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I-Team takes a deeper look at the turmoil at the Indio Police Department

There are new questions about the status of an investigation into the Indio Police Department and its Chief of Police, Mike Washburn.

General Counsel for the Indio Police Command Unit(PCU), Wendell Phillips, says the city has fired the investigator looking into the various allegations made against the chief.

"Well, you know, you have to assume logically that the investigator didn't tell the city, your chief and your assistant chief told the truth, because if he that was his conclusion, the city would have said write that report and they would have trumpeted it all over and used it as an excuse not to fire the chief," Phillips says. 

Indio City Manager, Bryan Montgomery declined an interview but issued a statement reading in part, "There is an ongoing investigation into the allegations of misconduct made by PCU Attorney Wendell Phillips."

The statement doesn't address whether the investigator was fired. Many of the allegations stem from a case that was the subject of an arbitrator's report in September.

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

In it, the arbitrator recommends that Officer Sergio Ramirez, who was fired in 2018 after he was acquitted of rape, should be reinstated and given full back pay and benefits.

Ramirez wasn't fired for the sexual encounter that led to the rape charge. Instead, he was fired for driving under the influence of alcohol, resetting his department-issued cell phone, and being dishonest.

All issues the arbitrator found the city "failed to prove." "I think what he said was, if he held the chief to the same standard that the chief tried to hold Ramirez to, he'd have to believe the chief intentionally lied," Phillips says.

Phillips does admit the arbitrator's findings and recommendation in the Ramirez case are not binding.

The city manager issued a statement on the matter, saying, "I cannot comment on the Ramirez matter, but I can confirm that I am currently reviewing it for my final decision regarding his appeal of termination."

Sgt. Leo Perafan was the investigator on the Ramirez case.  He originally found there was no reason to discipline Ramirez after he was acquitted. Phillips says Washburn wanted a different outcome.

"Chief basically tells him, I want to fire this guy, I need you to change your report"

Wendell phillips, PCU attorney

Perafan now says he's the target of retaliatory actions and is seeking whistle-blower protection. This summer, as News Channel 3 reported, when it happened, the PCU and the Indio Police Officer's Association(IPOA) took votes of "no confidence."

77% of IPD's lieutenants and sergeants voted "No Confidence," according to a letter by the IPCU's attorney.

Click Here to Read the Complete vote of "No Confidence" letter

Lt. Chris Hamilton was one of several who spoke out against Washburn at an Indio City Council meeting.

"Lead is through communication and trust, building equity and relationships. There is no trust, there is no equity," Hamilton said.

City Attorney, Roxanne Diaz fired back at Phillips at a meeting in September, "It certainly seems that Mr. Phillips is working to disparage the police department leadership, as well as sway public opinion. I as the city attorney cannot engage in such conduct. We don't run our personnel investigations in the court of public opinion."

Chief Washburn, in a previous statement, addressed that he's not allowed to comment on many of the allegations. "I am disappointed that they would not provide me the same consideration that I give them," Washburn said in the statement.

The chief does continue to have backing, including the support of Mayor Elaine Holmes.

"Chief, I just want to reiterate our full and complete confidence in you," Holmes said at a council meeting in September.

Contacted by e-mail, Holmes continues to stand by that statement. At the same time, Holmes, Washburn, and Montgomery all declined interviews for this story, citing the need to maintain confidentiality in personnel matters.

Chief Washburn previous statement addressing July IPCU's letter:

I welcomed the in-progress investigation into the allegations leveled against me and Assistant Chief Shaefer by the Indio Police Command Unit’s attorney; however, I am disappointed that they would not provide me the same consideration that I give them – to make fact-based decisions and judgements instead of reaching conclusions based upon unsubstantiated allegations.

While the Indio Police Department has a strong reputation with our community, and is comprised of stellar officers of integrity and character, there are a handful of influential individuals who are concerned about the level of accountability I have held them to since my appointment in 2016. While the majority of our department embraces accountability, and being held to a higher standard as a point of pride; there are few individuals that have a difficult time accepting that lapses of moral character, the same standards upon which we judge our police officer candidates in their background investigations, are usually career-ending.

Additionally, due to California’s restrictive stance on police disciplinary records, even union leaders are not privy to the facts on which a police chief makes his or her disciplinary findings – unless the disciplined employee chooses to share it. This creates an unhealthy situation in which department leadership can only say, “there is more to it, but I am not allowed to discuss it.”

The City of Indio hired me knowing that I had a long history of being involved in, and even driving police reform – particularly in the areas of de-escalation, transparency, accountability and use of force. I was literally at the table with the U.S. Department of Justice negotiating Seattle’s consent decree and later had a key role in ensuring the Seattle Police Department’s compliance to that agreement.

Make no mistake about it, the Indio Police Department is a good department and I am proud to lead it; however, I have brought about change which a small group are uncomfortable with and purposefully mischaracterizing for their own self-serving agendas. At the end of the day this change is necessary in a forward-thinking agency like ours – and universally expected by those we serve. When chiefs fail to make those changes, the result is often a public demand for civilian oversight.

The City of Indio can expect IPD to be at the forefront of progressive policing while its employees – to include me - are held to the highest standards of professionalism and accountability. This will continue as long as I have the honor of serving as Indio’s police chief and will be sustained by a healthy and enlightened organizational culture.

- Indio Police Chief Mike Washburn

Check Out the Indio City Council Meeting - Public Comments' over the past few months addressing this issue

  • July 21, 2021
  • Aug. 18, 2021
  • Sep. 15, 2021
  • Oct. 6, 2021
  • Nov. 3, 2021

John White

John White anchors News Channel 3 Live at 5:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 11:00 p.m.on KESQ-TV and CBS Local 2. Learn more about John here.

Jesus Reyes

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