NEWPORT BEACH — Embattled Police Chief Arb Campbell, accused in a lawsuit by four current and former female employees of condoning sexual harassment by one of his chief assistants, announced his retirement Wednesday, effective May 15.
Newport Beach City Manager Kevin Murphy and several City Council members said they believe the resignation is unrelated to the lawsuit, although one acknowledged surprise at Campbell's timing.
"I'll miss him as a police officer," Councilwoman Evelyn R. Hart said. "I am not that suspicious about it, but the timing does not seem like the perfect time. I am surprised he would do this at this time."
Campbell could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But in his letter dated and delivered to Murphy on Wednesday morning, Campbell wrote: "This is to notify you of my intent to retire as chief of police on May 15, 1993. The purpose of this advance notice is to allow the city sufficient time to recruit and select a new chief of police.
"I would like to express my gratitude to other members of our city government, the personnel of the Newport Beach Police Department and the fine citizens of Newport Beach for their continued support throughout my 27 years of employment with this city."
City personnel officials said Campbell, 53, will receive about 75% of his present annual salary of $102,370 if he retires in May.
On Sept. 24, three current employees and one former worker in the Police Department filed a lawsuit against Newport Beach, Campbell and one of Campbell's top assistants, Capt. Anthony Villa, with whom he owns property in Riverside County.
The women charged Villa with sexual harassment on and off the job and with making sexual overtures and suggestive remarks that included a graphic description of a pornographic movie he had seen. The lawsuit alleges that Campbell condoned the harassment and that the department is "a hotbed of sexually offensive conduct at the top levels of the command structure."
Campbell and Villa have declined to comment but their attorney has said they deny the charges, describing the plaintiffs as disgruntled employees who were rightfully disciplined or fired.
After the lawsuit was filed, Villa was transferred from the patrol division to administration as part of what the department described as a routine rotation of its four captains.
The plaintiffs are communications supervisor Mary Jane Ruetz, 43; records supervisor Margaret McInnis, 39; Officer Cheryl Vlacilek, 28, and fired Officer Rochell Maier.
Ruetz took a disability leave for what she said was stress from the sexual harassment and McInnis has gone on disability amid the controversy. Maier, an Army Reserve captain and commander of her helicopter company, is appealing her firing.
Three of the women charge in the lawsuit that they were disciplined and fired on trumped-up charges after they rejected Villa's advances and formally complained. Two of them got their jobs back after the city Civil Service Commission overturned their dismissals.
Legal representatives for the women have said they were inundated with calls after the lawsuit was filed and expect two more plaintiffs to join the case.
"I think the subject of additional plaintiffs will come up (today)," Steven R. Pingel, the Seal Beach attorney who filed the women's lawsuit, said Wednesday. "To me it's not just coincidence when (Campbell) chooses to announce his retirement. He has a good idea of what's in the lawsuit and what's to come in the lawsuit. After all, he knows what he's done wrong."
Campbell started his law enforcement career at the Los Angeles Police Department in 1961. He left in 1966 to join the Newport Beach Police Department, where he steadily rose through the ranks.
In April, 1986, Campbell became chief, succeeding Charles (Pete) Gross, who retired in the wake of charges that his department was overly aggressive and had one of the highest complaint rates in county law enforcement.