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December 8, 2022

Court Upholds Termination of SVPD Officer

Earlier this summer the City of Scotts Valley notched a major victory in its legal battle against a cop that got kicked off its police force after the City said—among other things—he sexually harassed a junior female officer he supervised.

Former Scotts Valley Police Department Sgt. David Ball has claimed he suffered age discrimination and that the appeal process was politicized by Chief Steve Walpole’s ties to Scotts Valley City Council members.

But on July 19, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Timothy Volkmann sided with Scotts Valley, in one of Ball’s three lawsuits.

After 26 years on the force, Ball was fired in October 2019 for discrimination, sexual harassment, misconduct as a supervisor, ethics issues and poor performance.

He tried to appeal the decision to the city manager the following month, and when that didn’t work, he went to the council to try to have this overturned.

He lost in a 2021 hearing.

In a bid to be reinstated by court order, Ball sued the City.

He also filed a defamation lawsuit against Chief Walpole and Pascale Wowak, the officer he reportedly harassed, as well as a wrongful termination suit against Scotts Valley.

In June, Ball’s lawyer Steven Welty faced off against attorney Rachel Balchum, who appeared on behalf of Scotts Valley and the council, in the civil action the plaintiff hoped would open the door to returning to work at SVPD.

But after considering the arguments, Volkmann found—in his July order—the evidence supported that, a few years back, while Ball was supervising Wowak, he acted inappropriately.

“Ball told her he’d better not ever be drunk around her because it would be too dangerous,” the judge noted, adding he began a series of flirtatious interactions. “Sometime in mid-September 2018, Petitioner then told Wowak that his marital problems related to their texting would have been worth it if Wowak had sent him nude photos of herself.”

The judge said Ball had been giving the novice cop good performance evaluations up until that point.

“Evidence before the City Council established that Petitioner retaliated against Wowak after she refused to send him nude pictures of herself,” Volkmann wrote.

Ball started giving her bad performance reviews, recommended management fire her, badmouthed her to other staff, improperly handled a citizen complaint from someone she’d arrested, failed to relieve her after a mental health call contrary to SVPD practice and claimed she’d been sleeping on-the-job when that wasn’t true, the judge said in his order.

“This Court finds that the City Council’s decision was supported by the weight of the evidence and on that basis denies the petition,” he wrote.

Ball’s battle with SVPD dovetails with a dark period for the force.

Scotts Valley saw the departure of several officers, with staff leaving for employers like the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office and the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department.

In a Dec. 2020 Facebook post, the Scotts Valley Police Officer’s Association said it could “no longer remain silent about a lack of transparency regarding the critical status of your police department,” pointing to the fact that just 50% of SVPD positions were filled.

Since then, the City, thanks to the passing of Measure Z, upped police pay and has successfully recruited a new slate of officers—and is now nearing full strength.

In court, Ball argued Wowak wasn’t credible, claiming after she’d lodged an official complaint, she’d altered the timeline of events.

But the judge agreed with Wowak, who said this was just a grammar mistake.

In fact, Volkmann found it was Ball who had provided an incomplete record to the court.

“He denied asking in August 2018 to keep Wowak on his team at shift change, yet other witnesses confirmed it,” he wrote, adding Ball failed to produce flirtations texts where he referred to Wowak as “sunshine,” said he had “nothing but love” for her and that he “would take all sides of her”—alongside a kiss emoji.

Plus, Ball’s testimony conflicted with multiple witnesses when it came to the citizen complaint, his claims that Wowak was insubordinate and that she was sleeping on duty, Volkmann added.

Ball had called the integrity of the appeals process into question, claiming the Council wasn’t an impartial body because now-mayor Donna Lind is the godmother to Chief Walpole, because Vice Mayor Jim Reed was pulled over by Ball on multiple occasions over the years and because Councilmember Randy Johnson didn’t recuse himself until mid-way through the process.

But Volkmann wasn’t buying it.

Ball’s claim that they acted inappropriately “falls flat and he cites no legal authority that there was any unfair advantage provided to City,” the judge wrote. “The City Attorney provided both sides with the opportunity to submit their factual and legal bases for either overturning or affirming the personnel action; Petitioner failed to do so.”

Now Ball’s being sued by Wowak and Walpole, in an anti-SLAPP action, a type of civil case meant to prevent people from using the legal process to chill free speech.

They are seeking $28,997 in legal fees from Ball.

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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