Since the beginning of last year, San Diego Police Chief Bill Kolender and his top assistants have dismissed at least 30 traffic citations for speeding, making illegal turns and running stop signs, a Times investigation has found.
In some cases, officers in Kolender's office fabricated excuses for dismissing the citations on official Police Department forms.
A city administrator, for example, sought to have a speeding ticket dismissed in October, 1985, for driving 41 m.p.h. in a 25-m.p.h. zone because he was "on official business," an unacceptable excuse. The dismissal slip said: "Driver en route home on family emergency."
According to a monthlong Times investigation, the list of influential San Diegans who have gone to the chief's office, rather than to Municipal Court, to take care of citations for moving violations include businessman Ronald Lee Fowler; Channel 8 editorial director Carl Sisskind; Marriott Hotel general manager Reint Reinders, and KSDO sportscaster Ronald Reina, a close friend of Kolender.
Among the others were the uncle of Assistant Police Chief Bob Burgreen; the wives of Police Cmdr. Cal Krosch and San Diego Padres pitcher Rich Gossage; and the sons of developer Forrest Brehm, Padres general manager Jack McKeon and John Rose, president of Rose Toyota and owner of a firm that sells equipment to the Police Department.
Kolender, who said last week that he had not been involved in dismissing moving citations "in a long time," acknowledged Monday that he had arranged to dismiss at least one of the tickets--in February for Burgreen's uncle.
'We'll Take Care of It'
Kolender said: "We're taking a look at our citation cancellation policy. . . . If there is something that needs fixing, I'll fix it. We have a fine Police Department. . . . We're not saying everything is perfect, but when something is wrong, we'll take care of it."
On Sunday, The Times reported that Kolender and his top administrators had routinely dismissed thousands of parking tickets for friends, family members, former police officials, influential businessmen, police officers and the media. In many cases, the Police Department violated its own policies by basing the dismissals on flimsy or fabricated excuses or none at all, The Times found.
The dismissal of moving violations found by The Times were described as "very serious" by Mayor Maureen O'Connor and City Manager John Lockwood, who said he will investigate.
'Public Safety Issue'
Lockwood noted that the inappropriate dismissal of a moving citation would be "a more serious offense" than canceling a parking ticket. "There's a public safety issue," he said. "There's a hazard there that's greater."
Deputy City Atty. Susan Heath said fabricating excuses for moving violations could violate Section 1.44 of the Police Department's rules and regulations, which states: "Members shall be truthful in all matters relating to their duties." Violators can be disciplined and even fired, Heath said.
Unlike parking infractions, where city attorneys have the leeway to dismiss tickets before arraignment, moving violations are considered "a lot more dangerous" and almost always wind up in front of a judge if no guilty plea is entered, Heath said.
Also, conviction of a moving violation means adding points to a motorist's driving record, Heath said. The limit is four points in one year. The number of points can affect insurance rates.
Admission Follows Denial
In an interview on Friday, Kolender vehemently denied having anything to do with "fixing" a moving violation. He said he couldn't remember saying "yes" to a request to have a traffic citation dismissed in "a long time," perhaps as long as a decade.
"I've had a policy always on moving tickets not to get involved," Kolender said last week.
But on Monday, Kolender confirmed that he had approved the dismissal of a citation for an illegal left turn issued in February to Conrad Burgreen, the assistant police chief's uncle.
"He complained about the ticket," Kolender said. "We checked it out. I can't remember the particulars. The man was right, so we canceled it. It's just that simple."
Kolender said he could not recall whether he dismissed a speeding citation in February for John Anderson of Poway. Attached to the ticket was a note from Kolender's office lieutenant, Charles Ellison, to a traffic division lieutenant. It said: "Per The Big Guy. Cancel."
Asked if he was "The Big Guy," Kolender responded, "I don't know."
Most people must dispute traffic citations in Municipal Court, which can require appearances in court on several different days.
The Times reviewed police dismissal records of traffic violations dating back to January, 1985. The Police Department destroys all records before that date. The cancellations included the following: