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Special Project: America's Wall: Decades-Long Struggle To Secure US-Mexico Border

Calexico Police Department Under Fire And Under Investigation

Video by Katie Schoolov

The police department in a California border town is under investigation by the FBI. The outcome of that investigation is pending. But the new police chief of Calexico says the department is plagued by extortion and professional misconduct. Fronteras reporter Jill Replogle says the city’s rocky ride is far from over.

The new police chief of Calexico says the department is plagued by extortion and professional misconduct.

Calexico, the Imperial County city with a population of 39,000, is bordered on three sides by lettuce and alfalfa fields, and on the fourth by the fence dividing the U.S. from Mexico. It’s the kind of town where everybody knows everybody — and everybody’s business.

But many locals said they were surprised when the FBI paid a visit to the Police Department in late October. Agents took files and computers. Four cops were put on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. One of them was fired shortly before Christmas.

FBI spokesman Darrell Foxworth said the agency is looking into alleged on-duty criminal conduct, but he won’t comment further on the investigation.

Calexico’s new police chief, on the other hand, has been quite vocal about problems he’s found at the department since he took over in October.

“It’s so embarrassing and humiliating, the crap that my cops have been up to,” Michael Bostic said in an interview in December.

Bostic said leaders of the Calexico Police Officers Association — the police union — were “acting like the mob.” He said they intimidated good cops and threatened residents who presented complaints about officers.

Calexico’s former police chief was fired, and Bostic was appointed just two weeks before the FBI showed up.

Bostic, a former assistant chief from the Los Angeles Police Department, made a name for himself doing internal cleanups after police scandals, including the Rodney King beating and the Rampart corruption scandal.

He said when he got to the Calexico Police Department, he found almost no real police work going on.

“I have an investigation unit, the former investigation unit, that was investigating no crimes,” Bostic said. “They were also responsible for the internal affairs investigations, and they didn’t know where any of those were.”

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Calexico Police Chief Michael Bostic during an interview in December 2014.

He said he later found internal investigation files scattered around in desk drawers, in a safe and even in an officer’s car.

Bostic told reporters at a news conference in November that department leaders had used around $100,000 from seized assets to purchase high-tech tools for breaking into cars and buildings.

“I have all these tools and everything has obviously been used because they’re new, but they’re worn. And yet I have no search warrants,” he told KPBS.

Whatever they were doing with that equipment, Bostic said, it wasn’t legal. They also bought James Bond-like surveillance equipment, including hidden eyeglass cameras.

“I literally cannot think of any legitimate reason why a department the size of Calexico would have that kind of equipment,” he said. “And then when the FBI’s going through that equipment, and starts looking in the recording, they’re recording City Council members. And they were using it for extortion.”

Bostic said leaders of the police officers union were behind all of this. He said he doesn’t yet know why they were doing it, but he suspects it was all about gaining power.

Union leaders wouldn’t comment for this story. Their lawyer, Michael McGill, said they planned to sue Bostic for slander.

“There is just no factual support for some of the allegations that he’s made,” McGill said. “The whole thing just sort of stinks of a political issue.”

McGill said he thinks certain members of Calexico’s City Council instigated the police crackdown as retaliation.

The police union has actively campaigned against some council members in recent years. During last year’s campaign season, the union put up a banner calling Councilwoman Maritza Hurtado a biohazard. Hurtado was re-elected.

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Calexico Defamation Claim

Calexico Defamation Claim

Calexico defamation claim filed by police union.

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The police union’s supporters on the City Council have been accused by Bostic of being part of the union’s alleged extortion racket. Councilman Luis Castro is one of them.

Castro said the accusation is false. He thinks the police union leaders haven’t done anything wrong.

“They are innocents,” he said. “I believe Richard Warne (Calexico's city manager) and Michael Bostic are creating lawsuits against the city.”

In the community, feelings are mixed on the police scandal. George Romandia manages a downtown department store.

“I suspect if they find something, it won’t be anything too diabolical,” Romandia said. “I mean, maybe they violated some rules of conduct, but I doubt it’ll be anything serious.”

Others, including retired Calexico resident Daniel Santillan, said it was time for a cleanup.

“There’s been a lot of, if not illegal, certainly unethical behavior by the police," Santillan said. “They bully other members of the police force, and they bully citizens. They try to intimidate the City Council."

Santillan added: “I think heads are going to roll.”

Bostic said he’ll release results of an internal audit of the Police Department in January. The FBI has given no timeline on when it expects to conclude its investigation.

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