SANTA PAULA, Calif. -- Travis Walker, Santa Paula's new police chief, began his new career in Ventura County on Monday.
Walker takes over for a city that has been without a permanent chief for a prolonged period of time.
“We went through an extensive recruitment process,” said Daniel Singer, who is the Santa Paula City Manager. “We ended up with 19 qualified applicants which is a pretty good showing for us.”
Santa Barbara, Port Hueneme, and San Gabriel police chief serve on the panel to help narrow the decision down to three finalists.
“Ultimately it was my choice, and it needed to be my decision,” said Singer.
Walker has several years of experience as a chief of police, but he also brings with him some accusations of malfeasance. He joined the Cathedral City Police Department to serve as deputy chief in Sept. 2016 and was promoted to Chief in 2017. But in May 2019 serious accusations were made against Walker.
Walker was placed on administrative leave after a Cathedral City Police Department Dispatcher alleged that Walker sexually assaulted her at a resort.
The dispatcher reported the allegations to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and the Cathedral City Human Relations Department. A complaint filed further detailed allegations of sexual harassment, sex-based discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination, violation of the Ralph Act, intentional infliction of emotional distress and battery.
“He unfortunately left there on less than savory circumstances,” said Singer. “There was a lawsuit by an employee who was about to face some of her own disciplinary hearings and filed a suit. She accused the city and Mr. Walker of a number of things.”
The Sheriff's Department investigated the allegations and sent the case to the Riverside County District Attorney's Office. In August 2019, the DA's office announced they had chosen not to file charges.
The dispatcher filed a lawsuit against Walker and Cathedral City and agreed to a $500,000 settlement with the city. Walker and Cathedral City agreed to mutually part ways, and Walker never made any admission of liability as part of the agreement.
“That prompted us to do a very thorough background investigation, and reference check to make sure that I personally felt comfortable and that the city was protected here in this decision making,” said Singer. “Accusations in today's world seem to equal guilty and I would just like to encourage the public to give him a chance and give the city a chance to prove that the facts and the truth can come out, and that accusations don’t always mean that someone is guilty.”
Santa Paula had been without a permanent police chief since previous chief Steve McLean's resignation in 2019. McLean had served as chief with the department for seven years before he left the department.