The Richmond Police Department recently completed an independent investigation of the allegations made against Kensington Police Sergeant Keith Barrow by Vanessa Cordova, a Kensington Police Protection and Community Services District Board member.
Ms. Cordova alleged that she was the victim of stalking and harassment by the Kensington Police Department, including when she was pulled over and issued a “fix-it” ticket by Officer Juan Ramos and Sgt. Barrow in Berkeley, not far from the Kensington city limits, in October 2015.
The investigation disclosed that Ms. Cordova, an elected official, had expired registration tabs on her vehicle at the time of the stop and that she had not registered her vehicle for nearly two years, a violation of California Vehicle Code section 4000(a). The Vehicle Code permits officers to tow a car if the registration is expired in an excess of six-months, should they choose.
During the complained-of car stop, Ms. Cordova, produced two one-day, temporary moving permits, issued by the DMV. However, the moving permits were invalid as they had not been properly completed and therefore Cordova was unlawfully operating her vehicle. These types of temporary, one-day moving permits are often the subject of fraud by those who use them as a substitute for valid registration.
In addition to Cordova’s delinquent registration, it was found that Ms. Cordova was operating her car without a front license plate, a violation of Vehicle Code section 5200(a). It was also discovered that Ms. Cordova’s drivers’ license had been suspended up until the day of the October traffic stop. Based on these facts, the outside investigator properly concluded that Ms. Cordova was lawfully stopped and lawfully issued a ‘fix-it’ ticket.
Ms. Cordova’s allegations of harassment and unlawful detention were determined to be unfounded.
The investigator also examined the propriety of the location of the stop, given it occurred in Berkeley. The investigator first corroborated Barrow’s account that he and Officer Ramos had traveled to a convenience store in Berkeley to purchase food, by reviewing surveillance video from the store. The investigator then determined that, consistent with Penal Code section 830.1, a Notice of Consent exists, circa 2010, which permits police officers from the City of Kensington to engage in law enforcement in the City of Berkeley. It was further discovered during the investigation that it is not uncommon for police officers in Kensington to make traffic enforcement stops in neighboring jurisdictions, should they encounter an obvious violation.
The investigator determined that Sgt. Barrow had no demonstrable animus towards Ms. Cordova, as she described her interactions with Barrow as professional and devoid of “personal issues.” It is Ms. Cordova that has personal issues with the Kensington Police Officers’ Association (“KPOA”), which, along with several other prominent members of the community, withdrew its endorsement for Ms. Cordova’s candidacy just prior to the election, in part due to her divisive campaign that sought to deepen fissures on the District’s governing board by calling for ballots to be cast for “anybody but the incumbent.” The KPOA’s withdrawal of its endorsement infuriated Ms. Cordova and by the fallacious nature of the allegations she has made against the Officer Ramos and Sgt. Barrow, it is clear that she has not gotten over it.
Ms. Cordova also lobbed a delusional claim, that after the complained of car stop had ended and she was sent on her way with a fix-it ticket, she remained in her car, paralyzed with fear that if she reached for her phone, she would be shot by Officer Ramos and Sgt. Barrow, who, at the time, were both sitting in their patrol car while Officer Ramos, chronicled what led to the stop on the back of the ticket.
The crazy and specious claims by Ms. Cordova did not stop there. Ms. Cordova told the outside investigator that she feared that Kensington police officers would plant drugs or some other type of contraband in her car. She said, without even a whiff of proof that officers had attempted to burglarize her garage. She claimed that an officer parked next to her car (the one she shouldn’t have been driving), despite other parking stalls being open, as an act of intimidation.
Despite finding no evidence that KPD officers engaged in any of the outlandish behavior Ms. Cordova had alleged, the outside investigator did, paradoxically, conclude that, despite the traffic stop being lawful and sound, Sgt. Barrow should have engaged in greater supervisory discretion by calling off the stop because it was likely that, based on Cordova’s demonstrated instability and hostility towards KPD, Cordova would fly off the handle and bring forth a litany of false allegations.
In essence, Sgt. Barrow stands criticized by the outside investigator in this matter, not for engaging in conduct which violates the law or Department policy, but because he should have foreseen that the issuance of a lawful fix-it ticket to Ms. Cordova would cause her to spin out of control and (1) file a baseless criminal complaint with the FBI, (2) request the issuance of a protective order (which was denied), (3) file an internal affairs complaint replete with exaggerations and falsehoods, and (4) pander those exaggerations and falsehoods to the media.
Another import of the outside investigator’s conclusion is that it is appropriate to abandon perfectly lawful enforcement action if the person who is the subject of the enforcement action is a vocal complainer. Were law enforcement agencies to adopt such a course of logic, anybody who is rancorous towards the police would be exempt from following the law; enforcing the law would come to a stand-still. The law is to be enforced dispassionately and evenhandedly and nobody, even an elected official, is above the law.
The outside investigator found that Sgt. Barrow, who was off duty after having worked the previous night shift and then engaging in KPOA business, should have been in uniform as policy requires such, during the encounter with Ms. Cordova. Sgt. Barrow never left the vicinity of the hood of Officer Ramos’s patrol car, while Officer Ramos contacted Ms. Cordova. The investigation also determined that Sgt. Barrow should have asked for permission from the Chief to go on a ride-along with Officer Ramos, even though every single officer interviewed advised that it was commonplace for off-duty officers to ride along with on-duty officers to get lunch or coffee after the conclusion of their shifts.
However, it is Ms. Cordova’s behavior that is disturbing, particularly given that she is an elected official. Ms. Cordova has demonstrated a pattern of erratic, verbally abusive and paranoid behavior, punctuated with distortions, exaggerations, and plain lies. For example, Ms. Cordova alleged that she was a victim of harassment after speaking out against the Department at a District board meeting. Ms. Cordova publicly claimed that Officer Ramos, as an act of intimidation, responded to her house for an alarm call which was allegedly fabricated by Ramos, because the alarm had allegedly not been triggered. However, it was Cordova that was lying to the media and the public. Ms. Cordova was lawfully, surreptitiously recorded during the alarm call response by Officer Ramos who feared a decidedly unstable Ms. Cordova would fabricate allegations against him and, in fact, she did. The recording very clearly reveals Cordova admitting that she accidentally triggered the home alarm when she entered her home with her headphones on after going jogging.
In addition to the outright lie about Ramos fabricating an alarm call at her home, she also exaggerated the length of the October car stop involving Sgt. Barrow. The entire stop lasted approximately 12 minutes (the entire stop was recorded by Officer Ramos on a digital recorder) from contact to finish but Ms. Cordova told investigators that the “harassing” stop lasted a whopping 45 minutes.
Ms. Cordova, undeterred by reality, also alleged that KPD officers damaged the bumper of her BMW convertible. However, on October 27, 2014, two different KPD officers were on patrol when they observed a vehicle with expired registration in excess of six months. The officers knew that the car was towable based on the significantly delinquent registration. The officers conducted a file check on the registered owner and found it to be registered to Ms. Cordova. At the time, Ms. Cordova was running for her seat on the Board and as a result, the officers contacted the then Chief of Police to inquire as to how to proceed. The Chief, concerned that citing or towing Ms. Cordova’s car would incur her ire, instructed the officers to take no further action. For documentation purposes, prior to leaving, one of the officers snapped a photo of her expired registration tab and in doing so, captured preexisting bumper damage to her vehicle, the same damage that she disingenuously attributed to having been caused by “nefarious” cops at KPD.
Separate and apart from Ms. Cordova’s difficult relationship with the truth, the investigation established that she has difficult relationships with other human beings, as civilian witnesses observed Cordova to have an angry temper. Civilian employees of the Department have described seeing Ms. Cordova fly into angry rages, and described her when she came to the Department after the traffic stop involving Sgt. Barrow as being so angry that she was shaking. They painted a picture of Ms. Cordova demanding to see the Chief of Police and then walking into his office and yelling at the Chief so loudly that it could be heard throughout the building. Her behavior was described by one civilian employee as “alarming, unprofessional, and unprecedented.”
Cordova’s hostile demeanor and sense of self-importance has caused officers to behave timidly towards her when it comes to enforcing the law. One officer reported to the outside investigator that she stopped Ms. Cordova while she was driving another person’s car. Upon effecting the stop, Cordova asked the officer, “Do you know who I am?” The officer was understandably led to believe that Ms. Cordova feels that she is exempt from the law based on her position as a Board member.
In conclusion, Ms. Cordova’s many publicly made false allegations have necessitated this response, which is intended to reveal the truth. It is the sincere hope of Sgt. Barrow and Officer Ramos that given that the outside investigator has debunked Ms. Cordova’s claims, the community of Kensington can now move forward with confidence in the officers who protect it. According the U.S. Department of Justice standards used by the outside investigator, a finding of “unfounded” means that “the alleged acts did not occur.”