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Santa Barbara Police spokesman placed on leave following critical magazine report

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Santa Barbara Police spokesman Anthony Wagner was placed on paid administrative leave Monday, following Friday's publication of an article in Los Angeles Magazine critical of his actions ranging from conduct in public to oversight of city cannabis business licensing.

Wagner was hired by former Police Chief Lori Luhnow. Both came from San Diego, where she worked for that city's police force. In February, she retired from the top post in Santa Barbara.

Since his arrival, Wagner has overseen communications for the police department, but was re-assigned to City Hall for a few months at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was also part of the city's process to determine permits for cannabis licenses.

Interim Santa Barbara Police Chief Bernard Melekian released the following statement:

"On March 12, Los Angeles Magazine published an article that raised a number of issues concerning an employee of the police department, Mr. Anthony Wagner. Most of these allegations have been previously investigated, either within the police department or by the city attorney’s office.  In addition, the City prevailed in a federal lawsuit by one of the unsuccessful cannabis permit applicants, which was dismissed in December 2019.

"Nevertheless, the Los Angeles Magazine article makes new allegations concerning the nature of Mr. Wagner’s role in the process of the awarding cannabis licenses that support further investigation. To that end, the Department will be retaining an outside firm to conduct that investigation for the Police Department.I have placed Mr. Wagner on Administrative Leave pending the outcome of this inquiry. I should note that Mr. Wagner has been fully cooperative with this inquiry and welcomes the involvement of an outside reviewer."

Wagner released this statement Monday afternoon:

"I am in full support and welcome a thorough third-party investigation to clear my good name of these unsubstantiated accusations. I am confident in the process, without reservation. Just because a theatrical writer puts words into existence does not make them true. The story in LA Magazine violates basic journalistic ethical standards and due diligence. The piece misstates and misrepresents my background, significant events in my life, and past professional interactions and personal relationships.

"As has already been brought to light in Santa Barbara-based media, the story was not adequately fact checked by LA Magazine as evidenced in the multiple errors that have been previously documented with trusted local media. Despite the fact that I personally provided him my direct phone number and email address -- the author did not reach out to me for comment prior to submission. In a flagrantly surreptitious and underhanded attempt to circumnavigate communication with me, he instead submitted public records requests to the City.

"Now it will take a formal inquiry and exhaustive due process to restore my sterling professional reputation. I have served the people of Santa Barbara for four-years with honor and integrity. The investigation will yield as such."

Later Monday, the Santa Barbara Police Officers Association released their own statement on the situation saying, "these allegations in no way reflect the outstanding character of the fine men and women of the Department who serve with honor, honesty, and compassion."

The full statement reads:

"The members of the Santa Barbara Police Officers Association (POA) have read the allegations contained in the March 12, 2021 Los Angeles Magazine article titled “In Sleepy Santa Barbara, a City Hall Insider Is Raising Eyebrows.” We find the allegations of cronyism and corruption contained in that article against top City administrators to be very disturbing. This is especially true as to the allegations involving former Police Chief Lori Luhnow and Public Information Officer Anthony Wagner as those allegations directly involve the Santa Barbara Police Department.

"As law enforcement personnel charged with enforcing the law with the utmost integrity, we are disturbed that such allegations shine a negative light upon the Police Department. The POA looks forward to the findings of a thorough, independent investigation. Thank you Chief Melekian for your immediate attention to these allegations. 

"The swift, appropriate action initially taken protects the reputation of the men and women of the Santa Barbara Police Department who willingly place their lives on the line every day to protect the citizens of Santa Barbara. We want to state very clearly that these allegations in no way reflect the outstanding character of the fine men and women of the Department who serve with honor, honesty, and compassion."

EDITORS NOTE: On Friday February 25, 2022, Los Angeles Magazine removed the article referenced in this story. In an unsigned email, the following note was sent to the News Channel: “Articles posted by your organization will no longer redirect the user to the articles because the articles have been removed from the Los Angeles Magazine website,”  This updated story reflects the current status of a legal complaint filed against the magazine by former Santa Barbara Police Spokesman Anthony Wagner.

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County
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