Former UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza has been tapped to head up the police department of small, dysfunctional Pacific, Wash., according to that city’s controversial mayor.
Spicuzza has agreed to act as interim public safety director of the city of 6,700, Mayor Cy Sun said Thursday. In April 2012, Spicuzza retired from UCD while still under investigation for her role in the pepper-spraying of Occupy UC Davis protesters five months earlier.
The Enterprise did not immediately reach Spicuzza for comment.
It’s safe to say, she’d never have a more colorful boss than Sun. On Thursday, he was awaiting a ruling from the Washington Supreme Court on his appeal of a lower court decision to allow residents to vote to recall him.
Sun said he is comfortable with his choice of Spicuzza despite investigations that blamed her — as well as administrators and officers under her command — for the pepper-spraying.
Said Sun, “Here’s what I look at: I’m an 84-year-old man, OK? I’ve been through hell and back, OK? I’ve been in the Korean War, Vietnam War and what have you. By education, I’m a nuclear physicist. After that, I’ve been a farmer.
“The way I think is like this: a man’s past, or a woman’s past, whatever happened, I overlook that. I talk to them and get my opinion of their character. Once I have the opinion, I have the knowledge of the feeling to either reject or approve.
“When I talked to her, she gave me the impression she’s a highly ethical person with great integrity. And she has the spunk to do what I need her to do, which is taking over the police department. I don’t care where she’s been or what happened before.”
Spicuzza’s appointment still needs to be approved by the Pacific City Council, which is set to meet on Monday. It’s unlikely to be a rubber-stamp vote, given that council meetings there have disintegrated into shouting and finger-pointing.
The mayor stands at the center of the controversy, even his background and age disputed by opponents.
For one thing, Sun’s claim, repeated to The Enterprise, of being a nuclear physicist — along with other reported boasts, including shoeing the racehorse Secretariat — appear to be untrue, though when pressed, he did produce military medals his opponents had said didn’t exist.
Sun’s past, however, is less controversial than his actions as mayor. Since being elected in January 2012 as a write-in candidate, winning by 63 votes, he has fired or forced out all of the city’s department heads, throwing the city into such turmoil that its insurer announced plans to drop coverage.
At one point, the city clerk, reportedly worried that the mayor might tamper with documents, locked Sun out of her office. Police arrested him as he tried to force his way in — with Sun attempting to fire them as they did so.
Sun’s feud with the police department provoked the recall effort.
The mayor fired Chief John Calkins for yelling at city staff following a meeting during which the chief learned the mayor had canceled plans to purchase new patrol cars. Pacific’s Civil Service Commission later overturned the termination, saying it was made for political reasons.
Sun placed Calkins and his second in command, Lt. Edwin Massey, on paid administrative leave March 22, pending Sun’s investigation into unspecified allegations of harassment and intimidation.
Sun declined to elaborate on Thursday, except to say that the allegations involve the pair and a third unnamed city employee and are intended “to protect (Calkins) and the city from liability.”
With the pair on leave, Pacific has five police officers left on active duty — compared to 11 when Sun took office, according to the Auburn Record newspaper.
Into that mess would walk Spicuzza.
If she’s appointed interim chief, it would mark a return to Washington state for the veteran police officer. She has previously served in the Kennewick and Federal Way police departments there, as well as for the Washington State Law Enforcement Training Academy and University of Washington Police Department.
Spicuzza led a UCD department that included 54 sworn officers through budget cuts and some notable successes, including the Safe Party Initiative.
The campus’ first female chief was placed on paid administrative leave amid a worldwide outcry over a viral video showing seated, unarmed protesters pepper-sprayed by two of her officers, neither of whom remains with the department.
A task force led by former California Chief Justice Cruz Reynoso called Spicuzza’s actions, both as a member of Chancellor Linda Katehi’s leadership team and as head of the department, “critically flawed.” It labeled the department “very dysfunctional.”
Spicuzza, then 56, stepped down before the department’s internal investigation was complete, retiring with full benefits.
— Reach Cory Golden at [email protected] or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden