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Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 21
Santa Maria P.D. Officers reveal in arbitration hearing more details about Covarrubias shooting
BY AMY ASMAN
The arbitration hearing for former Santa Maria Police Lt. Dan Ast started up again on July 28 after a month-long hiatus.
Ast and his defense attorney, Jonathan Miller, are arguing that the department retaliated against Ast because he was one of three whistleblowers to file complaints against former Police Chief Dan Macagni alleging widespread problems in the department—including favoritism, unfair distribution of overtime, and officer misconduct.
Dennis Gonzales, the attorney hired by the city for the hearing, maintains that Ast was fired for misconduct that led to the shooting death of Officer Albert Covarrubias. Supervising officers attempted to arrest Covarrubias in late January 2012 after receiving information that he was having a violent sexual relationship with an underage Police Explorer.
Part two of the hearing kicked off with emotional testimony from Sgt. Chris Nartatez, who blamed Ast for his cousin’s death. He also said Ast’s recollection of the shooting is inconsistent.
Next, former Lt. Rico Flores—who retired after the shooting—took the stand. He testified that it was highly unusual for two sergeants to appear at a DUI checkpoint, like when Nartatez and Sgt. Mark Norling went to arrest Covarrubias the night of the shooting.
“Nartatez did the best he could [to contain Covarrubias],” Flores said.
He recalled seeing Covarrubias reach for his gun and then watching the officers “tumble into the grassy area” in a struggle for the weapon.
“Moments later, I heard a shot. I saw a hand with a gun in it in the flower planter,” Flores said. “Someone, I think it was me, asked, ‘Who shot?’ Then I heard a voice behind me: ‘I did.’ I turned around and it was Matt Kline.”
He said Kline “was beside himself, [saying] ‘I shot my best friend.’”
Later, Flores testified that he was aware that Ast and two other lieutenants had filed complaints against the department alleging, among other things, unsafe working conditions and unfair distribution of overtime.
Miller, Ast’s attorney, fired question after question at Flores about his actions the night of the shooting, the statements Flores later made to investigators, and whether he was aware of any retaliatory actions taken against Ast.
Miller argued that Flores spurred Ast and the rest of the command staff into action when he alerted traffic officers, including Covarrubias, that supervisors were “looking into the Police Explorers.”
“Just before the briefing, I shut it down and sent everyone out that wasn’t traffic-related and had a discussion with the traffic officers,” Flores said, adding that Ast didn’t tell him to keep the investigation confidential until later that evening.
Flores also denied taking Covarrubias aside to ask him about the Police Explorers. However, one of the explorers did testify that he saw Flores talking to Covarrubias outside the briefing room.
“I was talking to each of the officers as they were coming up,” Flores said. “I didn’t specifically talk to [Covarrubias] about the case.”
Gonzales argued that Miller’s claims about the alleged conversation between Flores and Covarrubias were purely speculation. He maintained that Ast was the one responsible for planning and executing the arrest, and therefore was the one guilty of misconduct.
The hearing was expected to continue on July 29 after the Sun’s deadline.