From: SF Chronicle
By: Megan Cassidy, 4/05/2019
A Walnut Creek police officer narrowly avoided being fired in 2017 after internal investigators found that he had mishandled evidence in dozens of cases and may have left a bag of Vicodin at the scene of an arrest.
Walnut Creek Police Chief Thomas Chaplin had initially planned to terminate Officer Curtis Borman amid findings of dishonesty and that he filed false reports, but later changed course and spared the officer his job, according to records released Friday.
Borman was ultimately suspended for 30 days, was removed from special assignments and was given a limited cap on pay raises.
The 886-page batch of documents on Borman’s case was the first to be released by Walnut Creek police after the passage of the new police transparency law, SB1421, that took effect Jan. 1. The disclosure comes after the Walnut Creek Police Officers Association — and five other Contra Costa County law-enforcement unions — unsuccessfully sued to try to block the release of records created before 2019.
SB1421 requires officer misconduct files to be made public if they involve sustained findings of dishonesty or sexual assault. The law also unseals records related to police shootings and use-of-force incidents that involved a serious injury or death.
The probe into Borman began in early 2017, after internal investigators received information regarding Borman misrepresenting information in a police report.
The first case in question stemmed from a Dec. 6, 2016, traffic stop, in which Borman determined that the driver and a passenger had warrants for their arrest. A subsequent search of the car revealed a baggie of white pills identified as Vicodin, syringes, glass methamphetamine pipes and suspected liquid heroin.
However, investigators say Borman omitted a mention of the pills in his initial report and later told a sergeant he had discarded them. After the sergeant directed him to search the dumpster, Borman said he couldn’t remember what he did with the pills and may have left them in the car.
Amid the investigation into this case, Borman implicated himself in a whole new inquest. Borman told investigators that sometimes he held off on booking photos or videos from his phone into evidence until he received a reminder from the property technician.
The revelation sparked an audit into Borman’s evidence handling, and investigators reviewed 116 cases from 2015 and 2016 in which Borman reported booking photo or video evidence. Of those cases, investigators found 31 in which Borman indicated items were booked but they were not accounted for in evidence.
According to transcripts of Borman’s interviews, the officer told investigators he wasn’t initially aware of the rules and regulations surrounding “false reports.”
In a separate interview, Borman said he couldn’t be sure what happened to the Vicodin pills and that they may have been picked up by a passenger who wasn’t arrested.
Borman went on to explain that he never intended to charge the woman for the pills — even if they were illegal — and had planned to discard them.
“To be completely honest, I like to try to develop informants,” he explained. “I was hoping that by not charging her for the pills, it would seem like I was giving her a break and she might disclose some information and become an informant.”
In an April 18, 2017, letter, Chief Chaplin told Borman he intended to fire him and issued a scathing assessment of Borman’s conduct.
“You have repeatedly proven yourself incompetent in the handling of evidence and completion of reports and raised serious questions about your honesty,” he said. “The department therefore has no choice but to terminate your employment.”
But the chief dialed back the discipline by June 8, 2017, after a conference with Borman and his attorney, Julia Fox. Chaplin found that Borman was not intentionally dishonest and took into account his positive performance evaluations.
The most serious allegation against Borman, “dishonesty,” was ultimately determined to be unfounded, and other violations were sustained related to false police reports, evidence and performance.
In a letter to The Chronicle and others who requested Walnut Creek police records, Chaplin said additional reports would be released on a rolling basis. They will additionally be posted online at a new department web page dedicated to SB1421 records, the letter stated.
More cities are expected to begin releasing records following a decision by the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco last week. The court shut down the Contra Costa County law enforcement unions’ argument that the law shouldn’t apply “retroactively,” and required agencies to release records created prior to 2019.
Several police and deputy unions across the state mounted the same legal argument in superior courts, with generally no success. But some cities still held off on releasing their records until they received direction from courts.
Because the First District is the first published appellate decision on the matter, it is binding on lower courts statewide unless another appeals court disagrees or the state Supreme Court intervenes.