Rio Vista Police Officer Who Was Fired For Lying Wins Job Back, Even Though Department Has Been Disbanded

A Rio Vista police officer who was fired last year for dishonesty and making a false arrest was awarded her job back on Tuesday.

The Rio Vista City Council decided to downgrade Officer Natalie Rafferty’s termination to a suspension for her involvement in a 2018 incident. The move, though, is largely symbolic because the city disbanded its Police Department late last year. Rafferty will, however, receive back pay.

The reduced discipline is the latest development in the first complete set of officer misconduct cases revealed under a California police transparency law enacted last year.

Rafferty was fired in March 2019 for her actions in the arrest of Katheryn Jenks on Sept. 30, 2018. Jenks had made repeated 911 calls in previous weeks, but each time officers responded, they hadn’t found any emergency.

When she again called 911, Rafferty and her partner arrived at Jenks’ home and arrested her for making those calls. As the officers forcibly took the 56-year-old into custody, Rafferty’s police dog jumped from the back of the patrol car and mauled Jenks’ arm. Jenks was booked into jail for harassing 911 and felony resisting arrest.

An internal investigation launched by the police chief at the time found that Rafferty did not have grounds for the arrest. That investigation also found that she put false information into her reports to bolster the suggested felony charge and cover up for Jenks’ serious injuries.

The charges against Jenks were dropped in March 2019, after KQED and the Bay Area News Group reported on the internal investigation.

Rafferty appealed her termination and won at arbitration in May. Arbitrator Daniel Saling found that the internal investigation was unfair, and that Mark Siemens, the investigator hired by the city, “omitted or misconstrued evidence to support his findings.”

Saling, however, upheld Rafferty’s three-shift suspension for another incident on June 16, 2018. She was disciplined for her handling of a dagger that had been confiscated from a man on parole for domestic violence. Rafferty returned the dagger to the parolee’s girlfriend. The next day the man was again abusive to his girlfriend, records show.

The Rio Vista City Council heard arguments on June 25 from Rafferty’s lawyer, who said she should be reinstated, and from an attorney for the city, who argued that Saling had ignored key evidence of Rafferty’s misconduct.

The City Council came to a split decision Tuesday, finding the city did have cause to discipline Rafferty for the Jenks incident, but that termination was too harsh. Instead, council members voted to suspend Rafferty without pay for 15 shifts, and to strip her of training and supervision duties. Wages for those shifts will be withheld from her back pay, the City Council decided, which will otherwise include the bulk of last year.

Rafferty can still fight the downgraded discipline decision, and has 90 days to file an appeal in Solano County Superior Court. Her attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Blair Goss, who works for the law firm representing Jenks in a civil claim against the city, said this split decision is “designed to absolve the city of liability.”

“Meanwhile, Katheryn is still hurt, still can’t use her arm or her hand, and still has pain every day of her life,” Goss said. “And the City Council wants no one to be to blamed for that.”

There is also no police department for Rafferty to return to. Following her firing, and an investigation into Rio Vista Peace Officer Association President Lisa McDowell, a group of residents raised questions about how Chief Dan Dailey was running the department. There were also calls to fire Rob Hickey, the city manager who hired Dailey.

Dailey retired late last year, along with several other officers who resigned or took medical retirement, effectively gutting the small department. The rest of the officers were laid off. In January, the policing contract for Rio Vista was awarded to the Solano County Sheriff.

Rafferty and McDowell have filed an ongoing lawsuit against the city alleging they were discriminated against on the basis of their gender. Both Dailey and the city deny those allegations.

From KQED