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Tuesday, November 20 , 2018, 12:46 am | Fog/Mist 47º


Santa Maria Official Rejects Recommendation to Reinstate Fired Police Lieutenant

Dan Ast claims he was dismissed after making whistleblower complaints; he and two other lieutenants have already filed a lawsuit in federal court

Former Santa Maria police Lt. Dan Ast testifies last year during his arbitration hearing. A hearing officer had recommended that he be reinstated, but City Manager Rick Haydon notified Ast’s attorneys Thursday that he has overruled the recommendation.
Former Santa Maria police Lt. Dan Ast testifies last year during his arbitration hearing. A hearing officer had recommended that he be reinstated, but City Manager Rick Haydon notified Ast’s attorneys Thursday that he has overruled the recommendation. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk file photo)

A fired police lieutenant will not get his job back as Santa Maria’s city manager reportedly chose to go against the recommendation of an independent hearing officer who said Dan Ast should be reinstated. 

City Manager Rick Haydon notified Ast’s attorneys Thursday of the decision to overrule the hearing officer’s recommendation, according to Alison Bernal, one of Ast’s attorneys from Nye, Peabody, Stirling, Hale & Miller in Santa Barbara.

“We had high hopes they would do the right thing, but we’re not totally surprised,” Bernal said, adding Ast is disappointed after feeling vindicated at the hearing officer’s recommendation.

The next step for Ast is federal court, where he and two other Santa Maria Police Department lieutenants — James Ginter and Norm Comé — have already filed a lawsuit, Bernal said. 

“We can amend that complaint to add a cause of action,” Bernal added.

A Dec. 1 trial has been scheduled in Los Angeles.

Haydon had 30 days to decide whether he would accept the hearing officer’s recommendation. Bernal said they granted the city two extra weeks to issue a decision.

Since Haydon chose a harsher action than the hearing officer’s recommendation, the city must reimburse Ast for his share of the cost of the arbitrator, Bernal said. Ast’s portion exceeded $30,000, according to Bernal.

Haydon has repeatedly said he can’t discuss the case.

“Because this is a personnel matter, the city will not be commenting on any actions taken,” officials said in a written statement issued Feb. 10.

The day before, the neutral arbitrator ruled that the city should not have fired Ast from his job with the Santa Maria Police Department and that doing so was a retaliatory act plus violated the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights.

Ast contended he was fired in March 2013 after making whistleblower complaints about problems in the department.

City officials terminated Ast in the wake of the 2012 fatal shooting of Officer Albert Covarrubias Jr., who was under investigation for having a sexual relationship with a teenage girl who served in the Police Explorers.

Hearing officer Catherine Harris issued her 46-page ruling months after listening to testimony from city officials and police officers last summer.

“The record does not support the conclusion that a five-year lieutenant with an unblemished work record and no prior discipline committed gross incompetence on the night in question, especially where he made decisions in consultation with his commanding officer,” the ruling reportedly states.

The ruling noted that 12 days before the Covarrubias shooting, Ast and two other lieutenants had made a whistleblower complaint to the city, alleging unlawful conduct was occurring within the department, then led by former Chief Danny Macagni.

Typically, reinstatement hearings are held behind closed doors, but Ast requested that his occur in public. The hearing took place in late June and July.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully 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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