The Contra Costa County District Attorney's office has exonerated Kensington's police chief and a police sergeant of any criminal wrongdoing after investigating allegations by Cathie Kosel, a board member of the Kensington Police Protection and Community Services District (KPPCSD).
Kosel had alleged possible misuse by Chief Greg Harman of district credit cards and also that Sgt. Ricky Hull raced his car at a high rate of speed and aimed the car at her, according to the district attorney's office.
Letters signed by Deputy District Attorney Steven Moawad informed Kosel that investigations by the office found insufficient evidence to support either allegation. (Copies of the letters are attached to this article.)
Kosel's allegations against Harman's use of a district credit card date back to at least July of last year when she and fellow KPPCSD board member Mari Metcalf questioned him during a tempestuous public meeting of the board about his credit card charges.
“I believe there are a number of expenditures you could term unnecessary and improper,” she said at the meeting, which at times became a shouting match over addressing the issue in public instead of closed session.
She has also used the credit card issue in her current campaign for re-election to the board, saying in a recent letter to Kensington residents, "I uncovered the misuse of your agency's credit card and stopped it."
In an Oct. 8 letter to Kosel, the district attorney's office said it reviewed an "eight page letter you provided documenting purportedly inappropriate credit account use." The office also reviewed district account statements and receipts as well as two audits conducted after Kosel and Metcalf raised the issue last year. The DA's office also interviewed witnesses and reviewed the employment agreement for Harman.
The letter said the DA's office was looking "solely for evidence of criminal wrongdoing" and not evaluating "best accounting practices or propriety of any internal controls."
"Based on the evidence and information obtained during the probe, I find insufficient evidence to support an allegation of criminal wrongdoing against the chief or any other member of the district," the letter said. The signature section of the letter included the printed names of District Attorney Mark Peterson and Moawad, as well as Moawad's signature.
In the Hull matter, Moawad wrote to Kosel, "The allegations you made were that Sergeant Hull 'raced at a high rate of speed (approximately 40 mph)' and 'aimed his car' at you, a sitting board member af the Kensington Police Protection and Community Services District. You further alleged that the incident may have been a 'further attempt to intimidate' you."
The letter from Moawad regarding Hull, dated Sept. 26, said the DA's office interviewed five witnesses and reviewed dispatch logs and recordings and other police records, including calls for service at the time of the alleged incident.
"I find insufficient evidence to support any allegation of criminai wrongdoing," the letter concluded. "Specifically, some of the witnesses interviewed either tend to undercut or specifically contradict the allegations. Further, the documented calls for service and dispatch recordings and logs corroborate that Kensington Police Protection and Community Services District offlcers were involved in another case at or near the time of alleged incident."
That letter contained Peterson's and Moawad's names printed in the signature section with Moawad's signature.
Copies of both letters were sent to Michael Rains, attorney for Harman and Hull, who forwarded them to the KPPCSD board last week.
"I certainly hope that the many responsible citizens of Kensington recognize that there is nothing commendable about public officials making false and malicious allegations against other public officials," Rains said in an email to the board accompanying the DA's letters.
Shortly after Kosel's latest complaint against the chief, Rains said, Kensington police Officer Doug Wilson told Harman "about a statement made to him by Ms. Kosel in 2009, sometime shortly after she directed several Kensington police officers to walk off the job in order to create chaos and discredit Chief Harman’s leadership of the department (she was urging that police services be outsourced to El Cerrito P.D. at the time). It was then that she told Officer Wilson that she would 'say anything to get Chief Harman fired.'"
Rains said he forwarded the two DA letters with his accompanying email to the KPPCSD board on Friday. Rains' email also is attached to this article.
Patch sent emails to Kosel on Monday and Tuesday this week seeking comment and as of early this morning, Wednesday, had not received a response.
(Editor's note: responses from Kosel can be found in comments she posted below after this article was published.)
Harman told Patch that Kosel's "false accusations and malicious lies" include the allegation that the department did not solve any crimes last year. Her recent letter to residents says, "No crimes were solved," referring to last year.
"That's just a blatant out-and-out lie," Harman said, adding that a number of crimes were cleared last year and that more have been cleared so far this year. He said that four of the five crimes against people reported in the low-crime community by the end of September have been cleared, meaning that the crime has been resolved from the police department's standpoint. These include the killing of retired Kensington psychologist James Durkin. A suspect in the case, Diane Sydenham of Albany, was arrested, charged with murder and remains in jail pending further hearings.
The president of the KPPCSD board, Chuck Toombs, told Patch that the results released so far in two audits of Harman's credit card use "found no abuse, no misspending, nothing."
"Despite that compelling evidence on both fronts, Ms. Kosel decided to file a complaint with the District Attorney's office," he said. "I thought it was completely unfounded."
Toombs and Kosel have clashed on several occasions on the KPPCSD board and are widely viewed in Kensington as being on opposite sides politically. The board oversees the police department and some community services.
Kosel and Toombs both are seeking re-election to the board in a field of five running for two open seats on the five-member panel. Toombs is running on a slate with Patricia Gillette, while Kosel is loosely affiliated with Jim Hausken. The fifth candidate, Kim Zvik, has positioned herself as an independent.
Asked about Kosel's allegation against Hull, Toombs said, "The District Attorney has exonerated him."
Asked if the DA's findings put the issues to rest, Toombs said the answer is unknown, explaining that Harman and Hull are entitled "to pursue administrative remedies of a grievance. ... At a minimum, it would allow them a name-clearing hearing."
Asked if any form of civil liability could arise, Toombs said, "It's entirely possible they could pursue civil remedy against the board for the misconduct of one of its members. It's a question for a court of law to make the determination if Ms. Kosel exceeded the scope of her authority."
Don't miss any local news. Get the day's headlines and events – plus any breaking news alerts – by subscribing to the El Cerrito Patch email newsletter