Santa Ana’s former police chief is suing the city, claiming he was forced to resign after he raised questions about possible corruption among top city officials.
Former Chief Carlos Rojas alleged in his complaint that he was pushed out in a campaign orchestrated by Santa Ana Police Officer Association President Gerry Serrano and long-time Mayor Miguel Pulido.
"Rojas was forced to seek other employment and unwillingly ‘resign' as city failed to investigate Rojas' numerous disclosures of illegal activities and city continued to allow a public, often false, and concerted attack against him […],” the complaint reads.
Rojas resigned from his post in May and took a job as police chief for the Bay Area Rapid Transit after 27 years in the department, the last three of them as chief. He claims the move forced him to take a pay cut while shelling out more for living expenses and being separated from his family, who stayed in Southern California, during the work week.
The lawsuit raises new questions about the reasons behind a concerted campaign to remove the police chief that began in the run-up to last year’s November elections. The lawsuit also takes aim at Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who was already facing allegations from several employees that he and other higher-ups have mishandled investigations involving friends and political allies.
Among Rojas’s claims, he said he presented evidence to city officials that Mayor Pulido may have taken money from marijuana dispensaries in exchange for guarantees that they’d get operating licenses. Rojas said the city repeatedly ignored and failed to investigate such evidence.
Rojas claims he also contacted Craig Hunter, chief investigator at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, with the evidence. He notes in the lawsuit that Hunter recently initiated his own whistleblower claim, alleging that DA Tony Rackauckas interfered in corruption investigations of his political allies, including Pulido.
Rojas also claims that the police union and its president, Serrano, essentially bribed candidates in last year’s city council election by offering them campaign funds in exchange for agreeing to get rid of Rojas and former City Manager David Cavazos if they won a seat.
Rojas claims Serrano held a longstanding grudge against him stemming largely from the former chief’s efforts to crack down on officer misconduct and improve relations between the police force and the community by establishing a beat system for patrol officers.
Serrano responded to Rojas’s allegations in an email, saying he was "shocked and dumbfounded that Rojas would make such false accusations and continue to damage our city and community.”
He called Rojas “incompetent” and said the former chief "had lost the confidence of the rank and file.”
"In his tenure, violent gang crime went through the roof and in closing what was once a nationally recognized police department saw officers leaving to other agencies something that never occurred before,” Serrano wrote.
Mayor Pulido also said in an email that Rojas’s claims against him were false.
OCDA spokeswoman Susan Schroeder said the DA "has always taken seriously any allegations of public corruption and has never ignored any such complaint, certainly not from a police chief.”
Rojas filed the lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court on Sept. 26. A call and email to his lawyer, Lawrence Lennemann, were not returned.