HSU University Police Chief Donn Peterson at a campus vigil last year.
Humboldt State University Chief of Police Donn Peterson was with university Vice President of Administration and Finance Douglas Dawes when he first learned of the no-confidence vote from his officers through a press release from their union Monday.
Speaking to the Journal, Peterson said he was so shocked at the news that he asked Dawes to finish reading the press release for him. He said that while it's clear his officers have strong feelings about him, he’s grateful this is out in the open and is now focused on working toward solutions.
“I’m clearly disappointed with the news but I have a great deal of respect for the seriousness of the matter. It deserves to be taken seriously, investigated thoroughly, and that should be a transparent process. The public deserves to know and I’m committed to being open and candid,” Peterson said. “To find out like this (in a press release) was jolting and surprising, but my first thought was, ‘Fantastic, let’s talk about it in a transparent and clear way; let’s get it out all on the table,’”
On Sept. 30, the Statewide University Police Association (SUPA), the union that represents HSU police officers, issued a press release to announce UPD's officers had taken a no-confidence vote in Peterson. The rare vote is symbolic and essentially amounts to a public statement of dissatisfaction with the chief from his 10 officers, nine of whom voted for the statement of no confidence with the 10th abstaining.
“We’ve exhausted all of our options, [releasing the press release] is our way of bringing it to light,” officer Billy Kijriopas, HSU's SUPA union director, said.
Kijsriopas said the UPD officers took the no-confidence vote a month ago and also filed an "unfair practice charge" with the California Public Employee Relations Board, the state agency responsible for enforcing collective bargaining laws.
In the press release, the officers accused Peterson of creating a hostile work environment, including making racist remarks, as well as violating labor laws, manipulating crime statistics and excessive absenteeism.
Kijsriopas alleges in the release that Peterson manipulated crime statistics reports. He later told the Journal
that UPD changed the way it classifies certain unsolved cases. For example, if you reported your bike as stolen and the officer investigating had no leads or suspects, they would now classify the report as “suspended pending further leads” rather than open or unsolved, which Kijsriopas said is less than honest.
Humboldt State University Police Chief Donn Peterson greets a marcher at a rally in Eureka in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Peterson, however, said that changing the way the department classifies reports was not something he directed, adding that in March of 2016 a records manager from Sun Ridge Systems RIMS (the records management system UPD uses) came to the department and recommended it change the way officers classify reports, a recommendation the department followed. Peterson also said the department has had many meetings about the records system but this is the first time he’s heard officers' frustrations with it.
“[Manipulating statistics] is a felony,” Peterson said. “That’s absolutely false. I don’t get anything from that. And as I read that, I was confused and taken aback.”
Kijsriopas said he couldn’t specifically cite which labor laws Peterson is accused of violating but told the Journal
public employees have the right to participate in union actions and employers can’t prevent them from participating.
Speaking to the Lost Coast Outpost
, Kijsriopas said Peterson had violated a labor law by posting an anti-labor letter in the officers' work area. According to Kijsriopas, Peterson was upset by a SUPA union leadership survey in which officers anonymously rated he and UPD Lt. Melissa Hansen’s performance.
“In response, he penned a strongly worded letter,” Kijsriopas told the Lost Coast Outpost
. “He called all union members cowards and said if we’re not happy to work here we’re welcome to go somewhere else.”
Peterson said that he was new to HSU and the union when he wrote the letter and didn’t know he was violating union rules by posting it, adding that he owns up to both what he said and how he said it. Peterson said that in the union leadership survey officers spoke critically about Hansen.
“There was toxic masculinity and I don’t stand for that or bigotry,” Peterson said. “And to do that anonymously, I thought I was holding people accountable and calling out disgusting behavior, but then someone told me, ‘Hey, you violated our rule, we don’t do that here,’ and I realized I messed up.”
After the letter incident, Peterson said he called a meeting with the department and apologized to everyone, adding that he was shocked and dismayed that, as the incident happened three years ago and was something he thought the department had addressed and moved on from, the officers stated it in the press release.
SUPA’s leadership evaluation surveys serve to allow officer’s to rate their work experiences and command staff, with the results released publicly. Officers are asked to rate both work experiences and command staff on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 meaning strongly disagree and 5 at strongly agree. SUPA’s 2016 leadership evaluation survey results for UPD were bleak.
New HSU President Tom Jackson Jr. introducing himself to HSU Police Chief Donn Peterson.
According to the report’s summary, Hansen was not satisfactory and scored a 2.11 out of 5, UPD officers' comments critical of Hansen’s leadership.
“Reports indicate she lacks integrity and fails to display an appropriate amount of concern for her officers. The narrative responses also report that she exhibits unprofessional behavior by working the minimum amount of hours and by disregarding department attire,” the summary states.
As for Peterson — who scored just below average at 2.9 — officers focused on his commitment to the department. “Narrative comments criticized Chief Peterson’s lack of availability and indicated that he does not appear committed to the department,” the summary states.
However, 2018’s leadership evaluation shows improvement for Peterson. He scored a 3.15, ranking him 15 out of the 23 CSU police chiefs.
“All officers believe that he does a good job of leading by example,” the summary states.
Hansen, meanwhile, scored even lower in 2018, with a score of 1.81. General comments in the summary included: “Is a negative influence on the department and seems to be very divisive. Seems unwilling to communicate face-to-face with officers. Seems more focused on making her job easier than on supporting officers. Multiple comments that she is biased in her decision making and leadership.”
Regarding the racial slur accusations, Kijsriopas, who is first generation Asian American, said three employees told him that during a sergeant's meeting Peterson was frustrated with Kijsriopas and allegedly commented on his facial hair, saying, “Who does he think he is? Kung-Fu, or something?”
Peterson, who previously served as vice president of the Eureka branch of the NAACP, said he was flummoxed, dismayed and shocked when he read Kijsriopas’ allegations, adding that he never made the racist comment but did in fact talk to Kijsriopas’ sergeant about the officer's facial hair.
“We have grooming standards,” Peterson said. “I didn’t single him out. I took his sergeant aside and had a private meeting and talked to them about our grooming standards. Later on, [Kijsriopas] had a fuller beard and, again, I talked to his sergeant and told them to hold him accountable.”
Kijsriopas also said a black employee told him that during a meeting they had with Peterson, Peterson began scolding the employee, and then allegedly quoted a verse from the bible along the lines of “a slave is beholden to his master.”
When the Journal
asked Peterson if he said this, he said, “No. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t talk politics or religion in a professional setting or during work.”
Kijrsiopas, who has been with UPD for almost seven years, said Peterson's behavior fostering a hostile work environment started in 2016. He was hired on as police chief in January of 2015 after spending decades with the Broward County Sheriff's Office in Florida.
When asked about his absence from the department, Peterson said that in January of 2018, he was asked by the union to serve as a member from CSU management during the ongoing collective bargaining processes and has attended 10 of those meetings, all of which have been off campus.
"I was honored to be asked to serve in this capacity by the union and was actually at a collective bargaining meeting with the union president in Sacramento last week," Peterson said, adding that when he's not at these meetings he also tries to spend time with his family. “Sure, when I’m not working and I’ve earned my time off, I take short periods of time to go visit my family and I’m unapologetic for it. I want to be there for my twin girls, I want to be present in their lives as much as I can be but there is never a time when HSU is left unattended."
He added that he and Hansen coordinate which days they take off.
Dawes, the HSU vice president, also issued a press release regarding the vote.
"At HSU, we take seriously any concerns raised by university employees. We will thoroughly investigate all of the allegations brought to our attention," Dawes said in the release. "HSU has high expectations for all employees within the University Police Department and remains committed to helping them be effective. We support them in the focus, as stated in their mission statement, on being 'leaders in creating a safe campus and promoting student success by modeling equity, transparency, enhancing access and approachability, and delivering the very best ethical, community-based law enforcement practices.'"
Peterson said that he's proud of the hard work and dedication the men and women of the UPD team perform at HSU every day and that he's received their message and is now looking forward to continuing to serve the HSU community for a long time to come, working with officers on coming up with solutions. He said he is supportive of all investigations that will follow their allegations.
“I’ve got work to do, I’ve got blind spots," Peterson said. "I’m a flawed, imperfect human being who makes mistakes, but I want to learn from those mistakes. And when I mess up, I own it. I don’t presume [the officers] are coming from a bad place, it’s more like you spoke, we heard, now, let’s get us to a better place.”
Read both press releases below:
Information on Concerns Raised by UPD Employees
September 30, 2019
Earlier today, I learned of a vote of no confidence in the University’s Police Chief by members of the union within the University Police Department.
At HSU, we take seriously any concerns raised by University employees. We will thoroughly investigate all of the allegations brought to our attention.
HSU has high expectations for all employees within the University Police Department and remains committed to helping them be effective. We support them in the focus, as stated in their mission statement, on being “leaders in creating a safe campus and promoting student success by modeling equity, transparency, enhancing access and approachability, and delivering the very best ethical, community-based law enforcement practices.”
During his tenure at HSU, Chief Peterson and his team have enhanced outreach to students through the Chief’s Advisory Panel, created the safety escort program, and worked closely with Equity Arcata. The University Police Department will remain committed to our engagement in these activities and other efforts to ensure student safety.
Douglas V. Dawes
Vice President for Administration & Finance
HUMBOLDT STATE UNIVERSITY POLICE VOTE NO CONFIDENCE IN CHIEF
Arcata, CA. According to officials with the Statewide University Police Association (SUPA), its officers at the Humboldt State University Police Department have cast a vote of no confidence in the Department’s police chief, Donn Peterson. Nine of 10 officers who completed the survey voted against the Chief, while the remaining voter abstained.
SUPA conducts annual leadership surveys at each CSU campus. The most recent nearly unanimous vote of no confidence in Police Chief Donn Peterson is in line with previous year’s results. Chief Peterson took the job at HSU after leaving his former post with Florida’s Broward County Sheriff’s Department amid scandal. Peterson still regularly spends time out of state with his family in Florida.
According to HSU Officer Billy Kijsriopas, "Chief Peterson's frequent, extended bouts of time out of state leave the department in the hands of a Lieutenant who also spends an unusual amount of time away from campus. Our officers look to the Chief for guidance and leadership, but he has fallen short of the standards they and the University community deserve."
According to Officer Kijsriopas, absenteeism is only a fraction of the failure in leadership the Department has seen since Peterson came to HSU in January 2015. Among the Chief’s other offenses, Kijsriopas cites manipulation of crime statistics reporting, creating a hostile work environment including making racial slurs aimed at minority officers, multiple violations of the Public Safety Officer’s Procedural Bill of Rights Act and blatant violations of labor laws that include a derogatory, anti-labor letter which Peterson authored and posted publicly.
Says SUPA president Jeff Solomon, “Our members in the Humboldt State University Police Department have consistently reported absenteeism, mismanagement and more in departmental leadership. When you have a department united like this, clearly there is a problem.”
When asked what steps he and other HSU officers would like to see, Kijsriopas replied, “The damage to morale and the risk to campus safety is too great – it’s past time we had a new chief.”
The Statewide University Police Association represents law enforcement officers on all twenty-three California State University campuses.