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Developmental Centers overtime pay raises eyebrows
Assemblywoman says matter needs to be looked into
What appears to be an abuse of overtime pay at the Porterville Development Center and other developmental centers has now drawn the attention of statewide media and the Republican head of the state Assembly said a further “examination” of excessive overtime pay may be warranted.
California Watch, part of the Center for Investigative Reporting, recently shed new light on the issue first brought to the surface by The Recorder in 2011. The Recorder also reported on the case against two former law enforcement officers at the PDC, a case which is still pending at the state Attorney General’s office.
In a May 18 lengthy online story, California Watch reporters Ryan Gabrielson and Agustin Armendariz found that many of the state Developmental Center police officers accrued overtime of more than $50,000 a year, with one officer at PDC making $146,000 in overtime alone in 2008.
“We were surprised, totally shocked,” said Gabrielson of what they found. He said the officers in the state-run police force, called the Office of Protective Services (OPS), had 3,500 of overtime alone in 2008.
The officer at PDC, identified as Thomas Lopez, has earned “at least $80,000 in overtime every year for much of the past decade, doubling and tripling his compensation,” the California Watch reporters found. In the article, Lopez admitted to working long hours, extra shifts and said it is all approved and documented.
In 2008, Lopez was paid $208,000, including $146,000 through overtime. To achieve that income level, Lopez would have had to work 107 hours each week for the entire year, without any vacation or leave time, the story stated. In fact, California Watch found Lopez was paid more in 2008 than his boss, Terri Delgadillo, the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) director, who earns $158,000 for running the $4 billion state agency.
“The small police force is one of the most proficient in the state at accumulating overtime — the percentage of officers boosting their salaries far exceeds the proportion at other agencies.
“In total, the police department’s payroll has increased 50 percent through overtime in the past four years. For several of the officers, their overtime payouts would have required them to work 70 to 100 hours a week the entire year to earn the extra cash.
“Twenty-two officers, about one-fourth of the entire police force, have claimed enough overtime to double their salaries — a rare occurrence at other police agencies, both big and small. The average salary for the 22 officers is about $124,000 a year.
“At one point, the Office of Protective Services paid its officers overtime for patrolling a nearly empty facility. Patrol officers and detectives at the Agnews Developmental Center in San Jose claimed hundreds of hours of overtime — months after the institution closed in March 2009, finance reports show,” the story said.
Assemblywoman Connie Conway, R-Tulare, said she was concerned with the findings.
“Public safety is one of government’s highest priorities, but we must be efficient with our limited tax dollars. I have concerns about payments for hours not worked, as well as the health and well-being of officers who work so many extra hours.
“I do not think that additional legislation is needed at this time, but I am interested in examining this issue further in budget discussions or perhaps even a legislative audit,” Conway said in an e-mail to The Recorder.
There is one pending case against two PDC officers.
In 2011, an investigation by the Porterville Police Department allegedly found that PDC Lt. Scott Anthony Gardner was paid $121,511 in overtime in 2008, the same year Lopez earned $146,000 in overtime pay. A third officer, Rick Shannon, reportedly earned $114,000 in OT pay that same year.
Gardner was indicted by a specially convened grand jury, as was his immediate supervisor, Commander Jeff Bradley. However, charges of fraud were dismissed when Tulare County Superior Curt Judge Darryl Ferguson said some evidence was improperly collected. That case was returned to the district attorney’s office, which then sent it on to the state Attorney General’s office, where it still sits.
Porterville Police Chief Chuck McMillan, visibly frustrated, said the last he heard the person reviewing the case had gone on maternity leave and nothing had been done. He said he was disappointed and vowed to never get involved in another PDC fraud case because of the time his officers spent on the investigation and the lack of action by the state.
“I’ve had it with them,” he said last week, adding he did not even read the California Watch story.
Bradley has a lawsuit pending against the state for wrongful termination and has also sued the DDS deputy director and OPS current police chief for violation of his rights under the California Peace Officers Bill of Rights.
“Between 2009 and 2011, overtime payouts at the Office of Protective Services declined about 25 percent. State officials said their ‘aggressive actions’ to curb overtime — as well as using closed-circuit cameras to monitor patients instead of security towers — has led to the drop in overtime,” the investigation found.
“Despite the changes, seven officers at developmental centers still managed to double their pay in 2011. The developmental center police officers on average added $19,600 to their paychecks through overtime in 2010 — $2 million in total, according to state pay data.
Overtime accounted for 28 percent of all OPS compensation that year. Eleven officers doubled their salaries with overtime,” the California Watch investigation found.
The story is not the first by California Watch and won’t be the last, said Gabrielson. In February, the website reported that over the past decade, the Office of Protective Services failed to conduct basic police work even when patients died under mysterious circumstances.
State officials have documented hundreds of cases at the facilities of abuse and unexplained injuries, almost none of which have led to arrests.
In March, state officials announced they had hired an independent manager for the OPS to oversee new training guidelines, and state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would direct serious criminal investigations to outside law enforcement, among other changes, said the most recent article.
“We have a few more stories to tell,” said Gabrielson, who said he found it interesting reading The Recorder’s story in March regarding the practice of regularly mingling forensic clients in the community.