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June 28, 2022

More Probation Dept. Suspensions

By Brett Rowland and Michael Van Cassell
– Following on the heels of a major leadership shakeup, two more
San Benito County Probation Department employees have been placed
on administrative leave this week.
Hollister – Following on the heels of a major leadership shakeup, two more San Benito County Probation Department employees have been placed on administrative leave this week.

Rich Inman, San Benito County Director of Internal Services, confirmed that the two employees had been placed on leave Thursday, but declined to comment on the reasons for the action. He also declined to release the names of those placed on leave.

When asked if more suspensions could follow, Inman said “I don’t know.”

San Benito County Chief Probation Officer Deborah Botts and Juvenile Hall Superintendent Tim Pierleoni were placed on administrative leave in early October. Botts allegedly sent pornographic e-mails to Pierleoni, helping to foster a lax attitude toward sexually explicit material, according to Steven Cohn, Pierleoni’s attorney. Despite Cohn’s allegations, both county and court officials have been silent on the reasons for the suspensions.

One of the e-mails Botts allegedly sent to Pierleoni on Dec. 30, 2004, contained a cartoon about breast implants, jokes about erections and condom usage and nude pictures, Cohn said. He said he had copies of the e-mails in a large binder and provided the Free Lance with copies of two e-mails Botts allegedly sent to Pierleoni.

“Many, many Americans view this type of material,” Cohn said. “And perhaps it has a place in our culture if one looks at those revenues generated by such an industry as reflecting a demand.”

Cohn said Pierleoni was suspended on a host of “unofficial charges” ranging from accessing pornography at work to extramarital affairs with Juvenile Hall personnel.

In the midst of the turmoil at the Probation Department, a former Juvenile Hall guard, Manuel Gonzales, has filed a claim for wrongful termination against the county, claiming he was fired for exposing inappropriate conduct within the Probation Department.

Gonzales’ civil attorney, Bill Marder, said his client’s reputation was ruined after he complained about wrongdoing in the department. Marder said Gonzales filed the suit to regain his reputation.

“He wants his name cleared,” Marder said. “He feels very strongly about doing the right thing.”

Gonzales filed an application for a late wrongful termination claim in mid-October, claiming Pierleoni had sexual relations with two named employees and gave favorable treatment to female employees. In the claim, which is a precursor to a civil lawsuit, Gonzales further alleged Pierleoni also had a sexual relationship with one other woman, who was not an employee, “in the workplace.”

Cohn said Gonzales’ allegations are without merit.

“Mr. Pierleoni adamantly denies that he had sexual relations with employees, while one of the females identified similarly denied it,” Cohn said.

Gonzales, in his claim, also alleges that a female Juvenile Hall employee had a sexual relationship with a male inmate at the facility in 2005.

San Benito County Supervisor Anthony Botelho said he was concerned about the allegations, but felt the issues surrounding the Probation Department shakeup were being handled appropriately.

“It’s being handled administratively at this point,” he said. “We have to stay on top of this; it’s a serious matter and people’s careers are on the line.”

Gonzales was fired from his job at Juvenile Hall in January after being arrested for gun possession and possession of prescription pills in December of 2005. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor gun charge in a plea deal with San Benito County Deputy District Attorney Candice Hooper in June. But Gonzales previously told the Free Lance he was “set up” after asking Pierleoni to talk with a detective about the alleged activities at Juvenile Hall.

Cohn expects Pierleoni will not return to work at the Probation Department and that the county “will undoubtedly lose a fine superintendent in Mr. Pierleoni and no doubt others.”

“Mr. Pierleoni no longer has a desire to work for the county when the county doesn’t stand behind its management in the face of such transparent allegations made by an individual with a great motivation to fabricate them,” Cohn said.

Despite the recent turmoil in the Probation Department, the department is fully functional and has filled the positions made vacant by the suspensions with “on-call staff who have been thoroughly trained,” said Mary Covell, the interim chief probation officers selected to replace Botts.

“We have professionals in place doing the job and providing the community with the service they deserve,” she said.

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