Investigation into DA leak begins

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The San Benito County Sheriff’s Department began an
investigation Tuesday into how a copy of a pre-mediation brief, or
summary, of an investigative report into the District Attorney’s
Office was leaked to the Free Lance, according to officials.
Hollister – The San Benito County Sheriff’s Department began an investigation Tuesday into how a copy of a pre-mediation brief, or summary, of an investigative report into the District Attorney’s Office was leaked to the Free Lance, according to officials.

Investigators interviewed members of the Board of Supervisors and both women who filed the sexual harassment lawsuit against District Attorney John Sarsfield that spurred the county-commissioned investigation.

The women’s attorney, Bill Marder, confirmed that San Benito County Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Keylon spoke with his clients, but said he didn’t know the details of the conversation. He declined to comment further due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.

Sheriff’s Department Detective Chris Green and Keylon interviewed supervisors during a closed session meeting Tuesday, according to Supervisor Anthony Botelho. Botelho declined to discuss details of the interview because it was held in closed session.

“I think this needed to be investigated and hopefully it will come to a sufficient completion that it wasn’t leaked from any board members,” Botelho said.

The Free Lance obtained a copy of the pre-mediation brief in February summarizing the contents of the full report. It sustained a number of the allegations Fancher and Roybal included in their sexual harassment suit – including that Sarsfield retaliated against several of his own employees because he perceived them as a “threat to his administration,” according to the summary. It also confirmed that he had “engaged in a romantic relationship with his office manager.”

However, the brief also concluded that the allegations “did not establish liability for sexual harassment or gender discrimination.”

The county allocated $5,000 to investigate the source of the leak, but Sheriff Curtis Hill offered to conduct an investigation through his office at no cost.

At the time Hill said he wanted to hold off on initiating the investigation until after San Benito County Superior Court Judge Harry Tobias ruled on whether the report is a public record. Such a ruling would render an investigation unnecessary, because the source of the leak would not be in legal jeopardy.

Tobias has not yet handed down that ruling, but if he rules that the document was not public, the source of the leak could face only a civil suit, not criminal charges.

Hill said he was asked by Interim County Administrative Officer Susan Lyons to jump start the investigation even though no ruling has been issued.

Hill would not say who is slated to be interviewed and didn’t know if Free Lance personnel would be included on the list.

“I have no idea, and quite frankly, I don’t care,” he said.

But he also told the Free Lance: “I was asked by the CAO’s office to interview a select group of people and let them know what was said.”

Sarsfield has been in regular contact with Lyons about the status of the investigation since the board ordered it in February. He said that while he is not antsy to sue, he definitely plans to do so. “I want to make sure what the board ordered gets done,” he said, though he wouldn’t comment on what he plans to sue for. “You can absolutely rule out emotional distress, though,” he said.

Lyons would not comment on the reason for the investigation going forward in the absence of a ruling by Tobias. But she said if investigators discover the source of the leak and they are employees of the county, the disciplinary recourse could run the gamut – from nothing to termination. However, the county has no authority to reprimand elected officials, attorneys or anyone not employed by the county, she said.

Once the investigation is finished, which should be soon, Hill said his office will forward the results to the CAO.

Erin Musgrave covers public safety for the Free Lance. Reach her at 637-5566, ext. 336 or [email protected]

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