of mandate, and Candace Beason, a visiting Lassen County Superior Court Judge, issued her opinion on the case and sent it back to the city council to reconsider the matter after reading her comments.

“The court finds that Wood and Bollinger exercised a legal right when they individually filed grievances to the hiring process to fill the position of Susanville Police Chief,” Beason wrote. “There is no evidence in the record to establish a malicious intent in filing the grievances or the police report to document the unauthorized use of Wood’s signature to obtain confidential information. The Susanville City Council’s factual findings demonstrate an imputation of malice to both petitioners that taints the findings of misconduct and the decision to terminate petitioners’ employment.”

“The city was aware that the court was going to remand these cases to the city council for reconsideration, and has been awaiting that action,” said Mike Wilson, then Susanville’s city administrator in August 2019. “These matters will be placed on a closed session agenda for in late August or early September for further review by the councilmembers who originally heard the disciplinary appeals. As this remains a personnel matter, further comment at this time would be inappropriate.”

 

Aftermath

King assumed responsibility as chief of police Jan 23, 2017.

In August 2017, the city of Susanville and Hancock reach “a mutual separation agreement.” Hancock’s last day will be Oct. 11.

On Oct. 17, Lassen County Sheriff Dean Growdon reveals his latest hire to the Lassen County Board of Supervisors — Matt Wood, one of the fired city police officers.

“Deputy Wood has approximately 25 years experience as a law enforcement officer,” Growdon tells the supervisors. “He worked for the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office as a correctional officer and a reserve deputy sheriff before leaving for employment with the Susanville Police Department. While serving at Susanville Police Department, he served as an officer, sergeant and lieutenant. He has a broad range of training and experience that will benefit the sheriff’s office and Lassen County.”

The council announced its decision to “separate” from King Jan. 22, 2018.