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Santa Barbara - South County

Former Santa Barbara Police spokesman demands $4.6 million following critical magazine article

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Santa Barbara Police Department spokesman Anthony Wagner

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Following a working relationship in San Diego, Anthony Wagner came to Santa Barbara to be the spokesman for now-retired police chief Lori Luhnow. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wagner’s position briefly broadened to help at the Santa Barbara Mayor’s office.

Wagner had multiple tasks as a civilian staff member in the police department. He was the department spokesman, a liaison to the Alcoholic Beverage Control board and later became one of six people on Santa Barbara’s cannabis business license committee.

In December 2017, Santa Barbara's City Council adopted an ordinance to allow recreational cannabis to be sold in the city. The following July, Wagner was assigned to the group which eventually awarded three lucrative business licenses.

In March 2021, Los Angeles Magazine published an article focusing on the cannabis licensing process. Mitchell Kriegman wrote the article questioning Wagner’s ethics, but none of the other five city workers involved in the process.

Kriegman is a television writer, producer and creator of the popular Nickelodeon 90s series Clarissa Explains It All.

After Kriegman’s article was published, Santa Barbara Police interim chief Barney Melekian put Wagner on paid administrative leave. The city then hired a third-party group to investigate the issues raised in the article.

During the investigation, Los Angeles Magazine altered its online article and made some retractions. Among those included a claim Wagner had a relationship with one of the businessmen awarded a license, creating a possible conflict of interest.

After nearly two months, Santa Barbara’s city attorney’s office stated the third-party investigation did not find Wagner did anything wrong during the licensing process. Nothing from the article would stand in the way of Wagner returning to his duties.

However, Wagner has not been back to the police department nor the city since March. In May, a proposed police department budget was submitted to the city council which included the elimination of Wagner’s position.

Friday, Wagner’s attorney Michele B. Friend sent a seven-page letter to the publisher of Los Angeles Magazine demanding it retract the article about Wagner. The letter also demanded $4.6 million for legal fees and damages to Wagner and his family.

In the letter, the attorney pointed out Wagner had written to the magazine within a week of the article's publication describing “thirty-two (32) gross inaccuracies” in the story. “LA Magazine has failed to retract the Attack Piece or even correct most of the easily verifiable falsehoods. LA Magazine’s astounding refusal to even acknowledge reliable evidence such as court rulings and administrative reports and instead stand by hearsay claims that have been wholly refuted demonstrates the actual malice and reckless disregard for the truth on the part of LA Magazine and Mr. Kriegman," Friend wrote.

Friend went on to describe six ways she deemed the article was false and damaging. “While Mr. Kriegman may be an accomplished fiction and television writer, he appears to have no experience or training in investigative journalism...It was incumbent upon LA Magazine to fact-check his work but it clearly ignored basic journalistic standards for the lure of a sensational story that is more fiction than fact,” Friend wrote.

Wagner said the letter is the first step before he files a lawsuit against the magazine.

NewsChannel 3 received Wagner's letter Friday evening. You can read the full letter here.

Our newsroom reached out to Los Angeles Magazine and left a message seeking comment in response to Wagner’s letter.

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Scott Sheahen

Scott Sheahen is a reporter for NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Scott, click here.

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