Santa Ana’s former police chief has taken a step toward suing the city for alleged wrongdoing he says involved the officers’ union president, Mayor Miguel Pulido, and two other City Council members the union helped win election last year.
In a legal claim he filed against the city, Carlos Rojas said he “was forced to involuntarily resign his civil service position as a result of potential illegal activity and/or noncompliance [with rules and/or regulations] among city officials.”
After last year’s election shifted the balance of power on the council in favor of the police union, Rojas resigned in April and took a job as police chief of the BART transit system in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“He has been forced to obtain employment at an unfamiliar department where he will earn less salary, expend considerably more in living expenses and will live apart from his family,” Rojas’ claim states.
The former chief listed five people who he said caused his damages: the police union’s president, Gerry Serrano; former Acting City Manager Gerardo Mouet; and the three council members whose elections were largely funded by the police union last year: Mayor Pulido, Jose Solorio and Juan Villegas.
Rojas did not detail the alleged wrongdoing in his claim, beyond saying it involved potentially illegal actions that led him to resign as chief against his will. He also said he reported the alleged wrongdoing to officials who had the power to investigate it, but failed to.
The five officials Rojas claims caused the damages either declined to comment, referred comment to City Hall, or didn’t return phone calls.
City spokeswoman Alma Flores declined to comment on the claim, saying the city doesn’t speak about potential litigation.
Rojas’ allegations come amid an ongoing battle for control of the Santa Ana Police Department, which has pitted Rojas and members of the prior council majority against the officers’ union, Mayor Pulido, and other council members the union helped get elected last year.
The former chief was appointed in March 2012 and had the support of most of the City Council for the following few years.
But many of the officers came to oppose Rojas, with their union saying he was failing to fully staff the department, hurting morale among the rank-and-file, and failing to address growing violence. Officers also viewed him as unfair in his discipline, including his firing of three officers who were charged with crimes in an infamous 2015 pot shop raid.
Rojas’ leadership came under fire in last year’s election by the police union, which spent over $400,000 backing Pulido, Villegas, Solorio and a fourth candidate who didn’t succeed, and opposing councilmen Vicente Sarmiento and Roman Reyna. Sarmiento won re-election, while Villegas succeeded in replacing Reyna on the council.
And Solorio replaced a member of the prior majority, Angie Amezcua, who supported Rojas and didn’t run for re-election. The police union was by far the largest spender in last year’s election.
Rojas’ claim, which the city says it received on June 19, is a precursor to Rojas being able to file a lawsuit. Under state law, Rojas can file suit if the city hasn’t settled the claim within 45 days, which in this case would be early August.
The legal claim’s existence was first reported Friday by City News Service.
Rojas names 29 witnesses to the alleged wrongdoing, including all seven Santa Ana council members, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho, Acting Police Chief David Valentin, several other current and past city officials, and Congressman Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana).
Voice of OC intern Jose Ochoa contributed to this article.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.