A veteran Santa Monica Police Department captain has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the City of Santa Monica and his department superiors, claiming he was retaliated against for disclosing alleged misconduct by a superior officer.
In the complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Tuesday, July 15th, Santa Monica police Capt. Mark Smiley, who has served with the department for 26 years, alleges that Police Chief Timothy Jackman and Deputy Chief Phil Sanchez have falsely accused him of misappropriating $58,000 in department funds and lying about the number of hours he worked.
Smiley, who was the commanding officer of the Office of Special Enforcement, which includes Special Operations and Traffic, has been on paid leave from the department since November.
He claims in the lawsuit that the accusations made by his superiors were in retaliation for his complaints of alleged misconduct by Sanchez and to eliminate the perceived threat he posed to the superiors’ position.
Smiley alleges that Sanchez was misappropriating department assets by having a police officer perform school work for the deputy chief’s master’s degree classes while on duty.
Smiley says he sent an anonymous “white” letter to the Santa Monica mayor, city manager and city attorney, informing them of the alleged misconduct. After Jackman and Sanchez learned that Smiley was the author of the letter, they began to retaliate two weeks later, the complaint alleges.
The veteran police captain is seeking $10 million in damages in the lawsuit, claiming that he has suffered severe emotional distress and irreparable harm to his reputation and ability to obtain meaningful future employment.
Santa Monica Police Department spokesman Sgt. Renaldi Thruston said the department could not comment on the lawsuit, calling the case “an ongoing personnel issue.”
Smiley’s attorney, Clifford Pearson, also declined to comment on the case, other than to say “the complaint speaks for itself regarding the conduct of the city and its employees.” Pearson is working with Thomas Girardi, considered one of the nation’s top trial lawyers who specializes in commercial litigation, and Robert Baker, who represented O.J. Simpson during his civil trial.
Calling it a “personnel matter,” city attorney spokeswoman Jeanette Schachtner said the city attorney could not comment on the complaint but confirmed that the office has received the lawsuit.
Smiley claims in the lawsuit that because of his experience and reputation in the police department, both Jackman and Sanchez viewed the captain as a threat to their status. Jackman and Sanchez were also upset that Smiley expressed discontent over their unwillingness to take notes at meetings, the complaint says.
In their alleged retaliation, the chief and deputy chief falsely accused Smiley of lying about the number of hours he worked, knowing that the captain had a position on salary that did not require him to record the hours worked, according to the complaint.
Approximately two weeks after Smiley wrote the letter to city officials, he was placed on paid leave pending an investigation. At no time prior to that date was Smiley ever approached or questioned regarding the allegations he made of misconduct on the part of his superiors, he says in the lawsuit.
Smiley says he was reprimanded in embarrassing fashion, as he was ordered to disrobe and turn over his police uniform in the presence of other officers, and give up his badge and gun. He says his name was taken off his office and police caution tape was placed on his office door.
The complaint says the captain was escorted from the police station and driven to his home, where a tow truck confiscated his police motorcycle in the presence of his children and neighbors.
Smiley claims that his superiors made the accusations against him as public and damaging to his reputation as possible.
Santa Monica city manager P. Lamont Ewell declined to comment on the case, calling it a personnel matter, but he noted that he has “every confidence in the chief [Jackman].”
Former Santa Monica Police Chief James Butts, who worked with Smiley for 15 years and promoted him three times, referred to the captain’s dedicated service in the department, saying he is an “extremely bright and committed police executive.”
“He has a spotless disciplinary history and I know him to be a person of the highest integrity,” said Butts, who left Santa Monica in 2006 to serve as deputy executive director of airport law enforcement and protection serv- ices at Los Angeles World Airports, which operates Los Angeles International Airport.
“He is one of the brightest police minds I have ever worked with,” Butts said of Smiley.
The former police chief said he was shocked to hear of the case and added that there should be a full investigation of the complaints contained in Smiley’s lawsuit.
Smiley joined the police department in 1982 and worked various assignments as an officer until he was promoted to sergeant in 1994. He served as captain for nearly six years and held positions in Criminal Investigations, Operations and Special Enforcement.
He has been actively involved in community activities, including the Police Activities League in which he chaired a committee for the Ricardo Crocker Memorial Golf Tournament, and assisted in bringing a homeless community court to the city.
A graduate of the FBI National Academy, Smiley served as one of three interim police chiefs during the search for Butts’ replacement.