KERN COUNTY, CA – The union that represents Kern County sheriff’s deputies is suing the county to compel it to accept an arbitrator’s decision awarding damages to 12 deputies the union alleges were wrongly deprived of their personal patrol vehicles for driving too fast.
Attorneys for Kern Law Enforcement Association say in the Dec. 22 filing in Kern County Superior Court that the county’s Board of Supervisors “prejudicially abused its discretion” in voting to reject the arbitrator’s opinion and $6,372 award. The board failed to disclose the reasons upon which it decided to reject the opinion, and its decision is not supported by the evidence, the filing states.
“Our view is that the arbitrator’s decision is correct and (the board) didn’t officially state why they rejected it or what evidence they used,” Timothy Talbot, an attorney representing the union, said Wednesday.
Assistant County Counsel Mark Nations said he had not yet received the filing.
The dispute began following a Sept. 28, 2014, crash involving a deputy that killed a woman in Oildale. The deputy was responding to a fight at a bar and traveling at speeds of 85 mph on North Chester Avenue as it intersected with West China Grade Loop when he collided with the woman’s vehicle.
County Counsel Teresa Goldner has said the 12 deputies who responded to that crash traveled at excessive and dangerous speeds, some at more than 100 mph.
Sheriff Donny Youngblood took away those deputies’ right to drive their patrol cars home as punishment. Deputies are allowed to pay a fee to take their patrol vehicles home, and the Sheriff’s Office pays for gas and vehicle maintenance.
A Sheriff’s Office “audit” determined each deputy had violated the department’s “emergency driving” policy. Instead of a protracted disciplinary process, the deputies agreed to a short suspension of their right to drive vehicles home and were allowed to do so again in December 2014.
The union filed a grievance arguing the Sheriff’s Office had improperly suspended the deputies because there was “no evidence of misuse or abuse” of their assigned vehicles within the meaning of the policy, the court filing states. The grievance also alleged the deputies lost economic benefits associated with the ability to take their vehicles home.
On April 8, 2015, an arbitrator found the county had violated policy in suspending the deputies’ privilege and ordered the county to reimburse the deputies at the Internal Revenue Service rate for their commute mileage during the period they were not allowed to take their patrol vehicles home.
The board rejected the arbitrator’s opinion on Sept. 29, 2015.