March Tahoe Mt. News
By Kathryn Reed
Fired one summer, reinstated the next. That’s what Johnny Poland is hoping for.
He is waiting for the El Dorado County Grand Jury to come out with its report before going forward with arbitration with the city. He was terminated from the South Lake Tahoe Police Department in June 2007.
The 39-year-old who has a wife and two kids is one of the few officers who live at the Lake. For now, the 10-year veteran of the department is dealing cards at Harveys.
“I testified before the grand jury. I will use their findings against the PD,” Poland told the Tahoe Mountain News in February.
Poland said he was fired because he chose to go before City Manager Dave Jinkens instead of having a hearing in front of Police Chief Terry Daniels. While the case is ongoing, he won’t elaborate on why he went that route.
“The lawyers are working on (a) hearing date, time and process for the next hearing phase,” Jinkens said last month.
“John Poland’s appeal process has not been completed, as such, we can’t comment on personnel matters,” Daniels said. The chief said the department has six to 10 internal affairs investigations a year. Some are prompted by citizens, others internally.
“Considering we handle 36,000 calls a year that is quite good. We don’t have too many complaints,” Daniels said.
Events leading to Poland’s dismissal started in November 2006 when he was one of the officers called to South Tahoe High School regarding gang violence that led to the campus being on lockdown for several hours. The previous three years Poland had been the resource officer at the school.
Poland said he interviewed about 30 students regarding the fights and rumors of weapons on campus on Nov. 20, 2006. A senior, who graduated last year but wasn’t allowed to participate in ceremonies, had a couple in his vehicle.
“Sure enough, he pulled out a BB gun and tire iron,” Poland said of the teen.
Despite the ban on all weapons on campus, Poland admitted to letting the student keep the items secured in the vehicle.
Poland contends the lockdown wasn’t necessary. At the time of his firing he did not believe the gang problem is as bad as had been reported. He went on to say officials want to escalate the problem so the district and department will qualify for grant money.
The events leading up to the lockdown that Monday included two previous gang incidents, reports of a Carson City gang coming to the Lake, students being involved in a fatal car accident during the weekend, an adult driving drunk and hitting a tree on campus that morning, numerous kids wearing red shirts and posturing in the preceding weeks, and an escalation of tagging at school and in town that continues to this day.
Fifteen cameras have since been installed outside common areas at the school. Officials are contemplating putting them inside buildings.
“We’ve identified window breakings and vandalism. We see who is instigating fights,” STHS Principal Ivone Larson said of the cameras.
She would like to have two resource officers on campus like Washoe County schools have. Then athletic events could be covered. Larson believes alcohol use and abuse are the biggest concerns for her students, which can lead to an increase in violence.
“Intensive intervention makes a difference,” Larson said. “Some of them don’t feel any hope.” She even said the student with the weapons was “a great kid … but he made a big mistake.”
Lisa Huard, the safe schools coordinator for the district, said, “This is not just a school issue. It’s a community issue.”
She said students of all ages need to feel safe physically as well as be able to trust adults enough to share information.
Poland believes he had that trust.
“Do you really think I’d make a judgment call that would put anyone in harms way?” Poland asked shortly after being dismissed. He professes to have a rapport with students that the police department doesn’t recognize as being critical to getting kids to talk.
But Larson said adults have a responsibility to the kids as well.
“Everyone needs to be completely honest at all times,” the principal said when talking about the gun the ex-officer allowed to stay on campus. “We have zero tolerance with weapons on campus.”