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Public Hearing Under Way for Former Santa Maria Police Lieutenant Fighting to Be Reinstated

A former lieutenant with the Santa Maria Police Department is fighting this week to be reinstated to his position after he was fired in March 2013.

A public, week-long arbitration hearing began Monday at City Hall for former Lt. Dan Ast, who was fired for management decisions he made leading up to the fatal shooting of Officer Albert Covarrubias Jr. in January 2012.

Covarrubias, 29, was shot in the early morning hours of Jan. 28, 2012, as two of his supervisors attempted to arrest him for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old member of the department’s Police Explorers program.

Ast was one of nine department members who were disciplined or fired by Police Chief Ralph Martin in the wake of the incident, which ended with Officer Matthew Kline fatally shooting his close friend with his handgun.

Ast, a veteran with the department, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city’s Police Department shortly after, alleging he was merely following supervisor’s orders.

City Manager Rick Haydon, who testified during Tuesday’s proceedings, said this particular type of hearing — since moved to Shepard Hall in the Santa Maria Public Library — has historically been closed to the public.

“They’re always behind closed doors,” Haydon said. “The officer in question requested that it be open to the public.”

The police chief, who began his tenure the fall after the fatal shooting, gave testimony over two days admonishing Ast’s decision to send police sergeants to arrest Covarrubias when he was with other officers that night breaking down a DUI checkpoint at McElhany Avenue and Broadway at about 1:20 a.m.

Ast took the stand Wednesday, and the hearing was expected to last through Friday.

Haydon said eight or nine witnesses were set to testify, and that a continuance might be granted if proceedings didn’t finish up before the weekend.

A hearing officer will make a final decision on the case, and could take up to three to four months before issuing a ruling.

If the hearing officer rules in favor of reinstating Ast, Haydon said, the city would follow protocol outlined in the official decision.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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