Parker Sever, former chief of the Hanford Police Department, has denied allegations of racist behavior described in a pair of lawsuits filed on behalf of two former law enforcement officers under his command.
New Employers Knew About Allegations – Moved Forward After Hanford Denied Allegations
Hanford’s city attorney, they said, assured them the claims against Sever were without merit.
According to reporting by television station ABC4 in Salt Lake City, Heber City officials were told about one of the lawsuits by Sever during interviews. This self-revelation worked in Sever’s favor, a spokesperson for Heber City told ABC4, saying it “spoke highly of his integrity.”
Heber City officials claim that Hanford city attorney Mario Zamora told them claims of racism made by former HPD officer Jason Stingley against Sever are “baseless.”
Heber City officials issued a statement reprinted in part by ABC4.
“With an understanding of the City of Hanford and the Hanford Police Department’s defense of these allegations, Heber City felt confident in moving forward with the hiring process,” the Heber City statement said, according to ABC4.
The case on Stingley’s behalf was filed six months before Sever began working for Heber City; however, the second suit, brought on behalf of current HPD Det. Patrick Jurdon, was filed in December. Sever began his new job in October.
The two suits, both in federal court, are ongoing. Sever is named as a defendant in both cases, as is the city of Hanford.
In a response to the Stingley’s case, filed in the US District Court Eastern District of California, Hanford’s attorney has denied the allegations against the city and Sever.
Sever Says He’s Unable to Comment
In another story about the allegations against him, Sever told the Park Record newspaper he “would love” to talk about the details of the cases and his innocence, but cannot because of the pending lawsuits.
“I look forward to the truthfulness of the allegations to come out,” Sever told the Park Record.
“I look forward to the actual facts of this case coming out,” he told them.
Sever also told the Park Record his former employers in Hanford don’t “believe he did anything wrong,” while telling KPCW Hanford City Hall issued a statement calling the allegations in the suits “unfounded.” KPCW also reported that city attorney Zamora “gave his endorsement of Parker Sever.”
In his federal lawsuit, former officer Stingley claims Sever made him kneel in front of a crowd of Black citizens while fellow officers demonstrated how HPD officers might carry out the “beating and excessively aggressive arrest of a Black man.” Stingley was the HPD’s only Black officer at the time. The suit describes other alleged racist behavior on Sever’s part, including allowing an HPD officer to hang a noose on his vehicle after a racially-charged confrontation with Stingley.
Jurdon, who is White, claims he was targeted by fellow officers after reporting incidents of racism and excessive force. Sever and other command officers did nothing to stop the alleged abuse, according to both suits.
Co-Defendant Named New Hanford PD Chief
Sever is not the only HPD officer named in the lawsuits who’s got a new job. Co-defendant Stephanie Huddleston – a command officer with HPD whom Stingley said ignored and enabled racist behavior – has been hired as Sever’s replacement.
“I believe Captain Huddleston is the right person to move the department forward in our growing community,” Hanford city manager Mario Cifuentez said in a statement on LinkedIn. “Her character and leadership are beyond reproach, and I look forward to seeing what she will accomplish in the years ahead.”
Huddleston has worked for HPD since 2006. She was sworn in as HPD chief on Tuesday.
“As Police Chief, Huddleston will oversee all department functions and activities, including patrol, traffic, investigations, internal affairs, community policing, and support services,” the statement said. “With a passion for mentoring the community’s youth, she plans to continue her involvement in Hanford PAL, a crime prevention program for local children.”
Officer Named in Suit Denies Involvement
One law enforcement officer named in the suit brought by Jurdon says he can prove he had no involvement in alleged retaliatory acts against the HPD detective.
Former Kings County Sheriff deputy Taylor Lopes was named as a participant in an alleged incident of excessive force in Jurdon’s suit. But Lopes did not work for HPD at the time of the alleged incident and hadn’t for more than a decade.
Jurdon’s lawsuit appears to claim that someone in the department pasted a picture of Jurdon’s face over the face of former Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer and convicted murderer Derek Chauvin while he leaned on the neck of his victim, George Floyd. The act was allegedly retaliation for Jurdon’s objections to Lopes’ behavior.
But Lopes said he no longer worked in law enforcement at all when the “meme” featuring Jurdon’s face was created. He said he wasn’t aware he was named in the suit until it was reported in the media. Lopes also said an HPD investigation discovered who had created the meme, and it wasn’t him.
“If there was a complaint, I was never aware of it,” he said “I can’t retaliate if I don’t know there’s a complaint.”
If that’s true, then retaliation on Lopes’ part is highly unlikely. Mostly, Lopes is puzzled.
“I don’t have a dog in this fight,” Lopes said. “I’m not sure why I’m involved in this.”
Accused Officer Feels Threatened
Lopes and his family have come under fire because his name appears in Jurdon’s suit, he said.
“I’ve had threats, saying I’ve made comments about George Floyd,” Lopes said. “My family is being slandered. My kids have read it. They know it’s false.”
The situation is particularly painful for Lopes since Stingley is his closest friend.
“Jason Stingley is my best friend and godfather to my children,” Lopes said. “I feel there’s a big misinterpretation.”
Lopes believes one of two things led to his name turning up in Jurdon’s lawsuit: a misunderstanding or an intentional lie.
“I personally feel like he (Jurdon) told his attorney a bunch of stuff and he just jumbled it up,” Lopes said.
Or, he said, Jurdon might be trying to bolster his case against Sever and the city.
“If he’s saying it’s true, that I had anything to do with retaliation, then that is 100% a lie,” Lopes said.
Lopes feels the situation requires a more formal approach from him now.
“Unfortunately, it’s gotten to the point I have to hire an attorney,” he said. “It’s a string of events Jurdon caused, and at this point there’s no remorse.”
Lopes feels particularly injured since he is vehemently anti-racist.
“I’ve been accused of a lot of things in law enforcement, but never racism,” he said.
Stingley’s complaints about the treatment he received at the HPD are not without merit, Lopes said.
“I think Jason has some righteous allegations against the former chief,” he said. “The others I don’t know about.”
He is concerned the case laid out by Jurdon may harm Stingley’s chances in court.
“Jason has a very strong case against the chief,” Lopes said. “Obviously, Chief Sever has done some things wrong, but Jurdon’s allegations are going to hurt Jason’s case.”