Slowly but surely we’re getting a glimpse into the culture at the Fresno Police Department, and there may be more of a problem than meets the eye. The latest piece of the picture is a lawsuit against the department and three detectives, accusing them of workplace harassment and discrimination.
Sgt. Paul Cervantes of the Fresno police department is accusing Sgt. Tim Tietjen and Detectives Brad Alcorn and Cary Phelps of smearing his reputation by making false accusations that he’s a dirty cop.
Sgt. Paul Cervantes identifies as Hispanic. Tietjen, Alcorn and Phelps are white.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Fresno County Superior Court, seeks unspecified damages and attorney fees for discrimination, retaliation, defamation and malicious prosecution. Cervantes is being represented by John W. Phillips of the Fresno law firm Wild, Carter & Tipton.
The lawsuit only tells Cervantes’ side of the dispute and focuses on his acquittal in a high-profile 2009 trial. Police spokesman Lt. Joe Gomez referred questions to Chief Jerry Dyer, who has not yet responded to the lawsuit’s accusations.
It’s not the first high-profile suit alleging workplace harassment in the Police Department.
In 2012, the city paid deputy chiefs Robert Nevarez and Sharon Shaffer and their attorney a total of $300,000 to settle a case including allegations that Dyer created a hostile work environment, harassed them and retaliated against them.
And in 2013, Capt. Al Maroney alleged that Dyer racially discriminated and retaliated against him for lodging complaints beginning in 2007. A judge denied Maroney’s claim in 2015.
Cervantes says he has been the subject of “pervasive, severe, and racially motivated” discrimination from January 2008 to present.
Cervantes accuses the defendants of submitting “false and misleading information to Internal Affairs” to prompt investigations of him and other Hispanic officers “in an attempt to cause disciplinary action to be instituted, force their demotion and departure from the department.”
Cervantes says his superiors, including Dyer, have done nothing to protect his rights in the workplace.
Cervantes says he has been demoted instead.
Sgt. Cervantes was arrested in early 2009 and charged with felony auto theft in connection with the theft of a drug dealer’s sport utility vehicle. His highly publicized criminal trial relied heavily on the testimony of police informants. In May 2009, a Superior Court jury took less than three hours to find Cervantes not guilty.
Another Hispanic officer, Hector Becerra, also was charged with stealing the SUV. But his case was dismissed by a judge due to a lack of evidence, court records state.
At the time, the California Highway Patrol auto-theft task force, which included officers from other agencies, including the Fresno Police Department, built the case against Cervantes and Becerra. Among the investigators was Alcorn, a police detective with a reputation for winning high-profile murder cases.
In his lawsuit, Cervantes accused Alcorn, Tietjen and Phelps of spreading rumors about him and other Hispanic officers and of calling them “dirty, corrupt and dishonest.” He said the defendants allegedly threatened two confidential informants with prosecution unless they agreed to testify against him.
Additionally, Cervantes claims that Tietjen offered an informant a cash bribe of $50,000 and a free automobile to provide false information in order to convict Cervantes in the 2009 trial.