City Officials Named in DeLeon Lawsuit

By Brian Covert
Herald Editor

Citing instances of conspiracy and racism, Lt. David DeLeon of the Sanger Police Department is suing 11 city officials from Sanger and Chino for $1 million each.

Sanger City Manager Kerry Miller, police detective Henry Ramirez and former Sanger police chief Charles Chrestman are the local officials named in the suit, which was filed recently in the United States District Court in Los Angeles.

Also named in the federal lawsuit are several employees of the Chino Police Department — DeLeon’s prior employer — including former police chief James Anthony, Capt. John P. Ingrao Jr., and lieutenants Gerald Stephens, Harry Tooley, Thomas Thompson, Phil DuBois and C.B. Stulend.

“I think if it goes to court, the court will definitely see it in my favor,” Deleon told the Herald. “All the evidence is there.”

J. Steven Lempel, Sanger’s city attorney, isn’t quite so confident.

“If he thinks he’s going to get any money out of Sanger, he’s got a long wait ahead of him,” Lempel said.

In a March 21 letter to Lempel from Meir Westreich, DeLeon’s attorney, Westreich proposed to settle with Sanger city officials for about $36,000 in past out-of-pocket expenses incurred by DeLeon.

Westreich could not be reached before press time to confirm the status of that settlement proposal.

At the center of the lawsuit is a police radio — one that DeLeon said was given to him long before he left the Chino Police Department for Sanger in 1983.

Chino police claimed the radio was stolen. The issue carried over to the local police department in Sanger when the radio was later found in DeLeon’s possession.

An investigation was then initiated by Chino police, and DeLeon was subsequently charged with felony grand theft of the radio. Last August, a jury acquitted DeLeon of the charges.

DeLeon now claims that city and police officials in both Sanger and the San Bernadino County town of Chino conspired against him during the police radio controversy.

“The actions…were carried out with malice, wantonness, and oppression, solely to give expression to their personal dislike of (DeLeon),” the suit states.

The police lieutenant lists in the lawsuit a number of instances involving local officials. According to DeLeon:

—In July 1984, Sanger police Lt. Henry Ramirez met with Chief Chrestman and accused DeLeon of possessing a stolen walkie-talkie-type police radio from the Chino Police Department. Ramirez reportedly told Chrestman that DeLeon admitted to having stolen the equipment.

—In September 1984, Chrestman met Chino police chief Anthony and Capt. Ingrao at a Chino motel to discuss the radio theft involving DeLeon.

—From September to December 1984, Chrestman, Ramirez and Lt. Jesse Martinez repeatedly tried to “trick” DeLeon into bringing the radio to work, so the equipment could be confiscated. DeLeon said the radio was inoperable.

—On Dec. 1, 1984, DeLeon brought the radio with him for use in a narcotics raid at the request of Lt. Martinez. At a pre-raid briefing, DeLeon claims, the radio was tested in the presence of various police officers (including Chief Chrestman) and the walkie-talkie was found to be out of order.

—On Dec. 1, 1984, Chrestman questioned DeLeon about the radio, without informing him that he was the subject of a criminal investigation. Shortly after, Chrestman and Miller ordered DeLeon to turn the radio over immediately or be fired. The radio was turned over to the chief of police.

—From Dec. 4, 1984 to February 1985, the radio was kept in the trunk of a police vehicle driven by Lt. Martinez until it was turned over to Chino police chief Anthony. After further investigation, a warrant for felony grand theft was issued to DeLeon.

—Detective Ramirez of Sanger changed his story in court, testifying that the radio did indeed work when it was tested before various officers. Ramirez talked Lt. Martinez into changing his testimony in a similar fashion, according to DeLeon.

—Also, in an isolated incident during June 1984, Sanger City Manager Miller interviewed DeLeon and asked his confidential opinion about then-Chief Chrestman. Miller later informed the chief of DeLeon’s critical evaluation.

—In another isolated incident during June 1984, Lt. Ramirez of the Sanger Police Department reportedly became openly angry with DeLeon because Ramirez felt he was denied the rightful credit in newspaper articles and department press releases for the solving of a murder case.

DeLeon also singles out the various Chino police officials for discriminating against him because of his Hispanic descent.

Sanger City Attorney Lempel said that the above allegations concerning Sanger officials have no substance and won’t hold up in court.

“It’s just a jumble of allegations,” he said.

“What we did was notify the true owners” about the radio’s whereabouts, Lempel said. He labeled the charges concerning Miller in particular as “ridiculous.”

“He (DeLeon) has a zero chance of winning,” said Lempel. “It’s groundless as far as we’re concerned.”

DeLeon said through punitive damages he wants to be compensated for public humiliation and emotional and physical anguish regarding the case.

“The whole thing was completely malicious,” he said. “It has ruined my career in law enforcement.”

DeLeon said he will consider settling for monetary compensation by Sanger but is completely dismissing such an opportunity for Chino officials.

“If there’s negotiations possible, we’re willing to listen for the best of the city (of Sanger),” he said. “We feel we have a very strong case.”

In the meantime, DeLeon said he will continue working as second in command under Chief Jim O’Brien, who was hired in the latter part of 1985.

“In no way do I want to discredit my chief,” he said. “I enjoy working for him. I just feel sorry that he had to come in after the fact.”