Attorneys for Julia Patino have alleged that she was targeted for retaliation after filing a hostile workplace complaint against Sarah Hacker — the current Kings County District Attorney — and supporting Keith Fagundes, the prior district attorney, in the 2022 election.
On May 10, 2023, Patino, the former director of the Kings County District Attorney Victim Witness Program, had multiple search warrants served on her: one at her home, and another at her storage unit.
The Kings County Sherriff’s Office later posted a press release on their Facebook stating that stolen items were found in Patino’s possession and that Patino was arrested. Media outlets around the area republished the press release, including the Hanford Sentinel, The Business Journal, and KSEE24/KGPE47.
Contrary to the press release, documents viewed by the Valley Voice show that no items were seized at Patino’s home or storage unit. The documents also indicate that Patino was not arrested but given a citation.
Her attorney says she wasn’t even handcuffed.
“What they have done to her is horrible,” said Maggie Melo, Patino’s attorney with the Law Offices of Melo and Sarsfield.
“My client was not cuffed, not booked and it was a just the officer handing Julia a piece of paper with a court date for afternoon of July 12,” said Melo.
Hacker told the Voice that issuing a citation is part of the process of an arrest, and it is up to the discretion of the deputy whether to take an individual into custody or “cite them out.”
She said she was not present at either of the searches and did not know the exact sequence of events taken by the Kings County deputies. Hacker referred the case to KCSO and she said they were conducting their own investigation.
“Technically, an arrest means not free to leave,” she said. Hacker said that Patino wasn’t booked during the process, nor was a mugshot taken of her.
According to the search warrants issued on May 10 for Patino’s residence and personal storage unit the items to be seized were:
Two small wallet sized packets of Kleenex, two dog foot baths, three men’s grooming kits, one six foot folding bench, six Post-It super sticky easel pads, and five polyester tablecloths.
The list on the search warrants differ from the list of missing items in the sheriff’s press release, which stated “72 boxes of Kleenex” to the warrants’ “Two small wallet sized Kleenex packs,” and stated “2 stainless dog bowls” which do not appear in the warrants.
Both “Search Warrant Return Inventory” filings, signed by the same Kings County deputy, show that no items were seized — “no items seized” and “nothing seized” were written on the inventories for Patino’s home and storage unit, respectively.
Melo went to Patino’s home during the search. She says that a team of detectives showed up alongside animal control.
“The scene caused the neighbors to come out and some dragged chairs in the driveway to watch the spectacle,” Melo told the Voice.
Neither Patino nor Melo were aware of the search of Patino’s personal storage unit until the next day.
“The detectives were repeatedly told that the items they were looking for were in the storage unit belonging to the District Attorney’s office but that the Sheriff’s detective claimed they relied on the DA’s office inventory list and did not conduct an independent inventory themselves,” Melo said.
Hacker countered that statement and told the Voice an inventory was taken of all items in the DA’s storage units. From that inventory a list of missing items was given to the KCSO. She said there were no other storage units being rented by the district attorney’s office beyond the ones inventoried.
Melo says that some of the items that were allegedly stolen, which are regular consumable items, were likely used in the normal course of business.
“[It’s] likely the Kleenex were used by someone needing to blow their nose and are gone by now. Also, the easel pads and the tablecloths were used at events put on by the District attorney’s office and were likely thrown away after the event,” Melo said.
$20,000 shopping spree?
The sheriff’s office press release — later reverberating through area media — implied that Patino used $19,958.94 in county funds on personal shipping sprees at Costco and Amazon, before stating that “Detectives have been able to account for many of the items Julia Patino had purchased.”
A retail search for the products listed in the search warrant shows the unaccounted items add up to less than $300 — none of which were found in her home or storage unit, according to the sheriff’s office documents.
Patino allegedly using county generator for personal use
District Attorney Hacker was told by an employee that Patino, took a generator purchased with taxpayer funds to her residence and had been using it for personal camping trips in her travel trailer with her family according to the KCSO press release.
“Julia Patino initially denied having possession of the generator, but when confronted she admitted to having it and stated, ‘Yes, I forgot and the only reason it was there was to run fuel through it.’”
Through her lawyer, Patino said that when asked by Hacker about the generator she said it was at her home.
Patino said that it was being stored at her house after several break-ins on Kings County property.
The KCSO countered in their press release, “When Julia Patino turned the generator over to District Attorney employees it was discovered the generator had 74-hours of use on the meter.” The press release continued, “Witnesses have confirmed Julia Patino told a co-worker how well the generator worked during a recent camping trip she took during the holiday season. Many witnesses reported similar behaviors and felt compelled to inform Detectives of Julia Patino’s misuse of government owned property.”
Timing of meeting between Kings County Sheriff’s Office and Hacker
Melo believes Patino became a target for political revenge after Hacker took office January 3 of this year because she supported the former KCDA Keith Fagundes.
On January 26, 2023 a workplace discrimination, harassment, and retaliation complaint was filed against Hacker by the KCDA Chief investigator, Charlie Flores. The complaint accused Hacker of creating a hostile work environment and of retaliation, including personally using homophobic slurs in the workplace.
Patino was one of the witnesses in Flores’ complaint. Patino filed her first complaint February 14 also alleging a hostile workplace and retaliation.
Her complaint states, “I have been encouraging and supporting Charlie in his complaints of discrimination, harassment and retaliation against County, Hacker and Snyder. In response to my supporting Charlie, Hacker, has begun a campaign of retaliation against me, to include walking me off the job, placing me on administrative leave, and otherwise retaliating against me, for baseless, pretextual reasons, all in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, as well as County’s own personnel policies.”
According to the sheriff’s press release, Kings County Sheriff’s Office officials met with Hacker two days later to discuss Patino’s alleged theft of county property and misuse of county funds.
On March 31, 2023, Julia resigned from the KCDA office and started new employment. She resigned, as stated in her resignation letter, because of Hacker’s alleged actions in the workplace as well as alleged retaliation.
Hacker could not comment on the timing of her meeting with the KCSO because of the pending litigation with Patino. Hacker did say, “When I determined that missing property was in Patino’s possession I referred the information to the sheriff’s department.”
Referred to Attorney General’s Office
“In my nearly 30 years of practice I have never seen a case where the District Attorney herself makes a complaint, acts as the witness, directs the investigation, determines the charges and wants to be both the Judge and Jury.” Melo said. “From the start, this investigation should, at minimum, have been transferred to the Attorney General’s Office, for someone without a bias to make these decisions. If the AG’s office had been directing this inquiry, the warrants would never have been requested and that the items would likely have already been found to be in the possession of the DA’s Office-where they likely are today.”
Hacker responded saying this case has been referred to the Attorney General.
“The AG will be receiving referral and will be the prosecuting agency,”she said.