A former Santa Maria police supervisor is fighting allegations that his poor decisions and oversight played a major role in the shooting death of Officer Alberto Covarrubias Jr. last year.

Lt. Dan Ast was fired by Chief Ralph Martin in March, due in large part to what Martin said was poor judgment and incompetent leadership regarding the January 2012 attempted arrest of Covarrubias.

Officers had discovered Covarrubias, 29, was allegedly engaged in a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old police Explorer scout and attempted to arrest him while he helped dismantle a sobriety checkpoint for vehicles. As police supervisors tried to arrest him, Covarrubias drew his duty gun and fired a shot. Covarrubias then was shot and killed by a fellow city police officer.

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office determined the Covarrubias shooting was legally justified, but Martin said that nine officers violated Police Department policy.

As part of the discipline process, Ast was fired from the agency, according to court documents filed by Ast’s attorneys.

The name of a second officer whose employment was terminated was not revealed in the court file.

In Santa Barbara County Superior Court documents filed in May, Ast’s attorneys asked the court to order the city of Santa Maria and its police department to postpone a hearing, called a Skelly hearing, that would allow Ast to challenge the terms of his termination.

They sought the delay because, according to the documents, Ast’s firing and other workplace happenings devastated him to the point of severe depression. Ast claimed he was not mentally well enough to attend the hearing and, according to the filings, checked himself into a hospital for psychiatric treatment in May.

Court documents indicate Ast’s case was dismissed because the involved parties told the court they agreed to pick dates for Ast’s hearing that he would be well enough to attend.

Santa Maria City Attorney Gil Trujillo declined to comment on the Ast case and whether the hearing had occurred. He said any city employee is able to appeal any disciplinary action and that the process can be lengthy.

Jonathan Miller, an attorney representing Ast, also declined to discuss the court filing.

The documents, which include a termination letter Martin wrote to Ast, are shedding new light on the high-profile Covarrubias shooting and its aftermath.

Martin stated in his letter that Ast failed to properly and quickly update his supervisor, Cmdr. Craig Ritz, on the status of the Covarrubias investigation. Ritz is no longer with the police department, but the terms of his departure are unclear.

Martin also said Ast did not develop a proper tactical and contingency plan to safely arrest Covarrubias and neglected to consider Covarrubias’ police training and expertise, among other issues.

“You allowed the threat of a criminal suspect’s potential suicide to override your training and experience and forgo department policy,” Martin continued.

Martin said that although Ast’s actions concerning the Covarrubias matter were enough to justify his termination, he was also fired because he discharged a stun gun into his leg in late 2011 as part of a bet with a colleague. The stun gun had been seized as part of a criminal investigation.

“The preponderance of the evidence, in these two incidents, establishes that you repeatedly fail to perform your duties in a competent manner,” Martin wrote. “Your incompetence continues to expose you and the city to criminal and civil liability,” he added.

Ast countered in court documents that in his 23 years in law enforcement, 16-and-a-half with the Santa Maria Police Department, he’d never been disciplined for misconduct or other violations of law or policy.

He said he followed Ritz’ orders regarding the Covarrubias matter, and denied compromising the investigation.

Ast said Lt. Rico Flores, who retired in the wake of the Covarrubias incident, leaked information to Covarrubias that made him suspect he was about to be arrested and draw his gun.

Ast charged that former Santa Maria police Chief Danny Macagni, who retired in August last year, Ritz and Flores were all allowed to retire from the police department instead of being fired.

“However, even though I was following orders and did nothing to compromise the Covarrubias investigation, I have been notified that my ... career in law enforcement is about to end,” Ast said.

Ast went on to accuse the Santa Maria Police Department of firing him because he’d filed two grievances when Macagni was in charge, and “caused the city to address serious improprieties going on within the SMPD.”

Ast said the stun gun incident was minor and did not warrant his termination.

Martin said Wednesday that he could not comment on personnel matters, including addressing any of the allegations made by Ast.

(4) comments

John Q Public
John Q Public

Folks,

The other shoe finally drops!

As we learn more about the corrupt Tim Ness/ Dan Macagni era, understand that both of these guys have retired from public life with HUGE pensions that you and I have to fund for life. Corruption.

Now we find out that Dan Ast was made a fall guy for the scandal, and new chief Ralph Martin seems to be doing city manager Rick Haydon" s bidding. I think if this city council wants to retain ANY credibility with the tax paying citizens, they ought to release a full accounting of what all of these scandals have cost us. It is outrageous that all of the management/ supervisor types always leave with fat pensions and the taxpayers always end up
Holding the bag.

Under Mayor Alice Patino, our city is in steep decline.

Just saying,

JQP

Restore Honest Government

Justin Case
Justin Case

Folks,

I concur!

My buddy/compadre el jefe JQP hit the nail on the head!

Corruption has reigned within the SMPD for years, and also extends well into the SBDA’s office. Notice how quickly the SBDA’s office found the Covarrubias shooting justified, had they done a proper investigation, it would have revealed several SMPD criminal factors and negligence; thus, another big tax payer funded payout!

And then there’s wyett slurp; who says each and every city/county official is honest!

Just saying,

JC

Restore stopping corruption!

&

Vote NO on Maldonado!!!

rights for all
rights for all

So very sad, I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ast over the years and am not in law enforcement. He seemed to be one of the more "trustworthy" cops! I've seen him with his child and wife and it was clear that they had an amazing family life. Firing him because others don't want to take responsibility is really pathetic. Although I don't know exactly why they chose to arrest the accused while he was on duty, he pulled the gun and the others had no choice but to open fire. Sad situation but Mr. Ast is NOT responsible for this, he should have his job back or be compensated, big time!

John Q Public
John Q Public

Folks,

I wholeheartedly agree with El Maestro Justino Caso in that both the leaders of the SMPD and the SBC Districts Attorney office are totally corrupt.

As 'rights for all'points out, Lt Dan Ast was one of the good guys on the local force, and it is obvious that city manager Rick Haydon and the LA transplant pice chief Ralph Martin have conspired to make him the fall guy.

I do not like to make a racial incident here, but isn't it odd that of all the characters, (Macagni, Flores, coverbias, etc, etc) only the white guy has taken the fall? Our poor quality elected leaders, in order to take the focus off of themselves, are only too happy to throw a good guy like Lt. Ast under the bus. Pathetic. I encouraged people to give Cheif Martin a chance, it is now becoming apparent that he is not much better than Macagni.

As an example, Cheif Martin has gone to the illegal community and assured them that he will not enforce our laws pertaining to all people. Cheif Martin, in trying to curry favor, has brought dishonor on the force. By doing so, he has emboldened lawbreakers and those who believe in the rule of law questioning his actions.

Also, apparently Chief Martin has sold out to our corrupt city council by refusing to seek a gang injunction so our streets can be cleaned up and our families kept safe. Santa Maria will NEVER become a leading regional city as long as we have the reputation as the armpit of the Central Coast.

Just Saying,

JQP

Restore Police Dept. Integrity

Vote No on Makdonado!!!

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