An investigation of Fresno County Probation Chief Rick Chavez focuses on 10 allegations ranging from using profanity to failing to add more juvenile correction officers and policy issues related to dress code for probation officers.
The allegations outlined by Fresno County Superior Court’s presiding Judge Kimberly Gaab repeatedly derided Chavez with charges of “incompetence, poor judgment and ineffective leadership.”
Chavez, a 32-year county employee, was placed on administrative leave with pay in April, triggering the investigation that led to allegations made by Superior Court judges in a letter sent to Chavez and his lawyer on Friday.
Chavez’s employment is under the supervision of the judges, but his $139,020 salary is paid by Fresno County. Fresno County supervisors say they oppose Chavez’s leave and on Tuesday will discuss adding a county charter amendment to November’s ballot that will grant oversight of the head of the Probation Department to county supervisors or the county administrator.
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Chavez will be interviewed Wednesday and Thursday by Gaab. The letter said Chavez could face disciplinary action that may include termination. Gaab and the Superior Court’s lawyer, Joseph Wiley, didn’t return requests for comment.
The judges’ letter about failing to hire juvenile corrections officers said Chavez’s conduct demonstrated “incompetence, poor judgment, ineffective leadership and failure to comply with a directive from the Superior Court.”
10The number of allegations against Fresno County Probation Chief Rick Chavez
Barry Bennett, Chavez’s lawyer, said juvenile corrections officers are difficult to hire because the county has cut salaries and benefits. Those cuts, he said, have put the county in a noncompetitive hiring position.
“They’ve repeatedly tested for those vacancies and many of those who have passed the tests have been screened out as unqualified,” he said. “A number of people worked for a year and then left for a higher-paying county.”
Another issue raised in the letter was an allegation of nepotism in the hiring of a personnel manager related to three employees in the department. The judge’s letter said the nepotism had the potential to cause conflicts of interest.
Also rankling the judges was a probation officer’s alleged ownership of a Fresno club that serves alcohol, which the judge’s letter again stated “demonstrates incompetence, poor judgment and ineffective leadership.”
In both instances Chavez was following parameters set up by his predecessor, Linda Penner.
Deputy probation chief Rosalinda Acosta is alleged to have volunteered at the club before starting work there as “outside employment,” and that she was allowed to “knowingly omit” that work from her application as deputy chief. Bennett said she had volunteered at the club from a time before Chavez became chief.
Chavez, Bennett said, never viewed her working there as an issue since she had told him about it, which conformed with department policy.
They’ve repeatedly tested for those vacancies and many of those who have passed the tests have been screened out as unqualified.
Barry Bennett, Rick Chavez’s lawyer, discussing officers’ hiring
Chavez also was alleged to have “falsified” documents to the state to get money from the Board of State and Community Corrections. The board surveys California’s counties to examine the way its funding is used. The surveys are then included in a report to the state Legislature and the Governor’s Office.
Large counties, such as Fresno, get $200,000 for taking time to fill out the survey, said Tracie Cone, a spokeswoman for the board .
Fresno County’s probation department gets $6.5 million of $23 million that annually comes to the county from state prison realignment funds, she said.
The state, Cone said, doesn’t verify information in each county’s survey, which in Fresno County’s case was eight pages long.
Another allegation said Chavez sought revisions in a consultant’s use-of-force audit for the Probation Department. From the same report, judges also took issue with Chavez’s permission to allow unarmed probation managers to supervise armed units.
The audit and report, Bennett said, offered recommendations for Chavez’s department “to implement or not implement.” Consultant Jerry Harper, whose report and audit included the recommendations, said he wasn't contacted by the judges or their investigative team.
The dress code issue criticized by the judges allowed officers to dress in a more professional way when they weren’t required to work in the field, Bennett said. It was an initiative agreed to by the judges, the Board of Supervisors and county administrator, he added.
The profanity Chavez allegedly used was in referring to a judge and departments that probation works with closely, the letter said. In one case, he allegedly said the “(expletive) judges can’t tell him what to do.”
The alleged comments, the letter said, were made with “reckless disregard for the disrespectful and offensive impact of these statements.”
It’s ironic that the body designed to protect people’s rights has done such a disservice in not protecting the rights of its own employee.
Henry R. Perea, Fresno County supervisor
Bennett said Monday that Chavez doesn’t recall using profanity to describe anyone mentioned in the letter.
Another allegation suggested that Chavez allegedly had announced that he would “focus on statewide matters instead of running the probation department’s operations.” In the days before he was placed on leave, Chavez allegedly said he would cede oversight of operations to Acosta “never providing notice to or receiving approval from the Superior Court,” the court’s letter said.
That comment, said Bennett, was taken out of context during a managers’ meeting because Chavez didn’t say he would stop overseeing day-to-day operations.
Supervisor Henry R. Perea said the letter was a stretch to find a problem where none existed.
“It’s ironic that the body designed to protect people’s rights has done such a disservice in not protecting the rights of its own employee,” he said.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Buddy Mendes said the judges should have considered consulting with the county’s personnel department before taking two months to investigate and putting the Probation Department in limbo.
“After looking at this letter, it’s too bad that the judges didn’t go to county personnel and resolve this issue way earlier and not put everyone who works in that department into this great unknown,” he said.
Bennett said he wants to meet with a subcommittee of Fresno County supervisors to explain Chavez’s side. County Counsel Dan Cederborg said individual supervisors could meet with Chavez if they choose.
If you go
Fresno County Board of Supervisors meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Fresno County Hall of Records, 2281 Tulare St. in Fresno.