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Arbitrator rules that Indio was wrong to have fired an officer who was acquitted of rape

An arbitrator has ruled that the city of Indio and the Indio Police Department made a mistake in firing an officer who was arrested on rape charges but later acquitted.

The decision came down on Wednesday, with the arbitrator adding that the officer should be reinstated and given more than two years of full back pay and benefits. The ruling, obtained by News Channel 3, shows that the arbitrator found that the city failed to prove there was just cause in the dismissal.

Statement from the Indio Police Officers Association Board of Directors

The case has caused turmoil within the Indio Police Department, as earlier this year, Members in the Indio Police Command Unit issuing a position of "No Confidence" in Indio Police Chief Mike Washburn and assistant chiefs over the decision to discharge the officer.

Full Details: Indio Police Command Unit votes no confidence in police chief; Police Chief responds

Former Indio Police officer Sergio Ramirez was arrested on Aug. 31 2016 after being accused of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old woman. DNA results from a sexual assault exam revealed Ramirez's DNA on the woman's skin, but he maintained the encounter was consensual.

In June 2018, a jury found Ramirez not guilty of forcible rape and other charges.

Following Ramirez's acquittal, the Indio Police Department completed an Internal Affairs (IA) investigation, leading to Washburn making the decision to discharge Ramirez. Washburn later testified that "a lesser form of punishment would not have been appropriate. He said that Ramirez "demonstrated a lack of judgment and a lack of impulse control."

The arbitrator said the city's case for dismissing Ramirez was based on allegations that Ramirez provided false or misleading testimony during the Internal Affairs investigation, his driving while feeling the effects of alcohol, and his resetting the Department-issued cell phone.

Indio Police Sgt. Leonardo Perafan, who completed a review of Ramirez's IA investigation in March 2019, testified that Washburn asked him to change the finding of his IA review.

"Chief Washburn indicated that he wasn’t happy with the findings that I came up with. He didn’t believe Mr. Ramirez could perform the duties of a police officer in the City of Indio and then [the Chief] asked me to change my findings," Perafan testified.

Perafan testified that after his conversation with Washburn about his March 7 report, "he changed his findings and recommendations to what the Chief and Assistant Chief were leaning toward."

Washburn testified that he did not direct Perafan to make any specific findings. He added that he found a May 7 report by Perafan to be "inadequate" with a "narrow focus." He told Perafan to incorporate Sgt. Marshall’s earlier IA report, as “a lot of work had been done by Marshall.”

Perafan said that between his initial report and his revised report of June 5, he did not conduct interviews or read anything that would have resulted in his changing his findings. He made the changes to satisfy Washburn.

The arbitrator also said there was controversy over a conversation had with Perafan during the recess on the second day of the hearing. According to court documents, Washburn initially denied having a conversation with Perafan, but when asked about this conversation, the chief was "less than forthcoming"

Ultimately, the arbitrator's numerous rulings included:

  • The City has failed to prove that Ramirez drove under the influence of alcohol as alleged in the Notice of Termination.
  • Chief Washburn’s contrary conclusions were based on speculation, assumptions, and on what appears to be the Chief’s predisposition to believe that Ramirez was dishonest.
  • The City has failed to adduce any credible evidence or any inference from any evidence that would support Chief Washburn’s decision to terminate Ramirez’s employment for resetting his Department-issued cell phone.
  • In signing the Letter or Intent and the Letter of Termination, Chief Washburn relied on information that was factually inaccurate.
  • During his testimony, Chief Washburn acknowledged that the factual basis for some of his conclusion were not born out.
  • The evidence adduced at the hearing also suggests that the Chief’s decision in this case might have been motivated by the embarrassment suffered by the Department that were the product of Ramirez’s engaging in sexual conduct with [the 18-year-old woman]

The Indio Police Department said this will be handled by the city as it is a personnel matter.

News Channel 3 has reached out to the city of Indio for more comment on this ruling.

Statement from the City of Indio

“The City has received the arbitrator’s advisory findings related to a disciplinary appeal hearing that is not yet completed. First and foremost, we are disturbed by the fact that someone released the advisory findings from a closed hearing involving a confidential personnel matter. While I cannot comment on the report because I am prohibited from doing so at this juncture, the decision of the arbitrator is neither final or binding. It is important that it be made clear that under the provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Indio Police Officer’s Association, an arbitrator’s findings in an appeal hearing are advisory to the City Manager and the final decision on an appeal is made by the City Manager.”

Roxanne Diaz, City Attorney

Stay with News Channel 3 for continuing updates.

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