April 16, 2007

Kings Co., Prosecutor Settle Staff Dispute Suit: Investigator Was Reinstated After Firing By District Attorney.

By Erik Lacayo, The Fresno Bee, Calif.

Apr. 16--The Kings County Board of Supervisors and District Attorney Ron Calhoun avoided a court battle by settling a lawsuit last week.

The legal dispute between the two Kings County public entities centered on a district attorney employee fired by Calhoun but later reinstated by the county supervisors.

Calhoun filed suit in October to block the reinstatement of former investigator Yolanda Duarte-Rains.

The child abduction investigator was dismissed from her job after allegations surfaced that she used excessive force against a distraught Hanford mother in June 2005.

"I have spent two years in hell," Duarte-Rains said. "I'm just now getting my life together."

After a closed-session meeting Tuesday, the Kings County Board of Supervisors announced the lawsuit was settled and the former employee would receive $96,844.

County officials said in a news release that the county would have incurred significant legal costs if the suit were not settled.

Duarte-Rains said the Board of Supervisors treated her well during the ordeal. She declined to speak about her former boss, only saying, "How am I supposed to feel about Ron Calhoun?"

Calhoun said last week that he would not comment on the case.

Duarte-Rains, 53, also wouldn't comment on the case, but said she spent about 23 years working in law enforcement and has moved from the Hanford area and is retired. She also said she wouldn't comment specifically on the suit and what happened back in 2005.

"I'm getting on with my life now. It's over and done with," she said. "I have given all I can give to law enforcement."

According to Kings County Superior Court documents, a state mediator conducted a hearing on whether Duarte-Rains used excessive force and later lied about it during an internal affairs investigation.

A report from Anne Andrews Ellis from the State Mediation and Conciliation Service described Duarte-Rains' confrontation with a Hanford mother.

Duarte-Rains was with three Hanford police officers enforcing a child custody order when the two women began arguing, the report said.

Duarte-Rains grabbed the Hanford mother by the throat and pushed her against a wall. Eventually, Duarte-Rains left with the Hanford woman's child, the report said.

The Hanford woman then filed a complaint with police, but criminal charges were never filed against Duarte-Rains.

In the report, Duarte-Rains said her actions were necessary to stop the woman's aggressive behavior.

The report concluded that Duarte-Rains did not violate the county's use-of-force policy and that she didn't lie about the incident to internal affairs. The report also suggested that Duarte-Rains be issued a written reprimand.

On Thursday, Duarte-Rains wouldn't comment on the incident but said, "I didn't do anything wrong."

Kings County Administrative Officer Larry Spikes said the case was unique because it had to do with who had firing authority between the district attorney and the board of supervisors.

Supervisor Tony Oliveira said the lawsuit has not strained the board of supervisors' relationship with the district attorney.

Oliveira said it's not unheard of for an elected official to sue another public body.

Oliveira said former Sheriff Ken Marvin sued the county in 2004 and 2001 to force the early release of prisoners from the overcrowded Kings County Jail.

Last October, Calhoun sued the city of Hanford and settled out of court. He accused city officials of violating the Brown Act, a state law that ensures public access to meetings of local government agencies.

That lawsuit was filed after a Kings County grand jury tried to investigate a severance package the city made with former City Manager Jan Reynolds.

Prosecutors originally wanted the city to tape-record its closed-door meetings, but the two sides eventually agreed that written notes would be kept of future closed-door meetings.

The reporter can be reached at [email protected] or (559) 622-2421.


Copyright (c) 2007, The Fresno Bee, Calif.

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