By Sukey Lewis, Nadine Sebai, Alex Emslie and Thomas Peele
Katheryn Jenks, a slight 56-year-old woman, called 911 at around 3 a.m. on a Sunday in September to report her car alarm going off. Within minutes, she was handcuffed and sitting in the back of a Rio Vista police car, bleeding from a gaping wound on her right forearm where a police dog bit her.
In a separate case, two Rio Vista police officers entered a home in August, 2017, and one quickly put a man who lived there in a potentially deadly chokehold. "Don't kill me," the man yelled after the officer threw him to the ground.
That officer, John Collondrez, was fired. Natalie Rafferty, the officer and K-9 handler who planned Jenks' arrest, has been notified by the department that she, too, will be terminated, according to documents released to KQED and the Bay Area News Group under a new state law that unseals some internal investigations and police disciplinary records.
The records released by Rio Vista are among the first in the state to show officers disciplined for violating use-of-force rules and for dishonesty. Although it remains to be seen whether such misconduct is rare or widespread, one expert made it clear that the disclosures offer a glimpse into what "has been a hidden world" in California, where most officer discipline was confidential for decades until the new law took effect Jan. 1.
“Police discipline has always been shrouded in secrecy,” University of Nebraska Criminal Justice Professor Samuel Walker said. “It's very good that the public knows about these things and as more and more records are released, we will get a better picture of the patterns; what are some of the recurring problems?”
These firings are the latest bombshell to hit the 14-member police department in Rio Vista, a Solano County city of 9,000 nestled alongside the Sacramento River. A former chief and at least seven officers have left the department or been fired since 2016, and Mayor Ronald Kott said additional administrative investigations are occurring in what appears to be a major shakeup.
“The seriousness of the sustained allegations cannot be overstated,” the investigator of Collondrez's case wrote in a report. “Honesty and integrity are the foundations of the law enforcement profession and failing in either is severely detrimental to the department’s ability to maintain the public trust.”
A call to 911
Jenks had called police seven times between Sept. 22 and the day of her arrest to report that her car alarm was going off, that someone was trying to break into the vehicle and that her garden hose had been tampered with. Sometimes she hung up, and she sometimes didn’t answer when dispatchers called her back. Officers never found anything suspicious.
Rafferty and her partner, rookie Officer Man Ly, had a plan ready if she called again, records show: They would arrest her for abusing the 911 system. They got their chance Sept. 30.
Jenks appears defiant in body-camera footage captured as the officers talk to her on her porch about the calls. Jenks insisted that she called 911 to report an emergency and told the officers they were there to serve and protect her. She cried out for her boyfriend, David O’Reilly, when Ly told her to put her hands behind her back and attempted to handcuff her. She fought back and yelled for help, kicking at the officers.
“Why are you picking on her?” O’Reilly asked, appearing in the doorway. “She hasn’t done anything.”
More Rio Vista officers arrived and wrestled with Jenks in her front yard. Suddenly, Rafferty’s police K-9 “Rio” appeared in the darkened fray, clamping down on Jenks’ arm and opening a gruesome wound deep in her muscle tissue as she screamed in pain. Rafferty is then heard calmly issuing a one-word command in German for the dog to release, ending the attack.
Rafferty later told investigators that a button on her equipment had been accidentally pushed during the tussle, opening a door on her police vehicle that allowed the dog to get out. Jenks said she still has nightmares about being attacked by a dog.
“All I could think was, ‘Oh my goodness do I still have my arm?’” Jenks said in a recent interview. “He didn’t rip. He bit straight through.”
The internal investigation into Jenks’ arrest found that Rafferty put false information in police reports to bolster a felony charge against Jenks, including that she had injured officers when she bit them. Rafferty and Ly submitted photos of alleged injuries, but an investigator found the claim that the woman's bites hurt them was "patently false."
Rafferty also disobeyed directions to submit only misdemeanor charges against Jenks, the investigation found, and submitted a felony resisting arrest count.
Ly no longer works for the department. Rafferty was served on Jan. 16 with a notice of the department’s intent to fire her. She can still appeal the firing. Both she and her lawyer declined to be interviewed.
Chief Dan Dailey said he referred potential criminal charges against both officers to the Solano County District Attorney, alleging perjury and falsification of a police report. DA Spokeswoman Monica Martinez said the office did not receive the referral.
Jenks still faces charges on six misdemeanors -- for unlawful 911 calls, battery on each officer and resisting arrest. She is due back in Solano County Superior Court in March.
A hit and run
In the other case, a veteran Rio Vista officer’s misconduct so tainted a drunken driving, hit-and-run investigation that the suspect couldn’t be charged. A sergeant noticed major inconsistencies in a police report of the incident and raised concerns to the chief.
Information from the victim in the case pointed officers John Collondrez and Anthony Costa to a Rio Vista home a few minutes after 9 p.m. on Aug. 17, 2017, and the officers noticed a dent in a truck parked outside.
Collondrez and Costa went inside without a warrant or sufficient cause to make an arrest. When the suspect, who we are not identifying because he was never charged, refused to go outside, Collondrez shoved him against a wall and put the man in a potentially deadly chokehold, the investigation found. Body camera video shows the hold lasting about 20 seconds.
Collondrez later told investigators that he had intended to apply a carotid, or “sleeper,” hold. When done properly, the hold constricts the blood flow to the brain by applying pressure to both sides of the neck, causing a brief loss in consciousness.
The internal affairs investigation found that the officer lied about discovering keys in the suspect’s pocket and investigating the scene of the collision, which actually occurred in Sacramento County, not Rio Vista. Collondrez, the report says, did neither. The investigation also found he used excessive force, made an improper arrest and didn’t seek medical care for the suspect, which department policy requires.
Collondrez, the former head of the Rio Vista Police Officers Association, twice appealed the city’s move to fire him. He resigned on Sept. 19.
The former officer now appears to work for Uber as an investigator.
A spokesman for the company said in an emailed response that information about Collondrez's firing "is concerning and we are reviewing the matter. We will take appropriate action pending the results of this review.”
Neither Collondrez nor his attorney agreed to be interviewed.
“You are on a witch hunt to find dirty cops,” Collondrez wrote in a Facebook message. “I am not that.”
Tom Nolan, a former Boston police lieutenant turned academic, reviewed both cases and said he was very surprised the police chief fired the officers.
"The best course of action is to discipline if it's indicated, retrain him if needed, or give her some counseling or whatever is needed in order to keep them in your organization," Nolan said.
Rio Vista City Manager Robert Hickey said he stands by the findings of the investigations and the police chief.
“Who guards the guardians?” he said. “I take that very seriously and I'm willing to ensure that investigations go forward as needed.”
This story was reported in collaboration with the Bay Area News Group and Investigative Studios, an independent nonprofit news organization affiliated with the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley.
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