An alleged plot by two Tulare councilmen to fire employees at city hall is the latest revelation in the ongoing wrongful dismissal case brought by the city’s former chief of police. Also detailed are circumstances leading to the chief’s firing.
As the date for mediation in the case approached, Michael Lampe, attorney for former Tulare Chief of Police Wes Hensley, made public evidence he says shows councilmen Carlton Jones and Greg Nunley conspired to “clean house” at City Hall with the help of the city’s former manager, Joe Carlini. Lampe’s evidence also appears to show Hensley was fired because he was investigating alleged credit card fraud by Jones at Carlini’s request.
According to pleadings filed by Lampe: “Chief Hensley was fired because a corrupt politician (Jones), in concert with a weak city manager (Carlini) and a conflicted city attorney, were bent on sidelining an investigation–initiated by the city manager–into the former mayor’s improper use of a city credit card.”
Jones’s fellow council members removed him from the mayoral position in May. Jones remains on the city council.
Among the Chosen
The mediation was overseen by retired Tulare County Superior Court Judge Howard Broadman and took place January 10. As a result of mediation Hensley received back pay and was reinstated as police chief.
Among the evidence Lampe presented was a memo from Traci Myers, the city’s deputy director for the Community and Economic Development Department, purportedly recording a warning from Jones. Myers and the department’s director, Josh McDonnell, were to be “saved” when supposed planned firings at City Hall took place.
During a deposition of Myers, Lampe had her read the memo into the record.
“Carlton Jones advised me to keep quiet. Joe (Carlini) is going to be ‘cleaning house,’ and he doesn’t want me to be one,” Myers read from her memo of November 8, 2017. “He said he and Nunley talked about who they want to ‘save.’ Nunley said Josh McDonnell. Carlton Jones said me.”
According to policy at Tulare City Hall, only the city manager has the ability to hire and fire city department heads, with the exception of the city attorney. Myers said she found it out of the ordinary Jones and Nunley were, in Lampe’s words, “poking their nose into the city manager’s business.”
According to Lampe, Myers wasn’t the only member of staff at city hall who found the relationship between Carlini, Jones and Nunley unusual. The apparent pressure Jones and Nunley were exerting over Carlini’s personnel decisions became the basis of office rumors at city hall, according to testimony of Deputy City Clerk Roxanne Yoder.
For months after the suspension of Hensley, Yoder said, some of the staff believed “that Carlton (Jones) was out of control, and basically that Mr. Carlini was his puppet.”
Yoder also testified that Jones had developed a reputation among staff as a bully. According to court documents, four restraining orders have been issued against Jones, all of which are related to domestic violence. Jones was also restrained by the former interim city manager during a confrontation with a citizen during a city council meeting on September 19, 2017.
By the time Jones called with his warning on November 8, 2017, suspensions at city hall had already begun. On September 27, 2017, Hensley was placed on paid administrative leave. That was followed by the suspensions of TPD command staff members Capt. Fred Ynclan and Lt. Jerod Boatman on November 6, 2017, two days before Jones allegedly called Myers.
According to information provided by Lampe, Hensley was removed from his job because of an investigation into Jones’s improper use of a city-provided credit card that was initiated by Carlini. Once Hensley had been removed, Lampe alleges, Jones threatened to “take down the command staff” at TPD.
Jones also leaked confidential information about Hensley’s suspension, starting with comments made during a local radio talk show on November 6, 2017, the same day Ynclan and Boatman were placed on leave. Jones also obtained part of the report resulting from the investigation into Hensley’s firing, then shared it with several members of the public, as well as posting a portion of it on social media in December of last year.
Dinner at Cattlemens
In mid-September of 2017, Jones checked out a city-owned credit card for his use while representing Tulare at a League of California Cities conference that ended on September 15, 2017.
Then, on the night of September 16, 2017, Jones took his wife and daughter to dinner at Cattlemens Restaurant in Selma, where he met with two other people. Jones then used the city’s credit card to pay a bill of $144.
Jones’ guests would later be revealed as Tulare Police Union president James Kelly and former TPD officer Pat O’Donohoe. When confronted, Jones would eventually refuse to tell Carlini the second person he had dined with was O’Donohoe.
But even before Jones refused to reveal O’Donohoe had attended the meeting, trouble had arisen regarding Jones’ use of the city credit card away from the conference for which it had been intended. The city’s finance director, Darlene Thompson, refused to sign off on Jones’ bill from Cattlemens because the card use was unauthorized.
The issue was then turned over to Carlini, who allegedly became agitated after Jones refused to name his second dinner companion, according to testimony from City Clerk Yoder.
“And then he (Carlini) got a little indignant, and he had the copy of the receipt with him,” Yoder testified, “and he talks very fast and kind of muddled, and then he walked out of the office.”
A few moments later, Yoder testified, Carlini had her call Hensley, who Carlini then visited at his office in the police station. Several witnesses have said Carlini then accused Jones of credit card fraud.
Visit to the Chief’s Office
According to testimony by Hensley’s personal assistant Chontelle Adney, Carlini arrived at the police department within five minutes of learning Hensley was available to discuss Jones’ receipt from Cattlemens Restaurant. On the receipt, Jones had listed O’Donohoe as “plus one.”
Adney later made a note of Carlini’s comments regarding Jones’ use of the city credit card.
“I (Carlini) asked Carlton (Jones) who is the plus one on the receipt, and he basically tells me to go fuck myself that it was a meeting regarding potential personnel issues at the police department,” Adney’s note says of Carlini’s discussion with the former chief. “Wes, this is total bullshit now. I have the f*cking Mayor (Jones) committing fraud with the city credit card. What is next?”
Three other witnesses also described hearing Carlini’s accusations of fraud against Jones, including Yoder, Thompson and Interim Chief of Police Matt Machado.
“I can’t say the exact words, but to the extent, ‘Is the mayor committing fraud?’ or ‘…my mayor committing credit card fraud?’ It was to that extent,” Machado testified. “I don’t know the exact words, but I specifically remember ‘the mayor’ or ‘my mayor’ and ‘fraud’ or ‘credit card fraud.’ The ‘mayor’ and the ‘fraud’ portion is what stuck in my head as I heard the statement.”
According to Lampe, Carlini was concerned about fraud on Jones’ part due to previous problems with Jones’ use of the city credit card. It was this worry that prompted Carlini to order Hensley to retrieve surveillance video from Cattlemens Restaurant and reveal O’Donohoe’s identity.
TPD officers took possession of the security video on Friday, September 22, 2017. Just two days later–Sunday, September 24, 2017–Jones was on the phone to Carlini to complain about the investigation. Carlini did not inform Jones he had asked for the video.
That Wednesday, September 27, 2017, Carlini placed Hensley on leave, citing an incident of misconduct on Friday, September 22, 2017, the day the video was retrieved.
In his sworn testimony, Carlini made it clear there was no other alleged misconduct on Hensley’s part other than his investigation of Jones’ credit card use.
“That was the only reason,” Carlini tesified.
In a move that Lampe describes as “incriminating,” Jones repaid the $144 he charged to the city’s credit card on October 25, 2017. The repayment came only after the alleged misuse of the card became public knowledge.
When Carlini placed Hensley on paid administrative leave, he was not acting on his judgment alone. Before moving to oust Hensley, Carlini consulted with then City Attorney Heather Phillips.
According to a separate lawsuit filed on behalf of the city against Phillips and her firm–Goyette and Associates– Phillips advised Carlini to place Hensley on suspension. In the same suit, Phillips is also accused of advising Carlini to fire Hensley on March 20, 2018.
Just a week earlier, however, Phillips appeared ready to settle the wrongful dismissal case. In an email eight days before Hensley was fired–March 12, 2018–Phillips emailed Lampe “to discuss terms of a possible retirement package.”
Phillips was also eager to have Hensley “sign off” on that settlement agreement before the outside investigator’s report was filed. According to a second email by Phillips sent March 19, 2018, the day before Hensley was fired, she was concerned the parties would be able to “honestly say no adverse findings were made.”
Lampe alleges Phillips and Carlini were already aware the investigation into Hensley would find no cause to fire him. Carlini would later testify he had fired Hensley only after speaking to the outside investigator; however, John McGinness, former Sacramento County Sheriff, who acted as the city’s investigator, testified he did not speak to Carlini until after Hensley was fired.
In fact, McGinness’s findings appear to exonerate Hensley.
“I was surprised Mr. Carlini had taken this action (firing Hensley), as I had previously advised the City Attorney, Heather Phillips, that based upon my investigation firing Chief Hensley for cause would be indefensible,” McGinness wrote in a sworn affidavit.
Carlini fired Hensley without cause as an at-will employee. Carlini was then fired the same day by the city council.
The ‘Bro Hug’
Shortly after Hensley was sent his notice of termination on March 20, 2017, Myers again felt the need to record the aftermath in a memo.
In her sworn deposition, Myers testified Jones and Carlini met in her office at about 3:30pm on the day Hensley was fired. According to Myers, the two hugged then had a brief, very quiet exchange of words.
“Mayor in my office. Joe Carlini comes down,” the memo reads. “Mayor steps into doorway (right outside), gives Joe Carlini ‘bro hug,’ whispers something such as, ‘It’s done.’ Mayor says something like … ‘Okay, we’ll talk later.’”
Less than an hour later, Lampe received the notice of Hensley’s termination.