Things are running afoul in a small California town, where residents say they feel betrayed by city officials who failed to keep tabs on a former police chief charged with leaving hundreds of unfinished cases just sitting on his desk.
A recent report released by a Fresno County grand jury says former Fowler Police Chief Darrell Jamgochian held up the legal process after more than 600 cases were locked in his office, some so long that they can't be prosecuted any more because the statute of limitations has run out.
The cases, some of which included serious crimes such as attempted murder and sexual offences, date back as far as 2004, and the report faults the city manager and city council for providing oversight of Jamgochian.
At a city council meeting on Tuesday. residents of Fowler, population 5,400, had the opportunity to address the council and voice their concerns. One demanded that the council resign for failing the community.
"I would respectfully request that each and every one of you resign. Do the right thing and resign. Don't come up with some Mickey Mouse response to the grand jury, telling them they're wrong. Man up, take full responsibility for your inactions," resident Jeff Budwig said.
Budwig later told the Fresno Bee that he didn't think Jamgochian intended not to file the cases, but things "got away from him and it snowballed."
Jamgochian, who resigned in January, didn't attend the meeting. He has yet to be charged with anything, though the Grand Jury investigation is still under way.
"You guys need to serve us better," Lawrence Brookter, a Fowler resident and former Fresno police officer, told city officials at the meeting Tuesday. "Things just aren't right here with the police department and the citizens of Fowler."
Derek Thomason, a support systems manager for the Fowler Police Department hired to help Jamgochian file cases with the district attorney, admitted at the meeting that he was the whistleblower who led the grand jury into the investigation. He said he acted after he noticed the stacks of cases piled up in the chief’s office.
“I initiated the complaint with the Fresno County Grand Jury, because these things needed to be exposed, they needed to be addressed, and steps need to be taken to make sure this doesn't happen again," Thomason said. "I am the whistleblower, and you can fire me if you like. But I've done my duty here, and I challenge each and every one of you to do your duty."
The City Council revealed a draft response letter to the public that admitted there was a delay of 600 cases filed, but believed the council did their jobs properly. The letter also suggested that some findings in the grand jury report were false.
Fowler Mayor David Cardenas said at the meeting that the council became proactive once it learned of Jamgochian's alleged transgressions.
"I'm very sorry that those issues were not addressed accordingly or ... as fast as it probably would have been possible. But the council did the right thing," Cardenas said.
But resident Tiffany Rodriquez says she filed over 20 different complaints to the police department for over two years that ranged from sexual assault, domestic violence and restraining order violations, and help never came from the police.
“That’s just how things have been running in Fowler for so long. If you’re friends of whomever is in charge, then you don’t have to abide by any laws. If you look at all my police reports, it was always Darrell Jamgochian,” Rodriquez said.
Rodriquez also says that copies of her criminal reports were stolen numerous times. Her car was broken into twice and her house was robbed. “These are the kind of things that the chief of police said that these were just coincidences,” she said.
For many victims, the cases have grown too old to be prosecuted under the state’s statute of limitations.
John Moreno was a Fowler police officer for over 24 years before resigning shortly after Chief Jamgochian was appointed chief.
Moreno states that he had to resign because the city would have fired him for trying to expose the corruption in the department. “The stuff that Jamgochian was doing was being brought to light and brought to the city manager’s attention and it was brushed and swept under the rug,” Moreno said.
Moreno filed a lawsuit against the city of Fowler because of the inconsistencies in reporting policies.
The police department sends an average of 185 cases to the DA every year.