On Wednesday, January 15, the City of Fort Bragg announced John Naulty as the Interim Chief of its police department.
Naulty served with the Fort Bragg Police Department (FBPD) during two different stints in the past. He began his career in law enforcement with the FBPD in 1981, rising to the rank of sergeant and serving 22 years until he took a position with the Brentwood Police Department in 2002.
During those first two decades with FBPD, Naulty performed in many roles. He worked as a K-9 officer, as a detective, a Field Training Officer (FTO), and a Taser instructor. He earned the right to be the first Fort Bragg officer assigned to the Mendocino County Major Crimes Task Force. He won recognition as the Fort Bragg Police Department Narcotics Officer of the Year. In 1996, Naulty gained promotion to the rank of Sergeant.
While working with the Brentwood PD, Naulty completed a leadership training program. He also earned a Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice management.
In November, 2011, Naulty returned to the FBPD, sworn in at that point as the department's lieutenant. Until the summer of 2014, he served under Chief Scott Mayberry, with whom Naulty had worked in his original tour at FBPD. Naulty continued as FBPD lieutenant until April, 2015.
Naulty gained statewide and national attention when a multi state crime spree, including armed robbery and kidnapping, that began in the wee hours of March 19, 2014, brought Richard (Ricardo) Antonio Chaney thundering into Mendocino County. He was spotted by a sheriff's department lieutenant on Highway One and chased at speeds up to 100 MPH before the lieutenant lost sight of the offending vehicle and driver. FBPD was notified as well as other Mendocino County Sheriff's Office deputies. Chief Mayberry and Lt. Naulty responded.
Sheriff's Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino was ambushed and killed in his vehicle north of town by automatic rifle fire from Chaney. Naulty heard the gunfire and moved toward it only to find Chaney rifling through the bullet-riddled patrol car and grabbing Del Fiorentino's sidearm.
Reports on the incident at the time indicated that Naulty and Chaney exchanged ten to fifteen rounds, after which Chaney escaped into the brush. The criminal was later found dead from a reported wound to the leg, according to Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman. The fatal shot presumably having been fired by Lt. Naulty.
Naulty received multiple commendations as a result of his valor on that March day. Thirteen months later, in announcing his second departure from FBPD, Naulty stated, “I would like to thank the community for their support of me and my family during this past year, as well as their support throughout my career in law enforcement. I have always taken pride in giving my best in every aspect of police work, and I’ve striven to teach others in law enforcement to realize that we work for the people, for the community. It is very important for me to stay active in support of officer training and safety.”
There were plenty of folks in Fort Bragg and throughout the county who felt Naulty, and Mayberry before him, were pressured by city officials to leave their posts. In many ways, and for many people, Mayberry's and Naulty's departures were linked. Some people close to Naulty indicate they are two distinctly different men.
Nevertheless, their departures from the police force were clearly an impetus behind the candidacy of Michael Cimolino. The anger and frustration of those residents of Fort Bragg who believed either or both officers were forced out was the chief reason Cimolino was the second highest vote-getter in the November  council election.
One might venture to guess that the departures of Mayberry and Naulty may have, in part, also been a motivation behind the successful candidacy of Bernie Norvell for a city council seat. A position Norvell is now running to serve in as a second term. Most if not all the key city officials who were viewed as opponents of Mayberry and/or Naulty are now gone from the Fort Bragg governmental scene.
In the time since John Naulty left the FBPD, the leadership of that department, meaning Chief Fabian Lizarraga, has been… shall we say, retiring. As in, it has appeared that Lizarraga came to Fort Bragg for almost nothing beyond gaining vestment in one more retirement pension. He has been seen on Friday afternoons driving east on Highway 20, not to respond to a police call, but to get to Santa Rosa as quickly as possible to catch a flight to the Los Angeles area, where he has maintained a home for decades. He has shown no dedication to Fort Bragg or the Mendocino Coast. At council meetings and Public Safety Committee meetings Lizarraga has displayed ignorance of law enforcement matters referenced in agenda items he should have prepared for ahead of time. In late 2019, when Council member Bernie Norvell asked him why FBPD had not participated in a law enforcement sweep aimed at gang members, Lizarraga offered up two or three excuses that even those uninitiated in police work had to find flimsy at best.
Naulty, on the other hand, has stayed in the area since his departure from FBPD in April, 2015. He has worked as a truck driver for GEO Aggregates for much of that time. Agree with him or not on any given issue, he cares about this place and the people who live here. You might actually see him out and about on a weekend.
The back to the future hire of John Naulty will either gain plaudits or raised eyebrows for Fort Bragg City Manager Tabatha Miller. She has been on the job for just short of two years. This is certainly a gutsy move and a positive response to those who have called for a return to local leadership at the Fort Bragg Police Department.