Outrage in Cal City: 'Bring back our chief!'

Egged on by an angry crowd, the City Council in California City on Tuesday night voted to extend the public comment portion of its meeting beyond the customary 30 minutes. The vote was 4-1, with the four men on the Council overriding the wishes of Mayor Jennifer Wood.

Members of the community lined up out the door to voice their displeasure with the Council, as well as City Manager Tom Weil, who they blamed for ongoing problems with the city's finances, fire department infrastructure and police department.

A majority of the people who spoke did so in support of the police chief, who has been on leave since October pending the outcome of a Kern County District Attorney's Office investigation. Chief Eric Hurtado was accused by city officials of stealing city property to benefit a private business, Fast Response Security.

RELATED STORY | Court documents: Cal City police chief gave city property to security business

Barred by privacy laws, officials have refrained from speaking about the case. What is known about the nature of the allegations was gleaned from a search warrant affidavit filed in Kern County Superior Court.

Hurtado's lawyer, former Los Angeles County district attorney David Fleck, brought a forceful rebuttal Tuesday night to the events outlined in the court papers.

"Chief Hurtado's brother doesn't own any security company," he said. "And the (desks) were never given to anybody. They were just stored there for a couple of days, because there was no room where they were (at the police station), and they needed to be transferred to another office."

Fast Response Security occupies one of four small office spaces at the municipal airport. Fleck said the chief intended to put the desks in an empty space two doors down from the the security office, but there wasn't sufficient space, so the desks were placed temporarily in the security office for safekeeping. The owner of the security company, Rick Jones, spoke to Eyewitness News by phone, summarizing the whole investigation as "a ridiculous misunderstanding."

Fleck used his three minutes at the podium during public comment to rip the legal decision to pursue criminal charges for theft.

"These desks were surplus desks the city got for free, maybe they're worth $10," he said. "Let's just assume it's true -- it's not true -- but let's assume worst case scenario he did. This would be an infraction, comparable to a speeding ticket."

Faced with repeated criticism from those at the podium, Weil asked the public for patience.

"There's always two sides to every story. Your misconceptions of the truth right at the moment - until we get if all figured out, we don't know the outcome or what the district is looking at," he said.

Don Krueger is the investigator in the district attorney's office who is handling the investigation. He declined to comment on the case Wednesday, citing policy that bars investigators from speaking about ongoing cases. He didn't offer a timeline of when he may be finish his work.

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