Sean Webby and Mark Gomez, 11/17/11
A San Jose police officer who was fired last year for mishandling dozens of sex assault cases was reinstated Tuesday with full back pay after an arbitrator ruled the department failed to meet a legal deadline for taking action on her case.
Under state law, no punitive action can be taken against a law enforcement officer in California if an investigation isn’t completed within a year after an official discovers the alleged misconduct.
Matty Hrncir, 34, is the third police officer fired in the past two years to be reinstated to the force.
The Police Department received an anonymous letter in January 2009 alleging Hrncir engaged in serious misconduct. Then-Assistant Chief Dan Katz ordered a criminal investigation of Hrncir on Oct. 27, 2009. The district attorney declined to file charges. She was fired Sept. 9, 2010, after an internal police investigation by then-Chief Rob Davis.
But arbitrator William F. Reeves ruled the disciplinary action was “time-barred” under state law, meaning her firing came after the one-year deadline to act.
When reached Wednesday afternoon, police Chief Chris Moore said he had not read the arbitrator’s report. Once he does, he said, he will consult with the City Attorney’s Office on the best way to proceed.
Asked what Hrncir’s assignment would be, he said he could not immediately say.
“Matty has been vilified and her reputation trashed,” said Terry Bowman, Hrncir’s attorney. “She is anxious to return to work and earn back the good reputation she once enjoyed.”
A year ago, Sgt. Will Manion and Officer Patrick D’Arrigo won back their badges. They were dismissed in 2009 after being accused of trying to cover up a former officer’s drunken-driving crash. In that case, an arbitrator ruled that termination was too severe a punishment for failing to properly investigate the crash.
Last month D’Arrigo was charged with having unlawful sex with two teenage boys and providing them with alcohol. D’Arrigo is on administrative leave and his criminal case is still pending.
Hrncir was hired by the department in 2000 after spending two years with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. The 30-page report from Reeves indicates she consistently received positive job evaluations from her supervisors.
In January 2008, Sgt. Jim Ureta became her supervisor in the sex crimes unit. Ureta, according to the report, noted Hrncir had a high number of open cases, 47. He stopped giving her cases in an attempt to reduce the backlog.
During a review of her cases, Ureta noted she had not interviewed a couple of victims, the report says.
Hrncir complained about Ureta to a superior, saying he was micromanaging her.
About a month later, she was transferred to a different assignment as a daytime detective, considered a plum assignment. She left behind several folders of personal items and documents that were later found on another officer’s desk. A sergeant who examined the folders found 100 documents related to 33 criminal cases, some dating to 2007.
Ureta in June 2008 discovered numerous investigative errors and discrepancies in Hrncir’s files and Jan. 5, 2009, gave her a negative recommendation for a new job in intelligence.
Fewer than two weeks later, a 3 ½-page anonymous letter was sent to police headquarters, alleging “shocking ineptitude and apathy” in the sex crimes unit. It alleged Hrncir and another officer repeatedly failed to follow up obvious leads, “appear to have intentionally failed to disclose crucial” evidence to prosecutors and defense attorneys, misquoted witnesses and victims, and minimized crimes in reports.
As a result, charges could not be filed in some cases because the statute of limitations had passed, the letter alleged.
It is unknown if disciplinary action was taken against the other officer.
Davis initiated an internal investigation that examined nearly 200 sex crime cases Hrncir investigated between March 2006 and February 2008. Thirty-six were reinvestigated, resulting in charges in seven cases, and an investigator recommended two allegations be sent to superiors as possible violations of departmental procedures and conduct unbecoming of an officer.
Among the incidents, Hrncir failed to report that the mother of a sexual assault victim said she had confronted the suspect, who admitted to her he had done the same thing to two other children. Hrncir did not mention the other reported assaults in her written report and failed to report the mother’s allegations to Child Protective Services as required by law.
In arguments before Reeves, the city said Hrncir’s poor conduct was so serious and widespread that it warranted the most severe discipline.
Bowman replied Hrncir had an excellent record, lacked training and was given an excessive workload, and that any misconduct was unintentional.