EPD Captain On Depart Amid Investigation

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  • City of Eureka

  • Patrick O’Neill

One of the two captains of the Eureka Police Department has been placed on paid administrative leave.

EPD chief Steve Watson confirmed to the Journal that Captain Patrick O’Neill is on vacation but declined to discuss why or on what matter and said he was legally prohibited from doing so.

“The Criminal Code and Evidence Act prohibit the city from publicly discussing a police officer’s performance or discipline,” Watson told the Journal. “Therefore, it is the city’s policy not to comment on an ongoing investigation or identify officials who may be subject to disciplinary investigations.”

It’s unclear whether the matter is related, but O’Neill’s vacation comes as part of an internal investigation conducted by a Bay Area law firm to investigate inappropriate text messages sent between officers from one of Sgt. Rodrigo Reyna- Sanchez, as first reported by the Sacramento Bee. The texts sent by Reyna-Sanchez and officer Mark Meftah contained misogynist, violent and vulgar language, as well as dehumanizing references to homeless residents.

Both Reyna-Sanchez and Meftah have been put on paid administrative leave pending the completion of the ongoing investigation. Todd Simonson von Sacks, Ricketts and Case LLP, who signed the company’s contract with the city to conduct the autonomous investigation, declined to comment on the investigation or its status when contacted by the Journal.

O’Neill, a 26-year EPD veteran and lifelong resident of Eureka, was promoted to interim captain when Watson was promoted from captain to chief of police in 2017. The promotion later became final, overseeing the department’s field operations division, including patrol. As O’Neill rose to the rank of captain, he followed in the footsteps of his grandfather James, who held the rank of EPD in the 1950s. In 2016, O’Neill graduated from the prestigious FBI National Academy Program, which offers 10 weeks of advanced communication, leadership, and fitness training. He previously served as a training officer, drug task force agent, and detective sergeant.

The bee’s report brought to light the exchange of text between officials joking about beating up protesters and shooting a suspect in the face and making dehumanizing comments on several physical appearances of women and homeless residents while demeaning an EPD officer had. Immediately thereafter, the city entered into an agreement with Sacks, Rickets & Case LLP to conduct an independent investigation, giving the company sole power to determine “the means, nature and results of the investigation” and “absolute discretion” to grant. carry out the investigation without the city “influencing or interfering with the result”.

According to the firm’s website, Simonson represents management in “all areas of labor and labor law, with an emphasis on matters involving public safety staff”. His bio on the website states that he has more than 20 years of internal investigative experience and “has prevailed on numerous arbitrations and administrative complaints in order to maintain serious disciplinary action.”

As the investigation progresses, the EPD will operate without multiple officers, including a captain and sergeant, at least for the immediate future.

“The internal impact of this type of investigation, including staff, workload and morale, can be significant,” said Watson. “But we cannot allow these challenges to ever prevent us from doing what is right, from holding ourselves accountable to the community and to one another, and from conducting thorough, complete, fair and objective research into facts.”

A message for O’Neill seeking comment was not returned immediately.

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