Investigation: McFarland police make controversial hires

Investigation: McFarland police make controversial hires
McFARLAND, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — One McFarland police officer was involved in a drunk-driving accident and totaled a patrol car in his previous job. He was fired. Another was arrested for filing a false insurance claim while also serving as a peace officer. He, too, was fired.

Yet another was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and wound up resigning from his previous job. And a fourth officer was part of an FBI investigation in a child porn case who also wound up being fired for lying to the FBI and to internal affairs investigators.

Three of the those officers are currently working for the McFarland Police Department, while the fourth was terminated last year. And three of the officers all worked at one time for the Banning Police Department in Riverside County.

The officers in question include acting McFarland Police Chief Greg Herrington, who worked as a police officer in Banning from 2004 to 2009 before being hired by McFarland later that year. But, Herrington and some fellow officers wound up being fired.

"Those officers were terminated for egregious conduct," said Banning Police Chief Leonard Purvis.

Herrington appealed his termination, but an arbitrator ruled there was sufficient cause to uphold his dismissal. Herrington has threatened to sue, citing racial discrimination, but no suit has yet been filed.

And before working for Banning police, Herrington was also fired from the Glynn County (Georgia) Police Department in 1996. Internal documents obtained by Eyewitness News from Glynn County police state Herrington totaled a patrol car while driving drunk. Documents state he had a blood-alcohol content of .14, nearly twice the legal limit.

The documents also say Herrington lied to investigators about the accident, claiming he had fallen asleep in the early morning crash when he was off duty. Herrington refused to comment to Eyewitness News about his experience in Banning and in Glynn County.

Another former Banning police officer, Mike Weber is now a sergeant with McFarland police. According to the Riverside County District Attorney's Office, Weber was arrested on suspicion of domestic abuse in 2008 and was the subject of an internal police investigation. No charges were filed for lack of evidence. Eyewitness News tried to get access to the arrest records, but for some unknown reason, all records relating to that incident were ordered sealed by a judge. Weber resigned from Banning. He did not return calls asking for a comment.

Travis Jones is another former Banning police officer who also ended up being fired and hired by McFarland. Jones was arrested in September 2008 and later plead guilty to a felony charge.

"He was involved in an insurance fraud case where a vehicle was taken south of the border and left there," said Banning Police Chief Leonard Purvis.

After leaving the vehicle in Mexico, Jones then reported it stolen to his insurance carrier in order to collect on it. Jones pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 36 months probation in San Bernardino Superior Court. Jones worked in McFarland for three months and was terminated in 2010.

A fourth officer, Sgt. Ron Navarreta, worked for the Inglewood Police Department, where he was fired in 2004. Back then, Navarreta was part of an FBI investigation into a child pornography case, suspected of knowingly receiving child porn on his AOL account. Two computers used by Navarreta during that case had been sold or reported stolen and agents were unable to examine them.

An arbitrator ruled there was insufficient evidence that Navarreta knowingly received child porn images, and no criminal charges were ever filed. But the arbitrator did find that the 13 year veteran had lied to the FBI and to internal investigators. Navarreta never told his superiors he had been questioned by the FBI. The arbitrator upheld his dismissal. Navarreta also declined to comment about the matter, and remains on the McFarland police force.

The new police department started in January 2010 and then-police chief David Frazer was looking at applicants willing to come to work in a small town with low pay.

"You're not going to get the cream of the crop," said Frazer. "I knew I was not going to get the best candidates." Frazer has since left the department.

"I don't see any reason why they shouldn't be given an opportunity to prove themselves one more time," said McFarland Mayor Manuel Cantu.

Cantu said he was not involved in the hiring of any police officers nor was he in office when the police department started. But he said he is concerned that proper background checks be done on all who apply for a McFarland police officer.

Banning Police Chief Purvis said he never received a call from anyone in McFarland to inquire about any of the candidates who had previously worked in Banning.