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January 21, 2022

Former SVPD Officer Files Another Suit Against City

Disgruntled ex-Scotts Valley Police Department officer David Ball has launched a new lawsuit against the city of Scotts Valley, Police Chief Steve Walpole, Jr. and his former trainee Pascale Wowak, claiming defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

It’s the third action Ball, who was kicked off the force for reportedly sexually harassing and retaliating against Wowak, has filed in Santa Cruz County Superior Court against the City following his dismissal.

Scotts Valley City Attorney Kirsten Powell said Wednesday the City had not yet received a copy of the new suit—which was filed Dec. 14—so she couldn’t comment on it.

Wowak did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

Ball has also filed a so-called “writ of mandate” civil action, which is an attempt to get reinstated on the force, as well as a lawsuit seeking damages for age discrimination and enduring a “hostile work environment.”

But documents emerging through court filings show authorities determined it was Ball who created a toxic workplace by repeatedly sexually harassing Wowak, then enlisted teammates to try to get the new female officer fired.

In a Sept. 13, 2019 termination letter written by Walpole (to be effective Sept. 27, 2019), Ball was accused of sex discrimination against Wowak.

“You subjected officer Wowak to unwelcome solicitation of a sexual relationship, which she rejected,” Walpole wrote. “During her field training, you indicated a romantic or sexual interest in her by telling her, ‘I better never be drunk around you, that would be dangerous. I’m not sure I could control myself.’”

Through his lawyer, Ball denied this.

“Ball is adamant that he never indicated a romantic or sexual interest in Wowak,” said Neil Berman, of Salinas-based Rucka, O’Boyle, Lombardo & McKenna.

Wowak had joined in early April 2018. She had previously secured a settlement in a class-action sex-discrimination lawsuit against the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety—for a reported $1.95 million—where she was employed as an officer.

Based on Ball’s own recommendation, Wowak made it through her field training faster than usual and was placed on his team, according to the disciplinary letter, which states that Ball would text Wowak on her day off to say he “missed her” and was “thinking of her.”

In at least one text, he messaged, “Morning Sunshine,” according to the letter.

Then, in late August, Ball told Wowak his wife had discovered their text messages and was upset, according to the document.

“You then told Officer Wowak twice that if you had gotten some nude photos from her, then it would have been ‘worth it,’” Walpole wrote. “Officer Wowak responded to you by telling you in no uncertain terms, that she had no intention of providing you with any nude photos or engaging in other sexual relations with you.”

Suddenly, Wowak got a bad job performance rating at the end of September, which caused her to burst into tears, according to the disciplinary letter.

Ball gave her a “poor performance” mark again for October 2018, and then tried to get her fired at a staff meeting that month, Walpole wrote.

“Notably, prior to the September 2018 performance evaluation, there is no documentation created by you concerning Officer Wowak’s performance deficiencies or policy violations,” he wrote, adding Wowak was reassigned to Sgt. Brandon Polito’s team around early November—he was reassigned again in January 2019. “The evidence shows that you had approached both Sgt. Polito and Sgt. Milroy, separately, to discuss your expectations that they have issues with her performance, that those issues be documented and that her employment be terminated while she is still on probation.”

Polito declined to comment on Ball and Wowak’s relationship, or if Ball asked him to help get rid of her.

Through his attorney, Ball denied he asked Wowak to send him naked pictures.

“He never solicited nude photos from Wowak,” Berman said, claiming Wowak would initiate text conversations more frequently than he would—including after the negative performance reports.

The firing letter adds that Ball enlisted three additional officers to make derogatory and demeaning comments about Wowak, including that her lawsuit against Sunnyvale DPS was “BS.”

Ball says that never happened.

And he contends that several elected officials, including long-time former SVPD officer Donna Lind, who is now mayor and has served on the City Council for years, should have recused themselves from considering the city manager’s ultimate decision to fire him.

“As all council members do, they have an obligation to be unbiased,” City Attorney Powell said. “She made a determination that she could consider the facts independent of her relationships with the police chief and Sgt. Ball—Mr. Ball now.”

However, Randy Johnson did recuse himself for apparent medical reasons, while Derek Timm recused himself due to a conflict of interest connected to previous work as a lawyer.

Lind told the Press Banner that Ball didn’t object to her making a decision about the case.

“I worked with Dave Ball for most of his career,” she said. “I spent my career evaluating evidence.”

Wowak is still employed at the Scotts Valley Police Department.

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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