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The Firing of Captain Mark Gagan

The surprising dismissal of the well-liked Richmond police captain and a series of other scandals threaten to tarnish the reputation of a police department once held as a national model of reform.



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In late October of 2016, Richmond Vice Mayor Eduardo Martinez was robbed at gunpoint after a candidate forum outside of Riggers Loft Wine Company in Richmond. His wallet and phone were taken so he drove to a nearby hotel, about two miles away, to report the crime. According to a supplemental report, when Sergeant Timothy Gard arrived, he noticed the smell of alcohol on Martinez' breath and that he was driving a city-owned car. He wrote that he drove Martinez home for safety reasons. Martinez was not given any field sobriety or blood-alcohol tests.

A few days later, someone leaked the supplemental report to a TV news reporter. On Nov. 7, 2017, ABC7 reporter Melanie Woodrow aired a piece about Martinez's questionable use of a city car and the claim that he smelled of alcohol. (Martinez admitted that he drank alcohol at the event but said he was not drunk.)

An embarrassed Martinez filed a complaint, which became the subject of another internal investigation by the department's Office of Professional Accountability (OPA). In his complaint, Martinez identified Richmond Police Officers Association (RPOA) President Benjamin Therriault as a likely suspect in releasing the report, citing Therriault's established working relationship with Woodrow and the police union's long history of antagonism with Martinez and the Richmond Progressive Alliance, of which Martinez is a member. In every Richmond election as far back as 2008, the RPOA has paid for hit-piece fliers to be distributed through the mail. The RPOA's favorite target is the Richmond Progressive Alliance. In 2010, the RPOA sent a flier attacking Mayor Gayle McLaughlin's mental health. In another, Councilmember Jovanka Beckles and former Councilmember Jeff Ritterman were attacked for promoting yoga and meditation for at-risk youth. Martinez, who is a frequent RPOA target, was depicted in 2012 on a flier marching with black bloc anarchists, and in another, he was made to resemble Joseph Stalin.

Furthermore, Therriault had publicly condemned Martinez for driving a city-owned car to the wine bar at a Nov. 1, 2017 Richmond City Council meeting. Therriault had worked with Woodrow on numerous occasions, including, in March 2016, a ride-along with him for a report on a series of Interstate 80 shootings.

In fact, Therriault was initially the focus of the investigation until, for unknown reasons, it suddenly switched to Gagan. Woodrow refused to divulge her source for the restricted police report. As a suspect, Gagan had no clear motive for releasing the report. He had no dispute with the Richmond Progressive Alliance or Martinez. (And later, when Gagan was fired, Martinez issued a statement defending him. "Mark Gagan is an outstanding example of a community minded police officer," he wrote. "I have always known him to be hard working, open to the whole community and fair.")

Unlike he had done with the officers who had been accused of sexually exploiting a minor, Brown put Gagan on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

After an 11-month investigation that researched thousands of email and telephone records, interviewed 17 witnesses, and produced a 109-page report, Eddie Aubrey, the OPA chief investigator, could find no hard evidence that Gagan leaked the report to Woodrow. Instead, all Aubrey had was speculation about a few phone calls and emails.

There also were glaring omissions and irregularities in the seemingly exhaustive report. Aubrey's interview with Therriault, which was obtained by the Express, was not included in the final investigative report. And Tan, who Aubrey failed to mention also had a close working relationship with the ABC reporter Woodrow, both gave damaging testimony against Gagan and acted as an investigator.

In fact, there were dozens of emails and phone calls between Tan and Woodrow, according to city phone and email records. One phone call, which took place on the day Woodrow's story aired, was 19 minutes long.

Despite the internal investigative report's shortcomings and the irregularities, Brown held a "Skelly Hearing," which allows the subject of an internal investigation to challenge the findings. Brown chaired the hearing, despite the fact that he had submitted email evidence against Gagan, and after some perfunctory review, Brown recommended that Gagan be terminated. In his five-page letter to City Manager Bill Lindsay, Brown cited five phone calls between Gagan and Woodrow over the course of two years as proof that Gagan provided her with the police report. Because Gagan denied knowing Woodrow, Brown called Gagan "dishonest," "misleading," and "untrustworthy."

"This type of misleading gamesmanship, also exhibited during Captain Gagan's administrative interviews in this case, further support my opinion that Captain Gagan's untrustworthiness and integrity is beneath the level expected of any sworn employee at the Richmond Police Department," Brown wrote.

Nowhere in the letter did Brown mention Therriault's animosity toward Martinez or his relationship with Woodrow. Nor did Brown explain why the investigation went from focusing on Therriault to Gagan despite the fact that Therriault knew Woodrow, had publicly criticized Martinez, and had been identified in Martinez's complaint as likely being the person who released the report.

Lindsay signed Gagan's termination letter on Nov. 22, 2017, and the department went about the logistics of his firing in a humiliating way. According to Gagan, he was not immediately notified about his termination, and his possessions were boxed and then mislaid. Brown's secretary, Yvette Medina, misrepresented the date of his firing on the official internal notice, which reduced his owed salary, and Richmond Human Resources Management Department Director Lisa Stephenson made an error on his COBRA health insurance, which left him without critically needed coverage for his family.