Tapia alleges much of the same complaints as another action facing the city, that of former DHS police officer Andrea Heath who filed a $5 million lawsuit against the city naming city officials, including City Manager Rick Daniels and former Police Chief Patrick Williams.
Both Tapia and Heath claim city mismanagement played politics with their lives, politics that ultimately led to both being fired.
Toy Drive Conflicted
Tapia first butted heads with City Manager Rick Daniels over a POA toy give-away last Christmas 2011 that played out in the media. Tapia was highly critical of Daniels as it appears the city manager did everything possible to deny use of a city building for the toy drive.
At the same time, the city and the POA were in heated contract negotiations.
DesertVortex.com is the first to report the pending action by Tapia. In the Heath matter, news of her claim went national because it involved a conviction of excessive use of force by a Desert Hot Springs police officer at the center of her complaint. Heath was cooperating with federal authorities in that investigation at the time of her dismissal.
The city is already defending itself against the $5 million lawsuit by officer Heath and that case is now winding through the courts. This Tapia suit for an undisclosed amount of damages is just starting down the legal path and suggests another bumpy public relations ride ahead for the city.
Police Officer Paul Tapia
Paul Tapia has been a police officer for the Desert Hot Springs Police Department (PD) for four years and was unanimously elected as President of the Desert Hot Springs POA in October of 2011. Prior to taking that position, Paul Tapia had a flawless career having never received a negative performance observation report. Tapia received twenty-four career commendations and other recognitions from private groups as an in the communities where he served. Tapia received not less than “meets standards” or”exceeds standards” on yearly evaluations.
It was no accident Paul Tapia was elected president of the POA. Tapia was respected as a stand-up guy, a no-nonsense person that the officers wanted to represent them in the contract negotiations. Ass kissing was never Tapia’s style but no one suspected his representing the officers union in contract negotiations would end his career.
Stand up Guy Stands Up
The POA and the city were stuck in negotiations for four months when Tapia was elected POA president. Right off the bat Tapia began to be challenged by Rick Daniels who, says Tapia, refused the use of the Senior Center by the POA for an annual Christmas toy giveaway. Daniels said NO.
This disagreement went public in the media with print, radio, and television broadcasts. It was inferred that Tapia and his officers were greedy. Daniels was portrayed as the Grinch.
In December of 2011, Paul Tapia attended a City Council meeting to speak about the on-going contract negotiations between the POA and the City. That gave Daniels an opportunity to attack the officer. City Manager Rick Daniels accused Tapia of going public with negotiations Daniels said were supposed to be conducted quietly.
At the same time, Daniels appeared on television to discuss the contract himself, telling a television viewing audience that the POA was unwilling to compromise on the issue of pension contributions. Tapia countered that the POA was willing to offer up pension concessions, which the officers ultimately did.
Daniels was not able to cast his spin on the story as he had hoped. Police officers in Desert Hot Springs enjoy widespread support in the community. At this same time, Tapia was in line for a promotion to sergeant but when he inquired about the promotion status he said he received no information.
The response went nowhere and so did Tapia’s promotion. City Manager Rick Daniels simply denied Paul Tapia’s request. The city manager then turned up the volume of his criticism of Tapia for having used the media and used the city to heap punishment upon the POA president.
Rising Up to Career Downfall
Adding to Daniels’ frustration, moral of the PD the officers was in a free fall. An independent survey of PD officers showed a low appraisal of the police command structure. Frustration festered due to the department’s promotion practices according to the survey results.
Performance Evaluation Withheld
Only a few days after this warning, Tapia was informed that his 2011 yearly evaluation was completed by his immediate supervisor and was in the hands of Williams and Daniels awaiting approval. It was kept secret from Tapia, something he claims is a violation of contract and labor laws.
Paul Tapia has asked numerous times for an update on the evaluation’s approval. Each request has been met with little to no explanation. Tapia has been told by those within the PD that Police Chief Pat Williams and City Manager Rick Daniels intended to adversely downgrade his evaluation purely for retaliatory reasons. By withholding Paul Tapia’s evaluation, Tapia is left boxing with shadows as the city has all the power with the officer ending up losing his job.
Tapia was served with notice of intent to suspend for thirty days, one of the most severe forms of punishment an officer can receive short of dismissal. In the end, he was was fired from his job before the 30 day suspension was completed.
City Manager Rick Daniels joined Police Chief Pat Williams in whining to the officers that “certain” members of the POA were disruptively using the media as a union tactic waging a media battle” even though for weeks Daniels had been waging a media campaign to discredit Tapia and the POA. When the POA used the same technique, Daniels characterized them as waging a media battle.
Tapia Continues to be Punished
In response to the officer survey, Commander [now police chief] Kate Singer told Tapia that she and city administration “were not happy” about the vote-of-no-confidence in the survey and that it had been provide to the media. Tapia says he was later told by a city official that Daniels had been openly saying the city was going to “get rid of Tapia” and heard that management was looking for “dirt” on him.
In February Paul Tapia received a letter from Police Chief Williams that Tapia was “no longer an employee of the city” and not to “represent yourself as a police officer.” Later the chief retracted the statement leaving Tapia officially still a city employee. However he has not been paid since February 7, 2012, the day he was hauled off in an ambulance to Desert Regional from a meeting with chief Williams.
During the meeting the chief walked out on Tapia and his attorney. After three days in the hospital Tapia has remained on medical leave for past work related injuries sustained on the job including fractured ankle, fractured ribs, fractured back. That these injuries were sustained on the job is not in dispute.
Citizens Supporting Police Officer
During that same meeting a group of angry local citizens gathered on the streets supporting the Desert Hot Springs Police. The initial six were joined by dozens more that were insultingly characterized by police management as “felons” and misleadingly dismissed as people bused in from out of the city.
First Amendment Violations
With the new year it will be impossible to ignore Paul Tapia. His complaint alleges that actions against him were retaliatory and violated his First Amendment rights of free speech and union representation. The litigation involves Daniels, Williams, Singer and the city. It seeks unspecified damages for violations of the Constitution plus federal and state laws and labor codes.
Tapia is seeking recovery of all unlawfully withheld wages and benefits plus damages and costs.