Eleven Tons Of Gravel In Ex-Girlfriend’s Driveway Leads To Officer’s Termination

Duane Winchell was a deputy sheriff employed by Riverside County, California. Winchell was involved in a romantic relationship with a woman referred to in the Court’s opinion only as “Ms. Keegan.” Early in 2002, Ms. Keegan wanted to break off the relationship; Winchell disagreed and became upset that Keegan was seeing another man.

Winchell went to Keegan’s residence on April 5, 2002, saw a vehicle in her driveway that did not belong to Keegan, and ran the license plate of the vehicle on the California Law Enforcement Telecommunication System.

The owner of the vehicle was present at Keegan’s residence when Winchell entered and an emotional confrontation resulted. Keegan called 911 in an effort to get Winchell to leave. Shortly after the incident, $1,000 was transferred from Keegan’s bank account without her knowledge.

Winchell then wrote a 12-page letter describing his relationship with Keegan, including Keegan’s sexual proclivities, and placed the letter on her new boyfriend’s windshield. In the letter, Winchell admitted making the transfer of funds. Days later, 11 tons of gravel were dumped in Keegan’s driveway and several trees were cut down from her yard without her authorization. Winchell was seen driving past Keegan’s residence when the gravel was being delivered.

Eventually, the Sheriff’s Department terminated Winchell for his conduct, and for being untruthful in the internal investigation into his acts. When an arbitrator upheld Winchell’s termination, he challenged the Arbitrator’s opinion in the California Court of Appeals.

Winchell’s central argument was that at the outset of his interviews, he invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination under the federal Constitution, and was admonished that if he did not answer questions he could be terminated for insubordination. Though Winchell then made a number of statements to the investigators, he claimed that he was wrongfully not told that his statements would be inadmissible in a subsequent criminal proceeding.

The Court rejected Winchell’s argument. The Court noted that “Winchell did not remain silent and was not terminated for insubordination. He implies, but has not shown, that he was not admonished his statements could not be used in a subsequent criminal proceeding. However, since he does not assert that his statements were subsequently used in a criminal proceeding, there is no impropriety in the questioning by internal affairs.”

Winchell also argued that statements that were compelled under the Garrity rule could not be used against him in the disciplinary process. The Court found this argument to be contrary to the law, observing that “Winchell’s position is directly contradicted by the statute that expressly permits the use of such statements in disciplinary actions. The constitutional protection against compelled self-incrimination in a criminal case does not protect against the non-penal adverse use of officially compelled answers.”

Winchell v. County of Riverside, 2009 WL 1479172 (Cal. App. 2009).

This article appears in the July 2009 issue