Wes Hensley remains Tulare’s chief of police and will stay on paid administrative leave, despite a formal statement of no-confidence delivered to the City Council Tuesday night by an attorney for the Tulare Police Officers Union.
No Union Support for Command
Roger Wilson, the union’s lawyer, told the Council that the executive committee of the union had polled its members about City Manager Joe Carlini’s decision to place Hensley on paid administrative, and they support the move.
Hensley was placed on leave by Carlini on September 27.
The union, Wilson said, surveyed officers’ opinion of the decision to place Hensley on leave, as well as on the level of confidence they now place in Hensley’s professional ability.
“The results of the poll showed the union members are in favor of the city manager’s decision to place the command staff members on paid administrative leave and to continue with his investigation of those staff members’ conduct,” Wilson said. “Further, the results of the poll show that the union members have no confidence in the leadership abilities of Chief Hensley.”
Three Officers on Paid Leave
Two other members of the Tulare Police Department have also been placed on paid leave. They are Capt. Fred Ynclan and Lt. Jerod Boatman, both of whom have more than 15 years with the TPD. Hensley has 26 years with the TPD, and was promoted to chief in 2015. The city is currently paying $37,000 a month to cover the three men’s salaries.
Wilson described a workplace atmosphere wherein officers felt afraid for their jobs under Hensley’s command.
“What is clear is that since Chief Hensley took command in November 2015, the union relationship with command staff has deteriorated substantially,” Wilson said. “So much so that many union board members felt the need to step down due to pressure from the command staff, and they feared retaliation if they questioned the command staff’s actions.”
In the statement, Wilson also hinted at misconduct by members of the TPD command staff, though he did not specify what if any misconduct he was specifically referencing.
“No police officer should ever fear retaliation for speaking out against misconduct,” he said.
Wilson did not comment on the decision to place Ynclan and Boatman on leave or the union’s reaction.
No Investigation Started
Wilson’s assertion the police union supports the investigation into alleged misconduct caused Michael Lampe, the attorney representing Hensley, to wonder what it is they know about the allegations against his client.
So far, Lampe says Hensley has received no word about why he was put on leave, other than a reference to “allegations of misconduct relating to an incident on Friday, September 22” included in the city’s letter to Hensley placing him on leave. The letter also informed Hensley he was not to discuss his suspension with city employees.
“That’s it. No notice to what the incident was,” Lampe said of the city’s communication with Hensley. “No notice to what the Chief allegedly did wrong. Just placed on administrative leave for a single incident on Friday, September 22.”
Union President James Kelley and Mayor Carlton Jones apparently met at a Selma restaurant to discuss Hensley.
“Now, you’ve got the union rep saying, ‘We support the City Manager’s investigation,’” Lampe said. “Well, that’s great, except as near as his lawyer can tell, there isn’t an investigation.”
Due Process Violations
Lampe believes there may be an effort to undermine public confidence in his client.
“On November 6, the Mayor gave a public statement indicating his support for the City Manager’s decision to place the Chief on administrative leave,” Lampe said. “Now this, I believe, was designed to leave the impression the Chief had done something wrong.”
He also wants to know what union officials may have learned about the reasons for Hensley’s suspension.
“I want to know what the union knows that I don’t know,” he said. “Because I certainly couldn’t make a decision to support or not support that decision based on the only thing I know, and that is he’s placed on administrative leave because of an incident on Friday, September 22.”
Mayor Jones, Lampe said, has overstepped the limits on discussing an active personnel matter in his public statements.
“It constitutes a serious violation, in my judgment, to the Chief’s due process rights,” Lampe said. “And, in making the statement, the Mayor violated at least three separate provisions of the city resolution governing the release of information in disciplinary proceedings.”
Lampe’s remarks were met by applause from a packed-house audience.
Public Support for Hensley
While Hensley may not have the support of the union, he has the backing of some of the city’s residents.
Ray Fonseca says he and others have collected dozens of signatures for a petition supporting Hensley.
The petition is available online, and supporters are circulating copies.
“These city employees need due process in a timely manner,” Fonseca’s petition reads. “They need to know what they are dealing with.”
Hensley was also given encouragement by support staff at the TPD.
“We respect Chief Hensley, and not having him running the police department is causing low moral and uncertainty that we did not face when the Chief was in charge,” said Tammy Thomas, who represented TPD’s non-sworn employees. “Some of these employees have worked with him for decades. His integrity is above reproach.”
No Contact from City
Meanwhile, Hensley has had no official contact with the city since his September 27 dismissal.
“No investigator has asked to interview the Chief. He hasn’t been asked a single question regarding the alleged incident of September 22. He hasn’t been asked to produce a single document,” Lampe said. “But, he has been instructed to keep quiet, essentially to make it impossible for him to defend himself while the rumor mill is geared up into high gear. And, this has been happening for 10 weeks. It makes no sense at all.”
Councilman Jose Sigala said the Council will seek an update on the city’s investigation.
“I, frankly, don’t know what’s going on,” Sigala said. “My intention … is to ask this matter is brought to the Council in closed session to give us an update on what’s happening.”
Nancy Vigran contributed to this story with additional reporting.