Darren Loo | The Poly Post

Lawsuit filed against CPP; whistleblowers allege incidents of retaliation and obstruction from administration

By Janean Sorrell, Oct. 25, 2022

A Cal Poly Pomona university police sergeant filed a lawsuit on Oct. 7 alleging violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act and retaliation by university President Soraya M. Coley and Vice President of Student Affairs Christina Gonzales.

In the lawsuit filed by Sgt. Marcus Simpson, the sergeant alleged multiple incidents where CPP administration obstructed university police investigations which ultimately led to five university police sergeants filing whistleblower complaints.

Simpson claims that Coley sent a mass email exposing the whistleblowers. The lawsuit suggests the existence of a mutiny within the university police department and referred to several previously-unreported police investigations on campus, including that of an alleged $1 million theft from the CPP Foundation.

In an email, Senior Director of Strategic Communications for the CSU, Michael Uhlenkamp stated, “based on our understanding of the facts, we dispute all allegations of retaliation and intentional interference.”

Simpson’s attorney Brandi Harper did not respond to a request for comment.

The first claim in the lawsuit states that in 2018 CPP officials “intentionally hindered, prevented and ultimately stopped a criminal investigation regarding an embezzlement by a professor.”

The claim alleges that in 2017 CPP became aware that a professor embezzled $100,000 in grant funds to pay for a personal European vacation and used the money to buy items unrelated to school activities. Upon learning about the investigation Coley ordered the investigation to be stopped and had all the documents destroyed.

The professor in question was allowed to retire without any criminal or administrative action taken.

Uhlenkamp said that those allegations were probed as part of a CSU special investigation. A 2018 summary of that investigation showed that CSU found multiple improprieties and violations.

Uhlenkamp declined to comment in detail on that and other investigations cited in the lawsuit. “The CSU takes very seriously any and all allegations of misconduct, policy violations, and fiscal improprieties,” Uhlenkamp said. “When any such allegations are brought to our attention, we take appropriate action in response.”

The second incident in the lawsuit claims that CPP administration interfered with the investigation of a student that falsely reported identity theft.

According to the lawsuit, on Feb. 12, 2020, a student reported to the UPD that his debit card had been used without his permission over 40 times and filed a police report.  However, during the investigation, UPD discovered that 38 out of the 40 purchases were in fact done by the student. This resulted in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filing one count of PC 148.5 (making a false police statement) against the student.

Upon learning about the incident, Simpson claimed, Coley and Gonzales ordered then Chief of Police Dario Robinson to ask the DA to drop all charges. Given this instruction Robinson ordered a detective to speak to the DA about dropping the charges.

According to the lawsuit the handling prosecutor said, “The request is unethical and could cause other future criminal case dismissal.”

The third incident outlines how Coley tried to suppress information in a felony embezzlement of over $1 million from CPP Foundation.

According to the lawsuit the embezzlement was discovered Feb. 21, 2020, in which UPD, along with the FBI, worked the case together and ultimately oversaw the indictment and conviction of the Foundation employee.

The lawsuit suggests that Coley demanded the criminal report be changed to protect her and the university’s reputation. Coley also directly ordered UPD not to do a press release, Simpson claimed, in fear that it may get her fired since she was on the Foundation’s board of directors at that time.

Darren Loo | The Poly Post

Public financial filings by the Foundation in 2020 appeared to reference the theft, stating that “significant internal control weaknesses” were at fault for a “material amount of misappropriation of assets (that) took place over a span of time.”

Jared Ceja, executive director and chief executive officer of the Foundation, said in an email he was unaware of the lawsuit. Ceja added that he “may not know as much about these circumstances as you might have hoped” because he started with the Foundation on March 16, 2020, following the alleged embezzlement’s discovery. He declined a request for interview, referring to Uhlenkamp for comment.

Uhlenkamp noted in his email that, “The matter was appropriately referred to local and federal law enforcement authorities and throughout the process, the Foundation and the University cooperated fully with the criminal investigation and took steps to strengthen fiscal controls.”

The claim also alleges that because of these prior incidents, Coley and Gonzales wanted to create an in-house court process where a committee would review all UPD cases and decide whether or not a case gets referred to the DA for prosecution.

Simpson claimed that upon learning of such an arrangement, he and Robinson advised Coley and Gonzales that it would be illegal and unethical.  Simpson said he then spoke to an assistant DA about this request who stated it was improper because “it violated the DA’s role of deciding who would be prosecuted.”

The five whistleblower complaints were filed against Coley and Gonzales on May 3, 2021 “alleging malfeasance, fiduciary incompetence and lack of leadership/unethical leadership.”

A week later on May 11, 2021, Coley sent out an email denying the whistleblower allegations to the entire police department, parking services and professional UPD staff, according to the lawsuit. Simpson claims the email listed all five whistleblowers’ names and ranks.

The lawsuit claims that this violated state statue which states, “The identity of the person providing the protected disclosure shall not be disclosed without written permission of the person unless the disclosure is to a law enforcement agency that is conducting a criminal investigation or to the State Auditor.”

The CSU hired a law firm to investigate the whistleblower complaints. Simpson claimed that those attorneys refused to let interviewees record the interviews and showed biases against the whistleblowers and asked one whistleblower “if it really even mattered if the names were released by the CSU.”

It is also noted that on June 1, 2021, CPP hired Scott VanScoy as interim police chief and upon his first day told Simpson “I know your name is on the complaint letter to the President. The letter did nothing but piss off the Chancellor and President.”

Feature image by Darren Loo

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