The largest law enforcement organization in California ousted twice-demoted Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy Don Morrissey from its executive board just hours after San Jose Inside reported the extent of his involvement in a texting scandal.
PORAC—short for Peace Officers Research Association of California—scrubbed Morrissey’s photo and bio from its website sometime since Wednesday evening.
Michele Cervone, a spokeswoman for the political advocacy group, confirmed his departure in an email the next day, saying “PORAC was made aware of the article late last night and the issue has been dealt with.”
Morrissey—who continues to helm the local Deputy Sheriffs’ Association (DSA)—had been vying to become vice president of the lobbying group, which represents 70,000 officers and 930 public safety unions.
But sources say the 20-year officer failed to give PORAC executives a full or honest account of his personnel problems, which started with a demotion from lieutenant to sergeant in 2012 for viewing porn at work and continued through this year when he lost his sergeant stripes for failing to report hate speech and sending bigoted text messages.
In an email sent to members Thursday, PORAC President Brian Marvel attributed Morrissey’s resignation to San Jose Inside’s reporting. He said PORAC holds itself to a high standard and that officers should behave in a way that engenders trust.
“Let me be clear, the idea of denigrating or allowing it to happen to others is never acceptable by anyone, and it is especially wrong for those of us who wear a badge,” wrote Marvel, who’s also president of the San Diego Police Officers’ Association. “The way we communicate is deservedly being closely scrutinized. Please be aware that what you say matters. And what you say reflects on you as an officer and every officer with whom you work with in our profession.”
Morrissey has assiduously defended himself by framing his discipline as retaliation for posing a political threat to Sheriff Laurie Smith. Further, he argued, an officer shouldn’t be judged by what he or she says off the clock in a private conversation.
Retired Undersheriff John Hirokawa—whose campaign to unseat Smith this fall relies heavily on DSA dollars—hewed to roughly the same logic when he testified on Morrissey’s behalf during the investigation a few years ago. The DSA-backed former jails chief continued to cast doubt on the integrity of the probe and dodge questions about the bigoted language of the texts as recently as this week.
An arbitrator, however, weighed the evidence and upheld Morrissey’s 2016 demotion because he failed to exercise leadership as a supervisor by sometimes ignoring and other times encouraging racist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynist and even violent remarks from a peer and several subordinates. The arbitrator, attorney Morris Davis, also noted that county policy and case law allow warrantless searches of even personal cellphones owned by public employees, so Morrissey should have known better.
The other officers involved lost their jobs, including Morrissey’s counterpart at the local Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, Sgt. Lance Scimeca. One of them—jail deputy Ryan Saunders, whose Hells Angels ties prompted detectives to take a closer look at his cellphone correspondence in the first place—even got arrested.
Though Sheriff Smith repeatedly and publicly called for Morrissey’s firing, the union boss survived the scandal with the lesser penalty.
Yet instead of owning up to the misconduct—which, to recap, was identified by an independent investigator, deemed worthy of a demotion by a review board and substantiated by an arbitrator—Morrissey stood by his claim of victimhood.
On June 6, DSA-funded attorney Gregg McLean Adam filed a petition to vacate the arbitration ruling. Because the lawyer didn’t bother to seal the attached opinion, however, it became part of the public record.
It’s possible that Morrissey never told PORAC all the unsavory details of his legal case because he never expected that arbitration decision to see the light of day. California law keeps police personnel records secret, so he may have assumed his long-running persecution narrative would remain unchallenged by his own texts and testimony.
The PORAC chapter that spans from the South Bay to the Central Coast just so happens to be holding its quarterly meeting tonight in Gilroy. And the agenda includes an item about political contributions to the Hirokawa campaign, a discussion that will no doubt set off some fireworks.
Meanwhile, county Democratic Party leaders have been talking about how to deal with Hirokawa, who won their endorsement in the primary, if he insists on defending a scandal-plagued political patron.
The San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP faces a similar reckoning after its president, Rev. Jethroe Moore, pulled his support from Smith earlier this year to support Hirokawa.
Below is the full text of the PORAC letter announcing Morrissey’s resignation.
Dear Members,Yesterday, we became aware of an article in a weekly newspaper regarding a texting scandal in Santa Clara County. It is an integral part of our responsibilities as law enforcement officers that we behave in a manner that engenders trust.PORAC is committed to enforcing the highest standards of integrity from law enforcement officers.We are equally committed to working collaboratively with those we protect and serve.Let me be clear, the idea of denigrating or allowing it to happen to others is never acceptable by anyone, and it is especially wrong for those of us who wear a badge.The way we communicate is deservedly being closely scrutinized. Please be aware that what you say matters. And what you say reflects on you as an officer and every officer with whom you work with in our profession.With that said, we accepted Don Morrissey’s resignation from his position as Secretary of PORAC.Thanks,Brian R MarvelPresident