McFARLAND, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Before he was hired as a police officer for the city of McFarland, Steven Nieves worked as an investigator for the Riverside County District Attorney's office from March 2007 to October 2010.
But in 2009, Nieves was charged with six misdemeanor counts, according to San Bernardino County Superior Court records.
A criminal complaint states Nieves "unlawfully, in the presence of another, draw and exhibit a firearm in a rude, angry and threatening manner and did use a firearm in a fight and quarrel."
Three more counts charged Nieves with false imprisonment, another charge with "dissuading a witness from prosecuting a crime" and another charge with trespassing.
"I thought that the conduct was outrageous because someone like him ought to know better. He has special training. He has a duty to uphold the law," said former San Bernardino County deputy district attorney Joshua Visco, who prosecuted the case against Nieves and is now in private practice.
Nieves would later end up being hired and ultimately promoted to the top spot of Commander in the McFarland police department. A position answerable only to the police chief.
A timeline of the case shows:
- March 2009 - Nieves is charged with the six misdemeanor counts.
- October 2010 - Nieves leaves his job as investigator for Riverside County D.A.'s office.
- December 2010 - Nieves is hired as a reserve officer in McFarland.
- September 2011 - In a plea bargain, Nieves pleads no contest one misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment. The rest of five charges are dismissed. Nieves is sentenced to three years probation, ordered to pay a fine and ordered to stay away from the victims.
- July 2012 - Nieves is promoted to police corporal.
- October 2013 - Nieves promoted again to commander. He is second in charge on a police force with 14 officers plus reserves.
McFarland Police Chief Greg Herrington refused to comment on why Nieves was hired or about his promotion to commander.
"I had nothing to do with his hiring," said Herrington in a phone conversation with Eyewitness News. Later at meeting at his office, Herrington added, "I was not the chief when Nieves was hired."
Nieves was hired by McFarland police in December 2010 and Herrington took over the department in 2011 when he replaced David Oberhoffer who was fired by the City Council.
But, court documents reveal that in June of 2012, Herrington wrote a letter on police department letter head on behalf of Steven Nieves. Nieves had petitioned the court in San Bernardino County for early termination of probation.
"Currently, Steven Nieves is seeking full time employment with the City of McFarland Police Department. However, I am unable to offer it to him at this time due to his current status of court probation and adjudicated case," wrote Herrington in his letter.
"I have expressed to Nieves that upon completion of this, I would be able to offer him a full time position with the department," concluded Herrington.
When asked about the letter, Herrington said he could not comment on the letter because it was a personnel issue.
Under state law, Nieves conviction for misdemeanor false imprisonment does not prevent him from working as a peace officer.
But Kern County Assistant District Attorney Scott Spielman said a criminal conviction is an issue of credibility that can make a difference in a court case.
"If (officers) have some type of crime or criminal conduct in their past, that can be used to impeach their credibility, it's something that we will weigh in determining the strength of our case," said Spielman.
Eyewitness News called Nieves numerous times for days to get a comment on this story. He did not returned any of our calls. When we reached Nieves on Tuesday afternoon, he said he would get back with us after checking with his lawyer. If and when Nieves or his lawyer wish to comment, we will share their side of the story.