Outgoing Costa Mesa Police Chief Claims Retaliation at City Hall

JESSICA RUIZ, Voice of OC

Costa Mesa City Hall.

Retiring Costa Mesa Police Chief Robert Sharpnack says City Hall is pushing him out in retaliation for his challenging of “improper interference” by city officials into the police department and its resources, according to a legal claim obtained by Voice of OC

“The City denies the allegations in the claim,” said city spokesman Tony Dodero in a statement, adding that “the City wishes Chief Sharpnack the best in his retirement.”

Sharpnack announced his retirement in October, a few months after a disagreement between him and the City Council over how much support from the city is actually needed for the police department. 

In a memo obtained earlier this year by the Daily Pilot, Sharpnack saw a lack of priority for the police department in the city’s 2019-2020 budget, blasting the city’s proposed amount of funding and level of police officers as potentially jeopardizing “safety in the community.”

Sharpnack’s claim says city officials embarked on an effort to “force him out on ‘leave’” after he challenged them and have threatened him with a “retaliatory ‘investigation’ in order to manufacture entirely non-existent ‘cause’” for forcing his retirement. 

On Oct. 28, city officials told Sharpnack they didn’t want him returning to work — despite his requests to do so — “and if he did, he would be ‘investigated,’” according to his claim. 

When Sharpnack then accused city officials of wrongdoing, “the City threatened yet another retaliatory ‘investigation’” his claim adds.

Another set of emails obtained by Voice of OC show that Sharpnack and City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison got into a dispute over when exactly to release the news of his retirement to his department and the public.

Sharpnack was promoted to chief in 2015, amid staffing and leadership problems at the department stemming from the departure of dozens of officers in 2013, the resignation of former chief Chris Shawkey in 2011 after admitting he misused a city credit card, and the resignation of his replacement interim chief Steven Staveley who similarly criticized city decisions on the police department. 

“While Chief Sharpnack had planned and desired to end his law enforcement career with the City (until well past the age of fifty), the city’s actions and omissions have made/are making this extremely difficult if not impossible,” Sharpnack’s claim reads.

He’s seeking more than $10,000 for damages that his claim says includes forfeiting five years of pension earnings. 

He’s worked at the city for around 26 years. 

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.