Hensley firing remains controversial, attorneys fight in written correspondence

The old-fashion communication of letter writing has returned with a continued exchange between Tulare’s City Attorney Heather Phillips and Michael Lampe, the attorney for former Police Chief Wes Hensley.

The former chief was fired on March 20, one week shy of one-half year following his placement on paid administrative leave, and following some two-plus months of his being under city investigation. However, his termination notice made no reference to the investigation.

Hensley, through Lampe, still would like some answers, and would like to appeal and get his job back, or at least a retirement package. Hensley worked for the Tulare PD for 27 years.

On March 26, Lampe sent a letter to Phillips and the then interim city manager, Rob Hunt, asking for a public appeal hearing.

“As you may be aware, Mr. Hensley has previously indicated that he will waive his right to privacy, and hereby demands that his Administrative Appeal be conducted in a public setting, open to both the press and interested citizens,” the letter stated.

 

The City Attorney’s response

In response on March 27, Phillips responded to both Lampe’s March 26 letter and a previous one that had asked for a Skelly hearing.

A copy of Phillips’ letter was sent to various media outlets including the Valley Voice by someone with an email address of Jill M Messer, however, the Voice has, as of yet, been unable to determine who Messer is, or how she obtained a copy of this letter. A call was placed to Phillips with this regard, and has yet to be returned.

In her letter, Phillips denied the Skelly hearing, as the former chief had already been terminated and also indicated the limitations of a hearing. She referred to POBRA (the Police Officers Bill of Rights Act).

“Mr. Hensley was provided with written notice of his termination along with a reason that is deemed sufficient pursuant to the POBRA provision sited above. The Notice provides an opportunity for administrative appeal, pursuant to POBRA and the very limited due process to which an employee without a property right is entitled.”

She further offered up a Lubey liberty interest hearing, “in which he (or his representative) may respond to the Notice of Termination and establish a record of the facts he believes clear his name.” She also referred to a Blinkley case from 25 years ago.

 

Lampe’s counter

Lampe responded on March 30, referring to the letter of which the Voice had received a copy, as well as “clarifying email” to that letter, which the media has not been privy to. In his response, which Lampe did copy to all council members, as well as the Voice and others, he did not argue her comments with regard to the Skelly, but he did rebut the Blinkley case evaluation by Phillips

“Mr. Binkley was afforded the type of administrative appeal that we contend Mr. Hensley is entitled to. As specifically articulated by the court:

‘… [Binkley] held the position of police chief at the pleasure of the city manager. The city manager was free to discharge him without ‘just cause,’ so long as he was given an opportunity to ‘convince the employing agency to reverse its decision.’ (Binkley, supra at 1809.)

Mr. Hensley asks for nothing more – and is entitled to nothing less – than an opportunity to convince the City to reverse the decision of its former city manager. In order to do this, Mr. Hensley will need to call witnesses to testify that the former city manager fired him for improper reasons, and not for the reasons articulated in the March 20 termination notice.”

Lampe also noted –

“Moreover, your observation that Mr. Hensley, as an at-will employee, had no ‘property interest’ to protect at the time of his termination, does not constitute a legal basis for denying him a full administrative appeal.

In this regard, I respectfully direct your attention to Robinson v. City of Chowchilla (2011) 202 Cal.App.4th 368, a case you are no doubt familiar with, since you were one of the attorneys who successfully represented the chief of police in that case. As articulated by the Robinson court:

‘In summary, the provisions of subdivision (c) of section 3304 are not reasonably susceptible to being interpreted to mean that the notice and administrative appeal procedures apply only if the police chief has a property interest in his or her job as police chief.’ (Id. at 378.)”

What all of the legal jargon comes down to is whether Hensley will receive a public appeal hearing or not. Lampe intends to take it to court, if necessary, he has said.

 

What a public hearing with witnesses could prove

What Lampe hopes to prove in a public appeal hearing is a list of items including just what was the initial cause of Hensley’s being placed on administrative leave and that, while denied by the actual Notice of Termination, the reasoning came into play with Hensley’s termination.

The termination letter signed by the former city manager, Joe Carlini, stated –

“You are not being dismissed from employment as the result of misconduct.

You are being dismissed to further the goals of this Organization, due to a loss of confidence in your ability to lead the Police Department in a manner that is consistent with the goals of this Organization; having management style that is incompatible with this Organization’s/Administration’s goals and the philosophies of leadership upon which they are based.

The City thanks you for your many years of service to the City of Tulare.”

The reasoning for Hensley’s being placed on leave on September 27, 2017 has been speculated about since that day. According to Lampe’s latest letter, Carlini had told Hensley to look into the receipt of a dinner Mayor Carlton Jones had paid for with a city credit card. The receipt indicated a meal for three at Cattlemen’s Restaurant in Selma, with Corp. James Kelly, who is also the president of the Tulare Police Officer’s Union, plus one.

According to the letter, Lampe has sources other than Hensley, who were aware of the situation and heard a conversation between Carlini and Hensley.

“I have the f*****g Mayor committing fraud with the city credit card, what is next?” was a quote by Carlini within the letter.

According to various sources, Carlini later told Hensley to back off from looking into the incident. The mayor’s wife had come in and reimbursed the city for the dinner. At this point, it is still unclear as to who the mayor had paid for other than himself. Jones has also been quoted as having said, “So I bought my family dinner. What’s the big deal?”

If it was a legitimate city expense, as the mayor implied, then why was the city reimbursed by his wife?

Lampe also stated –

“Mayor Jones has repeatedly made public statements that he knows to be false, designed to negatively impact my client’s reputation, and violate both his privacy and due process rights”

And,

“Shortly after Mr. Carlini fired Chief Hensley, and before he was fired as city manager later that day, Carlini admitted that he was being pressured to fire the chief.”

 

Retirement offered, then denied?

While it isn’t known at this time whether Hensley will receive the public hearing he desires, one thing that looks to be clear from this most recent letter, is that there was a negotiation of a retirement package for Hensley in the works before his termination.

“On March 20, your office was actively working on a retirement package for Chief Hensley in an effort to resolve this dispute, when the city manager suddenly (and we assume without your knowledge) sent an email to my office purporting to terminate Chief Hensley’s employment, knowing full well that he (Carlini) would be terminated later that day.”

What happened to pull the stops on this isn’t clear, however, with all of the work the city attorney and her staff are putting in following Hensley’s termination, and with the possibility of a future lawsuit, it would appear the Tulare could have gotten off with less expense by offering a retirement package to the former chief.

Tulare Capt. Fred Ynclan and Lt. Jerod Boatman were also placed on paid administrative leave on the first week of November last year, and have also been under investigation. Even though Hensley was fired, Ynclan and Boatman remain on leave. A public information request made on March 22 by the Voice, as to whether the investigation with regard to any or all three officers is still ongoing, has not yet been answered. To date, Ynclan and Boatman remain on paid administrative leave. Lt. Barry Jones has been serving as interim police chief since September 27 of last year.

Carlini, who was fired the same day as he terminated Hensley, was replaced for six-days by Interim City Manager Rob Hunt, who is the city’s community development director. He was subsequently replaced by the city’s fire chief, Willard Epps, on March 26.

14 thoughts on “Hensley firing remains controversial, attorneys fight in written correspondence

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  1. It would be great to ask Hensley at a public meeting why his squad is so severely undertrained and undermanaged that they escalated the Reedom case rather than deescalate it.

    • The de-escalation technique espoused by the late George ‘Doc’ Thompson in the 1990s, inoculating officers against high-stress scenarios has made a comeback in the face of so many high-profile police shootings. Making police more restrained was a hot topic after the 1991 beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, but in the wake of 9/11, de-escalation techniques and community policing seemed to fall out of fashion. Instead, US police departments across this nation have increasingly resembled military units both in ethos and equipment. Enlightened community oriented police departments are learning (albeit too slowly in my opinion) that police officers need to be trained in de-escalation. The mentality of “them (we the people) against us (the police)” has been ingrained into their psychic. If they “think in the moment” that they might get hurt in any way, shape or form they have the right to shoot to kill, which is understandable because that is what “they have been trained to do” with the blessings of our cities and judicial systems. Time for a change is now Tulare. How many more have to die unnecessarily……does it have to be “them against us”? What happens when “them” becomes someone you love and cherish….your mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, best friend, trusted neighbor? Really take the time to think that thought through…..no quick retort but really take the time to process that possibility. The police department has been charged with the duty to “serve and protect” the community which should include “protecting” anyone when needs be from not only harming others but harming themselves as well. Shooting to kill should be a last resort, never the first. Human beings are never to be treated as they are wild animals and de-escalation techniques should be implemented first and foremost not shooting to put someone down first. Time for a change.

    • The only person that escalated the situation was Reedom, when he didn’t comply with the officers orders.

      • Perhaps you also “think” that civil disobedience” (a constitutional right) is also a reason for the police to shoot to kill. It is my understanding that Reedom had a history of a mental health disorders wherein he more than likely wasn’t capable at that moment in time to react in the way you and the policemen thought he should. Officers should be trained and required to try de-escalation first.

        • There has been no investigation completed on the Reedom case. Until that time, all is speculation. I, however, think that someone who is high, takes an officers baton, is not brought down by two taser shots and mace, beat the officer with said baton causing broken bones, is the person at fault. You folks with the BLM movement, would rather both cops had been beaten to death than the perpetrator killed.

          • Officers should be trained and required to try de-escalation first.

          • I agree with tularevava… Barbara I’d like to turn your logic on you… you say we don’t know what its like until it happens to one of our loved ones… well what if your loved one is the cop getting beat by a baton. I’m sorry that the officer felt his only option was to first tase him twice then mace him and lastly shoot him. And thats only what I saw on the video who knows that else happened before the video. I do agree that de-escalation should be used and I hope that they did try to de-escalate the situation. I hope no cop out there looks to their gun as their first line of defense.

  2. Getting back to the article at hand, City Attorney Heather Phillips and Mayor Carlton Jones along with their cohorts Vice Mayor Maritsa Castellanoz and Councilman Greg Nunley have all poisoned the well when it comes to former Chief Hensley. If they had any sense of fair play and decency they would all recuse themselves in this matter. Former Chief Hensley has asked for a public hearing and I think that most in Tulare stands with him on this. For Ms. Phillips and the council to continue to deny that request makes some to ask the question, “What are they really trying to cover up?” If it was just a matter of the Chief not being a good fit as an “at will employee” they had the ability to terminate his employment immediately. Why the charade of placing him on paid administrative leave for six months and eventually claiming to bring in a private investigator? Capt. Fred Ynclan and Lt. Jerod Boatman have also been placed on paid administrative leave for most of this time as well. Taxpayer money continues to be paid out left and right in massive amounts…..for what? Where is the accountability of this City Attorney and the City Council? It begs the question…..”Are we as a city terminating the wrong people?”

  3. The only ones benefiting from this fiasco is the attorneys. The Mayor, Council and Police Dept. need to resolve this matter asap.

    If there was misuse of credit cards by anyone, present the evidence and handle it appropriately.

    If the Chief has lost support of his officers or community, then he has to go.

    This gossip rumor mill schoolyard stuff has to end.

    The police shooting mentioned could of been handled better. Officers were well aware of Mr. Reedom, they could of let him run and contain him. Brought in dogs or more officers,

    Mr. Reedom’s family handled the loss a lot better than many would have.

  4. Has anyone else noticed the common thread running through the ridiculous way this city is being run. Yep initials of CJ and he is Mayor. If you use a government credit card fraudulently, that is a crime. When your wife reimburses the city…it’s still a crime. I have several family members who’ve been City Council for California Cities similar to Tulare. The Council receives numerous classes and seminars where they are taught the law. Now whether these clowns actually attended, is a different matter.

  5. It seems the complicit city attorney and the others involved, knew all along exactly what they were doing…string the chief along, not allowing him his right to a hearing while he’s still employed, until they fire him. Then they don’t have to answer to their actions, because once the chief’s no longer an employee, he can’t have the hearing anyway.
    The city attorney’s bio on the Goyette & Associates website identifies her as “…By placing great emphasis on effective communication and negotiation, Heather has been successful in preventing and overturning unjust and unwarranted disciplinary actions for many employees. When communication and negotiation is simply not enough to reach the desired outcome, Heather is equipped with the knowledge and litigation skills to fight for her clients in any form…” Really? I guess that doesn’t apply to someone that has served the city honorably for 27 years, and who the majority of citizens want to see reinstated, and it also doesn’t apply when you were basically hired by the prompting of the mayor and are essentially ‘working’ for him and another councilman, and not truly representing the city of Tulare. So I wonder who the new police chief will be, or at least who will try to be put in that position? Considering the information in the article, that’s not too hard to guess.

  6. Tulare has had two consecutive Chiefs placed on leave, about the only thing in common with the two is both Chiefs ultimately, after months on paid administrative leave no longer had the job. The differences are many, it seems when JB was placed on leave …it was for drinking and driving without consequences ( which wasnt the only known law broken by JB.) Still, until Valley Voice broke the news of the drunk driving , was JB forced to resign, this after months and months of paid leave. In the WH saga, months and months of paid leave and BAM! hes fired with no explaination..yes there were different city managers but it seems JB should have been given the boot pretty quickly and it seems WH should have been given more ability to defend himself. Who is in charge of the City Manager and by what set of rules and procedures if any are they to follow? Our police department is not even close to one that a community gets behind and there is a “them against us” vibe in Tulare . Has the constant growth of the department by the frequent hiring of new officers done anything to deter crime in Tulare…has it provided any positives? On the subject of our Mayor , Carlton Jones also visited Washington D.C. on a trip to represent Tulare ,I understand he went over his spending budget which left over funds in other city offical budgets covered, but his family also went on the trip too, did Jones go over his budget for that reason ? It looks like city officials in Tulare change the rules depending on what ever fits there needs at any given time. Anyway, Tulare shouldnt have a difficult time attracting a new Police Chief, where else can you work and get a paid six month vaction before you’re let go?

  7. For some reason people fear the good Mayor Jones, be it he is an intimidating figure? Or maybe he has a little dirt on somebody or at least as much as they have on him? Fear of being labeled a racist should one openly speak out against him? He really hasn’t made Tulare great again.
    The good Mayor Jones got what he wanted, apparently all or those against the chief theat the PD got what they wanted.
    City Manager may sing and open up more to this. The City Attorney who is obviously on the good Mayor Jones’s ticket, she appears a little dumber by the day. She will most likely get her walking papers next.
    None the less the people of Tulare are left holding the bag, wondering what shoe shall fall next?

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