Collectively, Napa Valley law enforcement agencies reported one case of serious misconduct in the past decade.
The county, and cities of Napa and Calistoga all said they did not determine any officers employed by their law enforcement agencies committed a serious act of misconduct in that time frame. The St. Helena Police Department was the only agency to report that it found an officer lied on the job.
This was uncovered thanks to a new law, Senate Bill 1421, that went into effect in January. It grants the public access to records related to investigations in which an officer is found to have sexually assaulted a member of the public, or engaged in serious misconduct such as committing perjury, filing false reports, or destroying, falsifying or hiding evidence.
The Register requested records from the Napa Police Department, St. Helena Police Department, Calistoga Police Department, Napa County Probation Department, Napa County Corrections Department and Napa County Sheriff’s Office, which staffs the American Canyon Police Department and patrols Yountville.
In the case of the St. Helena officer, Melissa Brown cited a driver for driving without proof of insurance, even though he had shown her his valid proof of insurance, the St. Helena Star reported last month. She was placed on paid leave during an investigation into the matter and later admitted she made a mistake in issuing the wrong kind of ticket. Brown was allowed to return to work after taking a month off without pay.
Brown said she had warned the motorist about speeding many times and tried to do him a favor by issuing him a so-called fix-it ticket, instead of citing him for speeding. The driver, who is black, also accused Brown, who is white, of racial profiling, but an investigation did not find any evidence to support that.
The Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has submitted many requests under the new law, said via a spokesperson that it did not have any sense of how the number of misconduct cases in other places compared to Napa County because many local law enforcement agencies have not yet responded to ACLU’s records requests.
Napa County Sheriff John Robertson said his department’s clean record reflects its thorough and selective background process. Out of 300 or 400 applicants, the office may only select one or two people, he said.
The Sheriff’s Office also has an internal policy that would oust officers found to have lied or have been convicted of a crime, Robertson said.
“This is reflective of our high ethical standards,” he said. “We have a great group of people working for us.
Napa Police Department Chief Robert Plummer said in a February interview that the lack of findings demonstrates that the department has strong policies, high standards and well-trained officers with integrity.
“If your hiring process doesn’t scrutinize the applicants as well as it should be, often times you may get that bad apple,” he said.
SB 1421 was one of two significant pieces of police record transparency legislation signed into law last year.
Assembly Bill 748 will grant public access to body camera footage or audio clips of an incident in which an officer discharged their weapon, or caused death or serious injury.
The public may start requesting those records in July, though the Napa Police Department and Napa County Sheriff’s Office proactively released to the public partial clips of recent officer-involved shootings. The law allows agencies to wait 45 days before releasing audio or video clips, if doing so would interfere with an active investigation.
This story has been modified since first posting to include further information on how St. Helena Police handled the Melissa Brown case.