University investigating allegations brought forward by fellow officers
In an email sent out to all staff and students on Sept. 30, Vice President for Administration & Finance Douglas V. Dawes announced that Humboldt State University would be opening an investigation into allegations levied against University Police Chief Donn Peterson.
The allegations, ranging from creating a hostile work environment for fellow officers, changing the way certain crimes are categorized and violating labor laws, were brought to light after nine out of 10 officers placed a vote of “no confidence” against Peterson, in an annual leadership survey conducted by the Statewide University Police Association (SUPA). The tenth officer abstained from voting. According to the organization, last year’s survey had similar results as well.
Peterson spoke to El Leñador about the allegations and investigation.
“I think that, because I am currently embroiled in this investigation, there is not much I can say at this time,” said Peterson. “While I would like to say something personally, I don’t think now is the time for that. Maybe some time in the near future I will be able to discuss this further, but for now I would like to respect my officers and the concerns that they have raised.”
UPD Officer and SUPA Union Director for HSU Billy Kijsriopas said that “A vote of no confidence is a symbolic gesture and a reflection of the collective decision made by the officers at HSUPD. It is the position that we were forced into to in order to address the issues affecting hostile working conditions, poor moral amongst officers, and the lack of respect from our command staff.”
In his official statement Dawes said that “At HSU, we take seriously any concerns raised by University employees. We will thoroughly investigate all of the allegations brought to our attention.
“HSU has high expectations for all employees within the University Police Department and remains committed to helping them be effective,” Dawes continued. “We support them in the focus, as stated in their mission statement, on being “leaders in creating a safe campus and promoting student success by modeling equity, transparency, enhancing access and approachability, and delivering the very best ethical, community-based law enforcement practices.”
In their official press release SUPA President Jeff Solomon said, “Our members in the Humboldt State University Police Department have consistently reported absenteeism, mismanagement and more in departmental leadership. When you have a department united like this, clearly there is a problem.”
The report also references Peterson’s time as a member of the Broward Sheriff’s Office in Florida. According to the press release, “Chief Peterson took the job at HSU after leaving his former post with Florida’s Broward County Sheriff’s Department amid scandal. Peterson still regularly spends time out of state with his family in Florida.”
According to a 2015 report from ABC Local 10 News in Fort Lauderdale, Peterson was one of three officers being investigated on allegations that the tags on impounded vehicles were being switched with those of the take home vehicles driven by the officers in order to avoid paying toll road fees.
No formal charges were ever brought forward from the investigation, and Peterson left the department in October of 2014. Peterson was later hired by HSU in January of 2015.
While no timeline or specifics were provided for the investigation going forward, Peterson said that he was open to the investigation.
“I am more than open to this investigation, being out there, being under the spotlight,” said Peterson. “I think there has to be a level of transparency.”
Kijsriopas had no comment in response to Peterson’s statements, and said he was not in a position on the campus’ actions and press release, nor how the changes in crime reporting would affect the accuracy of the annual Clery Act report.
This is an ongoing story.