An Oakland police lieutenant demoted to sergeant in April 2006 for his actions in a sexual harassment case was reinstated his old rank two days before an arbitration hearing, officials said Wednesday.
As part of an agreement reached Monday among Mike Yoell, his attorney, city and police officials, Yoell was immediately reinstated lieutenant and will receive back pay from April 7, 2006, when he was demoted.
Salary equivalent to a 15-day suspension will be withheld from his back pay, officials said.
Yoell, who had been working as a robbery investigator since the demotion, also assumes command of the property crimes section as part of the agreement.
Yoell said Wednesday he agreed to the settlement — which he called a vindication —from Metro 1 to finally put the issue behind him and get on with his career.
“In hindsight, there are things I could have done better,” he said, “but I did not deserve a demotion.”
Yoell had filed a grievance over the demotion and an arbitrator was to hear the matter Wednesday.
Yoell was demoted by Chief Wayne Tucker for failing to supervise officers working for him in the Special Victims Unit and for violating department policies regarding alleged inappropriate comments.
Tucker declined to talk about the demotion or reinstatement, but did say Yoell is a very capable police officer with a long history of service to the city. “I expect Lt. Yoell to do well in his current or any future assignment.”
Erica Harrold, a spokesperson for the city attorneys office, in citing state law concerning personnel matters, said, “It would be unwise for us to initiate any comment about how a personnel matter such as this one is resolved.
“Suffice to say, we are all glad this is over. We need to spend a lot less time in litigation with the attorneys for the Oakland Police Officers Association and a lot more time working to improve public safety in Oakland for both the members of the public and for our officers.”
The disciplinary action against Yoell resulted from a 2004 complaint against him and other officers by a then 27-year-old domestic violence advocate assigned to the Special Victims Unit.
Yoell’s attorney, Mike Rains of the Pleasant Hill law firm of Rains, Lucia and Wilkinson, had lined up more than a dozen witnesses to testify on his behalf, including two deputy chiefs and a captain who disagreed with the demotion and felt a suspension was appropriate punishment.
Also, some co-workers and a supervisor of the domestic violence advocate were going to testify for Yoell, Rains said.
Rains said he expected the woman’s co-workers to testify she was never really offended by anything she said happened and made it clear to them that she was shopping for a lawsuit.
The woman — who could not be reached for comment — initially filed a sexual harassment complaint in 2004 against an SVU officer, which Yoell reported to his superiors. But in a subsequent investigation conducted by an outside law firm, the woman also made allegations against Yoell and two other officers that she was verbally and physically harassed by all of them.
One of the officers retired before any action was taken against him. It could not be confirmed what, if any, action was taken against the other officers.
City Council agreed to pay the woman $85,000 in November 2005 after the outside investigation and before she filed a lawsuit against the city. The woman, who worked for the Family Violence Law Center, resigned before the monetary settlement was reached.
Rains said he was sorry the city settled with her. “They should have fought (the case).”
Rains agreed with Yoell that the settlement was vindication and that the 15-day suspension agreed upon was consistent with what the chain of command recommended.
“They are all saying he did not deserve to be demoted but the chief, for reasons still unexplained to me, ignored their recommendation.”
Rains said he has always thought Yoell to be an outstanding police officer who has bridged the gap of being a cops cop, sympathetic to what it is to work the street, to working with the community to rid it of violence. He sees the bigger picture of dealing with the root causes of crime.
During his career, Yoell has been involved in other controversial cases. One was the fatal shooting of an armed man whose family won a settlement from the city, and an excessive force case involving a recreation center director who also won a settlement from the city. Yoell, an officer at the time, received a suspension in that case.
But he also has arrested dozens of murder suspects and hundreds of robbers, narcotics dealers and other suspects. As commander of the Special Victims Unit, he headed the investigation that resulted in the conviction for four rapes of Ignacio De La Fuente Jr., son of the City Council president. He also played a key role in the establishment of the county Family Justice Center.