Dismissed by EGPAL, Coach Learns Ex EGPD Officer Conducted Illegal Background Check

October 7, 2015 | A long time volunteer youth football coach who was abruptly dismissed last year from his position learned recently t...


October 7, 2015 |

A long time volunteer youth football coach who was abruptly dismissed last year from his position learned recently that he was illegally investigated by a former officer of the Elk Grove Police Department.

Charles Washington, a former volunteer football coach with the Elk Grove Police Activities League's (EGPAL) Dukes football team, learned that an illegal background check had been conducted on him. The findings were recently mailed to Washington after he had requested an internal affairs investigation following his August 14, 2014, dismissal from the EGPAL.

Washington's saga started in July, 2014, when he authored an email to Manuel Saenz, who at the time was the president of EGPAL's football program and an officer with the Elk Grove Police Department. The email was sent in response to concerns by Washington and several other coaches. 

The July 15 email, which Washington wrote and characterized as diplomatic, thanked Saenz for starting the EGPAL Dukes football organization. The email also requested more involvement from Saenz in day-to-day operations, and that the Dukes' board be included in the decision making that the email claimed were being made solely by Saenz.     

Washington said up to this point he had good relations with Saenz, and that the other coaches were reticent to address Saenz about their concerns.   

"It appeared no one wanted to address him," Washington said. "They knew I could talk to him."

In a coaches clinic about one week after the email was sent, Washington said that he was confronted by Saenz. Speaking outside the clinic, Saenz told Washington he wanted to speak to him "'about that bullshit email.'"

Washington said he did not want to discuss it there and after Saenz persisted, the two had a brief argument. After returning to the clinic, Washington said Saenz confronted him in the meeting, reengaged the argument and both ultimately left the meeting.

According to Washington, shortly thereafter Saenz was removed as president of the football operations, but remained a board member of the EGPAL. In the days following, Washington was approached at a practice by the new football president, Trent Smith. 

"He questioned me 'if I had anything in my background,'" Washington said. "I was like 'I got my clearance from the DOJ [Department of Justice]. I got my letter and everything.'"

As is the law, all EGPAL volunteers are required to have an annual criminal background check completed, and for Washington his record was clear. Washington acknowledged he had an arrest years earlier, but the charges were dropped. Arrests do not preclude an individual from coaching, and they do not show up on Department of Justice background checks.

On August 14, Smith personally delivered a letter to Washington informing him that at the direction of "Michelle Orrock, Executive Director of the Elk Grove Police Activities League, the Elk Grove PAL executive board voted to remove you as a volunteer" from all EGPAL programs. The letter also stated that the "information including meeting notes regarding this decision are confidential..."

At the time of the dismissal the executive board included Orrock, a Director with the Cosumnes Community Services District, Lt. Paul Solomon of the EGPD, Greg Bordelon, and Jerry Braxmeyer. 2014 IRS filings show Orrock and Kendra Lewis as the executive directors, Bordelon as president, Solomon as vice president, and Braxmeyer as secretary. 

According to Washington, the only person with access to the volunteers' background check was Lewis. As the former Executive Director of the EGPAL at the time of Washington's dismissal, Lewis was still associated with the group in fundraising activities and continued to be sole custodian of all the background check records.

Lewis verified with EGN her role as the records custodian and that Washington's record from the FBI was clear, she was not on the executive board at the time of their decision to dismiss Washington, and that she did not share the records with anyone. Day earlier on August 6, Washington received a letter from the EGPAL saying that he had been cleared on the background check.

As a result of the action taken against him, Washington emailed EGPD Police Chief Robert Lehner saying that the EGPAL "voted to remove me as a volunteer from all programs based on criminal background information provided to the board by Officer Manuel Saenz." Washington further stated he thought the move was in retaliation by Saenz for the July 15 email and requested an internal investigation claiming a "gross violation of my civil rights, and rights to privacy..."

The September 23, 2015 letter Washington received from the EGPD said that all three charges in his complaint were sustained. The letter did not mention Saenz or any other police officer or city employee who might have performed the act.

The three charges were:
  • Charge 1 - Use of information for personal gain
  • Charge 2 - Wrongful exercise of authority
  • Charge 3 - Unauthorized access to department computers
The letter defines sustained as "the investigation discloses sufficient evidence to sustain the act occurred and that it constituted misconduct."

The letter does not discuss the employment status of any employee saying "specific information regarding our investigation as it relates to a personnel matter is confidential as required by law (Penal Code Section 832.7). As such, we are not able to divulge any further information regarding your complaint."

Contacted by phone, Saenz declined to comment and referred any inquiry to the EGPD.

The EGPD verified that Saenz' employment with the city separated on August 15, 2015. Citing personnel laws, they could not discuss under what circumstances Saenz' employment concluded.

Law enforcement officials illegally accessing databases can be subjected to criminal charges. Last summer two male Fairfield Calif. police officers were placed under criminal investigation after they allegedly accessed the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System database to investigate the background of women on internet dating sites. 

As for civil remedies, Washington's attorney Paul Pereira of the Sacramento law firm of Poole & Pereira said Saenz' actions might be considered slander and could have violated Washington's civil rights depending how, and to whom, the information was disclosed.

"At this point in time we don't know what information exactly he gave the board to trigger the release of Mr. Washington," Pereira said. "Until we have that information, I don't want to speculate."

Pereira added that the September 23 letter from the EGPD "confirms what Charles' position has been for the past year on this subject."

Elk Grove Police Chief Robert Lehner noted that all complaints the department receives are vetted and depending on the seriousness, an internal investigation can be conducted. All complaints are also reviewed by the chain of command, including the chief and a response provided to the complainant.    

"In potentially more serious cases or ones where serious misconduct is alleged, complaints are investigated by our Internal Affairs Unit," Lehner said. "In most cases, a sustained complaint will result in some form of corrective action which can range from additional training to termination in the most serious cases."

Administratively if Washington pursues a civil remedy, the first step that is required is to file a governmental claim against the city of Elk Grove and the EGPD. The city and the EGPD can accept the claim or deny it, and if the claim is denied, only then can the complainant file a civil action against the governmental entity under California law.

As a result of the removal as an EGPAL coach, Washington says his reputation has been hurt and that he was removed from a vocation he truly enjoys, coaching football. Washington said he also believes his civil rights were violated.

"I was humiliated, embarrassed and very upset," he said. "My reputation as a coach was severely damaged."

Copyright © 2015 by Elk Grove News. All rights reserved


Volunteers, participants, and board members of the 
EGPAL's Dukes football team accepted the 
2012 Mayor's Volunteer Award for Community Groups.  

  

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19 comments

Anonymous said...

Logical next questions: Who else did Saenz look up? And for whom and for what purpose?

Capt. Benjamin L. Willard said...

It is unfortunate that the EGPD was tarnished because of what former Officer Saenz did to Mr. Washington. Chief Lehner appears to run an up-and-up department, so suppose any time you have a lot of people in an organization a few bad apples will slip through the cracks.

I am glad to see that the police did not whitewash what Mr. Saenz did and by the implication of this report, terminated his employment. As noted in the comment above, it does make one wonder if others had their background information illegally checked.

Anonymous said...

Typical law enforcement BS. 99.98% of cops are crooks as are politicians. From William Shakespeare, "First, kill the lawyers!"

Anonymous said...

What happens in the dark always come to light

Jack Webb said...

Problem is, I smell a lawsuit against the city brewing, a cash settlement, and taxpayers footing the bill. How come when justice is served, the taxpayers always lose and the lawyers win?

Anonymous said...

Remember thinking there was something going on when the City of Elk Grove denied EGPAL Grant money in February, 2015.

http://www.elkgrovenews.net/2015/02/elk-grove-police-activities-league.html

I pay attention said...

Well Jack, perhaps the taxpayers will start to pay attention to what those governing our fair city are doing. While it sucks that a large settlement is in the city's future, sometimes that is exactly what it takes to make people pay attention and is the only way to enforce some sort of lesson upon the evildoers. Perhaps the taxpayers will vote in 3 new council members in 2016.

Anonymous said...

More than one person came forward to question monies given to the EGPAL and tried to hold them accountable, but it landed on deaf ear. I guess the Elk Grove City Council is listening now to sound of how much the legal fees and what the settlement will be.

IMO, the EGPAL Executive Board needs to pay up. They acted on Saenz' illegal background check instead of following their own guidelines and that of the Dept. of Justice!

Anonymous said...

So if they acted on the information I would think that the question should be: what was so egregious in Washington's background that made them feel that they needed to keep him away from children? And why was that missed by the old executive director who was the self admitted custodian of the records?

Two sides to every story.

Anonymous said...

What's the cheapest way to replace this council? Wait a minute! It's a beautiful time of year in Pakistan. The whole council should visit our potential sister city. I'm sure Isis are a welcoming bunch this time of year.

Anonymous said...

Orrick asked for 4 times the amount needed to run a nonprofit organization!!

Anonymous said...

If the DOJ had already cleared Washington, where did Saenz get information to say otherwise (illegally)? Furthermore, in order to become the "custodian of records," one MUST BE cleared by the DOJ!

Anonymous said...

Since Orrick asked for "4 times" the money needed, that makes one ask "what are you going to do with the EXTRA MONEY?" Vacation, remodel, new car, etc...

Sick and tired said...

To Anon 12:46,

In this case there are not two sides to the story. DOJ said Mr. Washington was clear. Saenz illegally used CLEATS and searched Mr. Washington. Again, DOJ had the full picture and all details. Saenz committed a crime and chose to selectively divulge information that was not true and correct.

Lawsuit? Yep! And I hope they bankrupt the City of Elk Grove!

Anonymous said...

I agree with sick and tired....Mr. Washington was cleared by DOJ...that should have been enough. Too many times officers have overstepped their boundaries and used their authority for the wrong reasons. Mr. Washington like many other "volunteers" are out there for the kids and instead of us showing our appreciation for these volunteers, Mr. Saenz takes a personal vendetta against Mr. Washington and slanders him. Good for you Mr. Washington for standing up for your rights!!!

Mrs. Greenbow said...

If it's intentional I'm laughing my butt off....and if it's not I'm still laughing my butt off!!!!

It's not Orr ick, but rather Orrock as in Michelle Orrock CCSD Board Member. I wonder how her fellow Board members feel about her ick spreading all over them. How can Orrock being a member of the CCSD Board, a member of the PAL Board and Executive Director of the PAL? Isn't that like the fox guarding the hen house? That says to me that the PAL was operating undercover of darkness; no oversight, no checks and balances. Makes one wonder what happened with the finances. Where's an accounting of the PAL books, better yet where are the books? Where are the assets? Perhaps the city council should demand her presence at the next meeting and demand answers to these and other questions.

I think it's quite apparent that there are many layers to what has been happening with the PAL. We have Saenz being fired, er, separated from the EGPD. Now add in Orrock, and by extension, the CCSD. Who else? Solomon of EGPD had to be aware of what Saenz did so why wasn't he fired? And isn't there a saying about all it takes is 2 to become a conspiracy? Or wait, maybe it's the one about the cover up always being worse than the crime......

I would love to know who else Saenz looked up 'cause you know if he did it once he did it ten times. Wonder if he looked up anyone on the city council or maybe fellow officers.

Hold on to your hats folks, this is gonna be good.

Anonymous said...

I think it is a sad state of affairs when a law enforcement officer can use his/her badge to get dirt on another person who just voiced their opinion. I guess Manny Saenz didn’t take to kindly to anyone questioning his authority.

And shame on the EGPAL Executive Board for believing anything other than the official DOJ background report. A false criminal accusation can ruin someone’s life and I applaud the “former EGPAL Executive Director,” for trying to protect Mr. Washington’s rights. We certainly can’t same the same for the last EGPAL Executive Director Michelle Orrock who initiated the letter to dismiss Mr. Washington.

Orrock is an elected official on the Cosumnes CSD and is up for re-election in 2016. IMO, she along with the others, violated Mr. Washington’s civil rights and that is not someone whom I want representing me on the CSD. Jerry Braxmeyer also announced he is running for the CSD and both campaigns are being run by Orrock’s husband. Remember, the company they keep when voting!

By EGPD sustaining all three allegations, Mr. Washington may have a slam dunk lawsuit. I hope he goes after all the deep pockets and he also sues the EGPAL Executive Board personally.

Give people a little power and they think they can ruin someone’s life. Good for Mr. Washington for standing up to these people!

Anonymous said...

Well two sides to every story you clearly have given Mr. Washington's attorney the answer to his question about what "is" the information that that the EGPAL board had to begin with. No one would know what was in Mr. Washington's arrest record if you had not offered that information. Be careful not to get yourself or others into anymore legal trouble than you already have. He could have been arrested for anything domestic violence, DUI, drugs, warrants, faliure to pay tickets, etc. but because you are trying to protect yourself you choose to divert attention to someone else. The fact is Mr. Washington was a volunteer a minimum of 2-years prior than the previous executive director you are referring to if they wanted to keep him from children it should have happened way before now.

But that is not the issue at hand. The issue is there would be no need to comment on this or there would be no story if the folks that had this information had vetted it and had bothered to ask Mr. Washington anything about this matter to see if in fact this information was valid, true, correct. But maybe they are just not that smart. American citizens have a right to privacy and are protected by laws that protects all citizens' civil rights, although some may not think that we are all equal.

Patiently waiting said...

Very interesting. It will be interesting to know what else Orrock & her band have done "under the cover of darkness!" Why would she ask for an "excessive amount" of money then orchestrate the closing of the program?
I remember when PAL started; it appeared they were doing good for the community as far as keeping our youth actively engaged.
Waiting to see "what else is uncovered" from the "Orrock band"..

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