Fairfax Drops Dead Cop Investigation
By Jim Scanlon
The sudden death in early March of Ric Alveolar, the "nicest cop" in Fairfax, also put an end, it seems, to the controversy over the way charges made against him were handled by the Police Department and the Fairfax Town Administration. Alvillar had allegedly been told by Chief Ken Hughes that he would make a decision on his dismissal on a Friday, but no decision was announced that day, nor on Saturday or Sunday, the day Ric died in his sleep of cardiac dysrythmia.
The town had paid approximately $19,000 to a private investigator, retired San Anselmo Police Captain Richard Schmidt, to look into charges made against Alvillar by Sergeant James Providenza and also charges of harassment made previously by Alvillar against Providenza. The Fairfax town council was asked to retroactively approve payment to Schmidt and a private attorney involved, but refused to allow council members to see the report. A disagreement erupted among councilmen over the report and also over who had the final say in terminating an employee.
Ric's wife Terri (who writes for the Coastal Post) seems to have solved the stand off by distributing Ric's copy of the Schmidt report, 79 unbound pages of single spaced type, with no annex or index. She claimed that Schmidt and a contract attorney were hired by former Town Administrator Chuck Cate on a verbal basis, without a written contract or documentation, to investigate Alvillar and by implication dismiss him for a minor accident incident filed by Sergeant Providenza, one of his three supervising Sergeants. Schmidt, a former San Anselmo Police Captain, and Providenza who is now a San Anselmo Police Captain, are rumored to be personal friends and must have known and worked together professionally in their neighboring police jurisdictions over the years.
The incident involved minor property damage at a location outside Fairfax city limits. Terri Alvillar claimed that it was against police policy to respond to routine, non emergency calls outside town limits. She also said her husband had once been reprimanded for responding to a non emergency call from outside city limits.
Last July, Terri and Ric Alvillar publicly protested against a public fund raising campaign for a neighbor, a mountain bike activist, who pled guilty to vandalizing the gate to the Alvillars' driveway after an unsuccessful attempt to oust Terri from the Fairfax Planning Commission last summer. The attorney for the bar/restaurant where the fund raising event was held, wrote to the Town Council criticizing both Terri and Ric for their protest and sought reassurance that the bar/restaurant would not be treated unfairly by town employees. The letter was apparently not presented to the Town Council and a copy was not addressed to the Alvillars. It was discovered by them by accident.
Tangentially related to the matter of the $20,000 undocumented expense, is the fact that the finances of the town are in a chaotic state due to mismanagement --- but that's another story, and if this sounds complicated and Byzantine, that's b ecause it is.
Fairfax Town Clerk Judy Anderson said that nothing was currently happening with regard to the Alvillar matter since the Council met in closed session and announced that Ric had died in good standing as an employee of the town. She said that since this was a personnel matter she could not comment further. She was also unable to confirm or deny that the report Ric's widow passed out at the council meeting was accurate and complete.
Although nothing is happening officially, a debate of sorts has emerged in the Letters to the Editor pages of the Ross Valley Reporter over: "Leaving Ric in Peace" or perhaps, in other words, "Lay Off the Town Council and Administration". Former County Supervisor and Town Councilman Peter Arrigoni has advocated peace as has Linda Christman an Assistant Marin County Administrator (second in command). Christman was the Town Administrator who fired Ric in 1992, a finding that was reversed by an administrative judge who cited numerous errors in the dismissal procedure, in addition to impeaching the oral testimony of Sergeant Providenza who initiated those charges. Christman was also the hearing office in the recent dismissal of Ed Stewart, the former Head of Environmental Services who was dismissed (literally thrown out of the Civic Center) after complaining about political interference in public health matters by a County Supervisor.
Schmidt's 79 page report is mind numbing to read, going over and over what are essentially minor details of a minor accident and whether Alvillar used proper tenses and made spelling and punctuation mistakes in his reports. At times the questions and answers seem like a meeting of grade school teachers discussing a student who could write better reports if he wanted. One gets the impression that much conflict and tension could have been avoided by a good spell and grammar checker. The format of the report is unusual in that Schmidt selectively reproduces dialogue of the people he interviewed, although the report itself is not a transcription. To be able to produce dialogue of this sort shows great talent but probably is better suited to the theater.
It seems clear that it was a serious mistake to have the same person (Schmidt) evaluate the charges against Alvillar by Providenza and the charges against Providenza by Alvillar. It looks bad.
What comes through clearly in Schmidt's report is the total absence of a Chief of Police in what must have been a difficult situation for Sergeant Providenza as well as Alvillar:
Charges, counter charges, a dismissal, having the dismissal reversed by a judge, reinstatement, the strain of working together, the strain of disciplining an officer who avoided your discipline previously and the strain of accepting discipline from a superior officer who, rightly or wrongly, once got you fired.
There is no indication that anyone ever did anything to bring these two men together and ease the mutual pain and discomfort of their interaction. Alvillar's other supervisors passed along his written reports to Providenza at his request to "help" Alvillar. They were not required to do this. They apparently never considered that this might create an appearance of prejudice. They should have known or considered, that conforming to such a request was demeaning and unfair and most likely would create dissension and harm morale. It is difficult to understand how any Chief could allow this sort of thing to go on and on. Obviously, Schmidt a high ranking police captain, on disability retirement, saw nothing unusual in the personnel policies of the Fairfax Police Department.
It also seems clear from fragments of the huge administrative record in this case, that Alvillar was an under-valued and under-appreciated asset as a light hearted friendly, bi lingual officer who spoke Spanish fluently, and often assisted others by translating for them. Because he was bi lingual and perhaps because he was of Mexican descent there was a common false belief in the Fairfax Police Department that English was his second language and that he was not born in the United States.
He was not "one of the boys" by temperament and perhaps by culture. Reading Schmidt's ponderous report one is amazed at what lengths a police officers will go to get rid of an officer much liked by the public and then compare that to the lengths police departments will go to protect one of their own that the public fears and detests.
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