BY JEN NOWELL
Daily Post Staff Writer
A retired Palo Alto police sergeant who is currently serving as a reserve officer received a $45,000 settlement from the city over claims the city damaged his reputation by leaking personal information and unfairly suspended him.
Dan Ryan filed his claim against the city on April 26, 2016 following a 30-day suspension for “disobeying” a police lieutenant’s directions while documenting violations at a downtown bar, according to the complaint. Someone in the department or with the city then leaked information about Ryan’s suspension, he claims.
The city was awarded a grant, which Ryan wrote, from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, or ABC, for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2015. The funds were for the police department to enforce laws for the licensees and their employees and reduce the number of incidents and alcohol-related fights in and around places that serve alcohol, according to Ryan’s claim.
Ryan was assigned as the project director for the grant program.
In August 2015, Ryan was on patrol when he observed violations of ABC rules and city laws at a downtown bar. He never identified the bar in his complaint.
Ryan documented the violations with a photograph and police report, the claim states. And he called the bar owner to discuss the violations, and advised her that he would make a referral to the ABC regarding the violations.
“The bar owner apparently threatened to have a local high-profile company, whose employees frequented the bar, make a complaint to the city manager and to City Council, about our grant operations and enforcement efforts,” Ryan said.
Ryan said he was then ordered by Lt. April Wagner to “not disseminate the (evidence) photograph to anybody,” including the ABC. Sgt. Craig Lee allegedly told him to avoid the bar for the next week “to let things cool down.”
After some time passed, Ryan “resumed normal operations,” the claims says.
Several weeks after this, then-police Chief Dennis Burns told Ryan to release the evidence to the ABC, according to Ryan.
Also in August 2015, Ryan sent a message to Burns, “documenting what I saw to be a series of routine violations and problems at that particular bar, and my perception that the bar owner expected preferential treatment from the police department. I argued that some officers might have a conflict of interest in enforcing laws there, based on their relationships with the bar owners,” he said.
Ryan said he never received a response from the chief.
Throughout September and October 2015, Ryan said he continued to document violations at the bar, and referred the cases to the ABC. The police chief and assistant police chief met with the bar owners several times about getting into compliance, he said.
“The bar owners asserted that any enforcement actions taken against them were based on some alleged bias on my part,” according to Ryan’s claim.
He said he learned later that the owners had made complaints about him to the city manager and two City Council members.
In late October, Ryan met with the assistant police chief and shared ongoing violations at the bar, according to the claim. The assistant police chief said he had witnessed several violations while heading home one evening, Ryan stated.
Later that same day, an employee at the bar saw Ryan taking photos of violations, and the bar owners complained to the police chief, the claim says.
Ryan was removed from being a point of contact for the bar owners, and another officer, Lt. James Reifschneider, filled his spot, according to the claim. Ryan objected to this saying his “enforcement efforts were fair and unbiased.”
Ryan apparently asked for a formal investigation to be made into the allegations so he could clear his name.
Concerns over occupancy limits
He then met with Reifschneider to discuss the violations at the bar, and they spoke of the fire department’s efforts to reassess the occupancy limits for the bar, which Ryan had previously asked about.
Afire inspector checked out the bar in December and met with Ryan in January, according to the claim. The fire inspector allegedly told Ryan that he felt the bar owner had “blatantly lied” to him during his inspection.
A meeting was then set up with code enforcement, police, fire and the city attorney’s office to determine how to address the bar’s violations, Ryan claims. And he said he told Reifschneider since he was now the contact person.
According to Ryan, Reifschneider responded that he wished Ryan hadn’t met with fire officials.
Several days later, Ryan said he was suspended for 30 days for disobeying Reifschneider’s instructions. Ryan asked for documentation of the internal investigation and findings, and was allegedly told there was no paperwork.
He claims he was told his recent actions were the “last straw,” and when he asked what the previous “straws” had been, he received no answer.
At an ABC administrative hearing on March 1, 2016, the attorney for the bar owners asked about Ryan’s 30-day suspension, which he claims they only could have known about if the information had been leaked to the owners or their attorney. Ryan told then-Assistant Police Chief Bob Beacom of the leak, and he allegedly told Ryan “he was unsure of how to stop gossip within the department.”
When Ryan returned to work, he was told to refrain from code enforcement work, according to his complaint.
He alleged his privacy was violated by the police department; his reputation was damaged by “malicious, false and defamatory statements” by others in the department and city employees; and he was retaliated against by being removed from the ABC grant program.
In the settlement, the city agreed to rescind Ryan’s suspension. Both sides settled without admitting fault. The settlement was made Dec. 15.
Ryan’s attorney, Alan C. Davis, received $15,000 of the $45,000 settlement.