The Fort Bragg Police Department has conducted a bogus investigation in response to formal complaints filed against Officer Craig Guydan; a whitewash investigation that could be interpreted as a cover-up. That’s the headline, here’s some background: Officer Guydan shot a dog outside of 501 Walnut Street last December 21st, pulled a gun on youths playing football by streetlight on January 7th and has been the subject of several informal complaints (meaning not filed in writing on FBPD complaint forms) by citizens.
On June 10th Fort Bragg Police Chief Scott Mayberry sent out letters in response to the two formal complaints filed against Officer Guydan. Chief Mayberry’s letters to Coast Copwatch and to a Fort Bragg business owner who filed the second complaint both contain identical language: “Please be aware this department did conduct a full investigation into your complain (sic); however by law had no requirement to do so. This case was investigated by Mr. Chuck Lebak, a former Police Captain from Redding Police Department. After careful review of all of the statements, reports, and facts surrounding this investigation, I along with the investigator find no wrongdoing on the part of the Officer.”
For full disclosure, your columnist is a member of Coast Copwatch. Along with two other Coast Copwatch committee members I signed one of the letters of complaint. Chief Mayberry’s statement, quoted above, that the Fort Bragg Police Department was not required to investigate stems from his view that a complaint can be filed only by a citizen who was victimized by the wrongdoing of an officer. In the case of the dog shooting that presumably would be the dog itself or the dog owner. The dog, somewhat miraculously, survived a nearly point blank shot from Officer Guydan’s Glock .22. The dog owner is someone who feels extremely vulnerable challenging the authority of the Fort Bragg Police Department.
Coast Copwatch members conducted their own investigation into the December 21st shooting at 501 Walnut Street (see River Views columns of March 6, 13, and 20 for further details), which included interviewing several neighbors and painstakingly re-enacting the events of that evening as recorded in Officer Guydan’s own words in his official report. In short, using the officer’s own scenario, what happened was that three dogs ran out from an opened doorway at 501 Walnut Street, at least one of them barking and growling. Within a few seconds Officer Guydan kicked a medium-sized (30-35 pound) dog in the head with his boot. The dog responded to the kick in the head by apparently latching onto the area around the top of Guydan’s boot at which point Guydan, with gun already drawn, shot the dog through the chest. According to Guydan’s report, all of this transpired in eight seconds, possibly seven.
Coast Copwatch also filed its complaint on behalf of several citizens who are reluctant to come forward on their own. Some of these citizens are afraid of retaliation from the Fort Bragg Police Department. Emblematic of that fear is an email sent to Coast Copwatch by a downtown Fort Bragg business owner (some words are omitted and an italicized parenthetical added to protect the anonymity of the letter writer): “…while we would be happy to sign a petition or otherwise be part of a united citizen’s complaint about Guydan… we are a bit reluctant to be singled out as the point people attacking him because once that became known in the police department, it could make it very uncomfortable for us… because we drive around town in a very distinctive car (with the business name marked prominently on it) that could become an easy magnet for extra police attention.”
Chuck Lebak, the outside investigator hired either by the City of Fort Bragg or its police department, is a retired police captain. He worked for the Redding PD from the mid 1970s through 2007. Scott Mayberry, police chief of Fort Bragg, worked for the Redding Police Department for 15 years, beginning in the mid 1990s. Doubling down on conflict of interest, Mr. Lebak conducted the background check on Craig Guydan before he was officially hired by FBPD. In other words the person who gave the initial okay on Guydan was called in a year later to investigate possible wrongdoing by Guydan.
On the first Friday in May, I met with Lebak on the street outside 501 Walnut. Almost immediately he stated that he did not find fault with Guydan kicking and shooting the dog on December 21st.
Footnotes to the dog shooting: The Fort Bragg Police Department paid for the bulk of the vet bills necessitated by emergency surgery to save the animal. A reasonable inference to be drawn from this is that the Fort Bragg Police Department officer(s) who authorized payment for the emergency treatment did not view the dog’s actions as being in the wrong. Further evidence of this: after the dog’s release from the vet, no attempt was made by the Fort Bragg Police Department to cite the dog’s owner for any wrongful action nor did Fort Bragg PD make any attempt to have the dog confined. The dog in question had no history of attack or biting anyone before the December 21st shooting, nor has it had any such problem since recovering from its near fatal injury.
While I spoke with investigator Lebak, he referred to the Fort Bragg business owner who filed the second formal complaint in the kind of condescending terms that Archie Bunker might have used on Edith Bunker in the 1970s sitcom All in the Family. This woman’s complaint was lodged largely in response to the dog shooting. Lebak said that the real problem for Officer Guydan might lie in the complaints of other Fort Bragg business owners concerning their run-ins with Guydan and alleged false accusations made against them by Guydan. I explained that many of the citizens, including business owners, who had spoken with Coast Copwatch about Guydan were reluctant to talk on the record. In an email the following day I did supply Lebak with the name, business address, and home phone number of a Fort Bragg business owner who had expressed a willingness to come forward about his problems with Officer Guydan. I gave similar information to Lebak about a second business owner, detailing which one of the two home phone numbers the individual was most likely to answer. In addition, I gave Lebak the name of a third person and the location of his place of employment. This long time coast resident had indicated a willingness to speak on the record about problems he had with Guydan. I told Lebak that this individual then might lead the investigator to several other employees at the same business who had negative encounters with Guydan.
How many of those business owners and workers did Lebak contact in what Chief Mayberry termed a “careful review of all the statements, reports, and facts surrounding this investigation”? None. In other words, Lebak, who was supposed to be investigating potential wrongdoing, was given the names of three individuals who might have first hand knowledge about the alleged wrongdoing, but as of mid-June he had failed to contact those three individuals. This is the sort of behavior consistent with a whitewash or a deliberate cover-up.
During my discussion with Lebak and subsequent emails and a phone conversation, the investigator seemed less interested in digging into Guydan’s misdeeds than finding out how Coast Copwatch knew so much about Officer Guydan’s report concerning the dog shooting. In plain fact, Coast Copwatch obtained a copy of that report. How, when, and from whom we obtained the report is our business. At one point in a May 6th phone call Lebak said, “I want to know who is feeding you info?” After a brief pause, Lebak continued, “I’m suspicious of Officer “________.”
Early on in our Friday, May 3rd conversation on Walnut Street, investigator Lebak had disparaged the police work of Officer “________.”
Lebak spoke by phone with the second complainant late in May, making similar negative comments about Officer “________.” Lebak again implied that Officer “_______” leaked Guydan’s official report.
The officer whose name is being omitted here is the one member of the Fort Bragg Police Department mentioned most by citizens as doing a good job. Coast Copwatch has never received a serious complaint about the unnamed officer, only one extremely minor rebuke four to five years ago.
This brings up an important question: Why is this investigator, Lebak, “throwing Officer ‘________’ under the bus” in conversations to Coast Copwatch and a Fort Bragg resident? Since the investigator lives in Redding and visits Fort Bragg only occasionally it seems improbable that Lebak’s derogatory statements about Officer “_______” derive from his own sporadic observations. Logically, one would have to infer that the statements are a reflection of someone else within the Fort Bragg Police Department. If the comments are Lebak’s thoughts alone, they clearly imply that he is a loose cannon conducting an investigation improperly. If Lebak’s negative statements about Officer “_______” are modeled on similar comments he hears within the Fort Bragg Police Department then we have a much dirtier problem of infighting and professional jealousies within a small town police department, which brings into question how the department is being run.
Within his first year of leadership at the department, Police Chief Scott Mayberry helped to organize Neighborhood Watch groups throughout Fort Bragg. What the Guydan situation lays bare is Mayberry’s willingness to be open with the citizenry is only a one-way street. He has applauded tipsters who have helped lead to arrests, but a Fort Bragg resident who questioned Guydan’s behavior two days after the dog shooting was derided for being more concerned about the dog that was shot than his officer (who obviously was not shot or injured). That citizen resigned from her local Neighborhood Watch.
The city government of Fort Bragg is not blameless here either. The City foots the bill for the incompetent investigation of Chuck Lebak. The Public Safety Committee essentially oversees the police department. The Public Safety Committee includes two members of the city council as well as the city manager and the police chief. When Coast Copwatch contacted Councilmember Scott Dietz to relay citizens’ complaints regarding Officer Guydan, Dietz interrupted to say, “This is above my pay grade.”
As of June, Dietz is now the chairman of the Public Safety Committee. All of this leads back to a statement made by Coast Copwatch before the entire Fort Bragg City Council in 2008, calling for a Citizens Oversight Committee for the police department. Seven years before, the 2001 Mendocino County Grand Jury included in its recommendations for the Fort Bragg PD that “the City Council appoint a Police Department citizen oversight and review board.”
The City Council and City Manager ignored Coast Copwatch’s 2008 call for citizen oversight, leading to two and a half more years of disgraceful leadership under Chief Mark Puthuff. The City of Fort Bragg’s official response to the Grand Jury stated, “The Public Safety Committee provides oversight and involvement with Police Department and community public safety operations.”
Now, we have a Public Safety Committee in which its key City Councilmember says that complaints about the police are “above his pay grade.”
The City of Fort Bragg needs to conduct a full and truly independent investigation into the allegations against Officer Guydan. If Chief Mayberry’s Neighborhood Watch program is to continue with legitimacy, he must also accept some sort of thoroughly independent citizens’ oversight board. Without that balance, Fort Bragg will continue to appear to be nothing more than a hayseed burg in which its own business owners are afraid of police retaliation and all complaints against that department are swept under the rug.