Santa Ana’s police union president Gerry Serrano says he’s on administrative leave, following his campaign to boost his pension, which had city officials concerned he would “burn the place down” in the process, according to internal memos.
“As you may be aware, chief Valentin has placed me, your Association President, on administrative leave and ordered that I participate in a fitness for duty exam,” Serrano wrote in an Aug. 27 memo to police union members, available to read here.
“Yesterday, while I was with many of our members at the POA in support of Officer Jonathon O’Neil’s fundraiser, the chief sent a commander(s) to my house startling my wife and son in an attempt to place me on administrative leave,” Serrano added in the memo.
He termed the department’s move as “improper, a violation of the MOU, and possibly unlawful, and [the union is] taking action to contest it.”
The union will “continue to function as normal and I as your duly elected president. There will be no interruption in the services provided by the Association to its members,” he wrote in his memo.
Santa Ana Police Dept. spokesperson Sonia Rojo and Santa Ana City Hall spokesperson Paul Eakins both declined to comment on Serrano’s administrative leave.
In early August, Voice of OC reported on the unease among top City Hall executives over Serrano’s pension quest, voicing concern through internal documents about the union boss’ alleged threats to “make disclosures that will hurt people” and attempts to get elected officials to put pressure on City Manager Kristine Ridge.
Serrano is one of the city’s highest-compensated employees with total pay and benefits exceeding $500,000 as of 2019, all while doing no police work for the city as part of his full-time release provision under the police union’s labor contract.
But Serrano wants more.
Part of the compensation Serrano makes is bonus pay that doesn’t legally count toward his eventual pension payout, the state pension agency CalPERS found last year.
Mayor Vicente Sarmiento declined to comment when reached by Voice of OC on Friday, citing familial obligations.
In a written statement to Voice of OC regarding Serrano’s pension efforts in August, Sarmiento said “Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have witnessed the Police Association engaging in these tactics.”
“I’ve reported corruption and misconduct. For doing so, whistleblowing, the Chief has retaliated illegally against me,” Serrano wrote in an emailed response to Voice of OC requests for comment.
The union under Serrano has filed a barrage of legal claims against the city, leveling various allegations against officials in the police department and City Hall.
But Ridge, in one memo, said it’s her belief that Serrano’s pension efforts are “the driving influence behind the barrage of allegations and tort claims from Mr. Serrano personally, through the (police union) Board and through legal counsel hired by the (union).”
The city has spent “tens of thousands of dollars researching the law, reviewing options and negotiating” with Serrano and his attorney, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho wrote in one document obtained by Voice of OC.
Ridge, in another internal letter, also said the city’s recently-hired Human Resources Director “has dedicated significant hours, to not only overseeing the allegations, but also to attempt to engage in a professional working relationship with the POA President.”
“In those conversations and based upon other statements made by Mr. Serrano, it is clear he intends to ‘burn the City to the ground unless he gets what he wants,’” Ridge wrote.
Staff writer Nick Gerda contributed reporting.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @photherecord.