San Jose Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell fired one of her employees Wednesday, the Mercury News has learned, just days after the conclusion of a probe to determine if a mole in the office was feeding confidential information to a police union president.
Cordell's move had its odd aspects, since the probe found no evidence of a mole and the fired employee, Suzan Stauffer, had never been identified publicly as a suspect. But it also had a quick payoff, as community activists who previously proclaimed they could not trust the police auditor's office said Wednesday the firing helps restore their faith.
Cordell declined to confirm the firing or discuss the reasons for it. Stauffer — a senior analyst/complaint examiner at the police auditor's office, and until she abruptly withdrew, a finalist to lead the oversight agency — acknowledged she had been terminated, although she also declined to elaborate.
The firing occurred just six days after Cordell released the report from an outside investigator into what some are calling "IPA-gate." Former police union President Bobby Lopez had told the Mercury News in June that an insider from the auditor's office had fed him advance information on complaints about officers, but Lopez later denied to the investigator that he had made the statement.
Still, the investigator said some contacts had occurred between office staff and the police union. And when she released the report, Cordell — a retired judge who became the police auditor two months ago — said she would be talking with the five members of her staff and then would "make determinations." Cordell has the power to discipline or dismiss any of the employees at will.
Cordell did not single out any employee, but the former head of the local American Civil Liberties Union, Skyler Porras, confirmed Wednesday that she had expressed concerns to Cordell in May that she suspected Stauffer leaked information to Lopez.
In the wake of the allegations, Cordell faced a serious crisis of public confidence in her office, which monitors police internal affairs investigations and takes in citizen complaints for those who are uncomfortable or unwilling to take them to the Police Department.
Many of the skeptical community activists hailed Stauffer's firing Wednesday as a major move to restore public trust.
Raj Jayadev, the head of Silicon Valley De-Bug who had said when the news of the potential spy broke that he would not recommend residents go to the Independent Police Auditor to make complaints, said he now felt more comfortable.
"The removal of the Lopez informant, rogue staffer, whatever you want to call it, is a strong acknowledgment that the problem and danger to the office was real, regardless of whatever questionable conclusions the city investigation came to," Jayadev said. "We can now move forward to trying to build back confidence in a deeply wounded IPA office, and find ways to secure its independence and ability to perform its needed role of providing authentic police oversight."
City Councilman Pete Constant, a former San Jose police officer, said he stood behind Cordell's decision.
"I have confidence that LaDoris Cordell is going to do what is right and make sure the office runs effectively, efficiently and at a high level of trust for our residents," Constant said.
But Constant said he remained concerned about Lopez's apparently contradictory stories.
"He said he had this snitch and then he didn't," Constant said. "One way or the other, he was being untruthful and that concerns me with the level of authority he has as a supervisor in the Police Department."
Stauffer's background shows an experienced attorney with some professional associations with local law enforcement. Her résumé shows that she is a former prosecutor in Honolulu and Alameda County. In San Jose, she worked briefly as a deputy city attorney and later as a manager for the Police Department's community service program.
Her résumé lists a number of awards including two from the San Jose Police Department: one for "day to day excellence" and the Richard Huerta Special Merit Award for "outstanding contribution to the city and development and management of an award-winning program."
In 1993, Stauffer designed and implemented the Safe Alternatives & Violence Education Program (SAVE) for the city of San Jose.
Stauffer was also a finalist for the police auditor's job itself, but she withdrew from consideration just before the Mercury News reported the finalists' identities, which the city had held secret.
Cordell, a retired judge with a reputation as a civil rights activist, was eventually tapped for the job by a divided City Council and began work in May.
Contact Sean Webby at 408-920-5003.