ESCONDIDO — The city of Escondido selected a new police chief after about a year of turmoil within the police department involving an undisclosed personnel investigation, the mysterious early retirement of the former police chief, and police misconduct allegations.
City Manager Clay Phillips selected Capt. Craig Carter on Aug. 16 after the Police Department had been without a chief for almost a year. Carter has worked for the Escondido Police Department for more than 20 years and was recently promoted from lieutenant to captain in March of this year.
Carter said he was excited by the opportunity to lead the city’s police department, where he has spent his entire career.
“This is a fantastic department. It is a great group of men and women,” he said.
Carter was chosen after a month-long internal selection process led by Phillips, who also considered Captains Robert Benton and Michael Loarie.
Carter is replacing former police chief Jim Maher, who served six years as chief during his 32-year career in the Escondido Police Department.
Maher retired on Dec. 31, 2012 after being placed on paid administrative leave on Sept. 12, 2012.
In an Oct. 31, 2012 press release, city officials stated that Maher was placed on leave because he was a witness in a personnel investigation within the police department.
Despite public records requests from the San Diego Branch of the ACLU and U-T San Diego, the city did not release any information about Maher’s severance package, citing that personnel matters are confidential.
Details of the personnel investigation were kept under lock and key by the city manager’s office, and even City Council was not informed of the reason behind it, according to Escondido’s Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz.
But in June 2013, City Council members were sent an anonymous email containing transcripts of text messages allegedly sent between then-Lieutenants Carter and Benton.
The messages criticized then-Chief Maher and implied that he was having sexual relations with a female police department employee. The messages also referred to the female employee by a racist term.
Diaz, who confirmed the existence of the email and its contents, said that the city manager’s office did not say whether the text message transcript was legitimate or not or whether it was involved in the personnel investigation.
“It was never confirmed even to the council, but it was also never denied,” she said.
However, shortly after the anonymous email was received and publicized by local Maher support groups and media publications, Phillips released a press release on June 12, 2012 stating, “The City of Escondido has a zero tolerance policy towards racial comments in the workplace… In light of recent emails, Facebook postings, or newspaper articles, I believe it is important to publicly state my admiration and confidence in all of the members of our Police Department.”
Phillips did not respond to requests for comment, and Carter declined to comment about the text messages or personnel investigation.
The President of the Escondido Police Officers’ Association, Michael Garcia, expressed confidence in the city manager’s handling of the police personnel investigation.
“The matter has been resolved. So far as I’m concerned, whatever issues were brought up have been investigated and properly dealt with through the city manager’s office,” he said.
He said that with the new chief selected, the department is looking forward to moving on from the “negative rumors and connotations that have surrounded us for some time.”
As chief, Carter will have to navigate the Escondido Police Department’s controversial relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and its use of check points.
“(Carter is) certainly going to have to do some relationship building with the Latino community, especially given the check points and relationship with ICE,” Diaz said.
Garcia said that the association is pleased with the selection of Carter and hopes that he will focus on providing the department with enough resources to fill in the numerous sworn officer vacancies in the department.
Carter said that as chief he hopes to focus on community policing efforts.
He said that he wants to build a relationship between officers and the community so that local residents will come forward to help solve crimes.
“It’s no secret that the police department cannot do enforcement all on its own,” he said.