The man picked to lead King City's scandal-ridden police department comes with his own history of controversy, but City Attorney Roy Hanley said he wants residents to know that Dennis Hegwood is "the exact best person" for the job.
Hegwood, 62, was quickly hired as interim police chief Wednesday after Hanley recommended him for the job.
According to Hanley, accusations and an investigation of rape allegations while Hegwood was Atascadero's police chief a decade ago were fueled by closed-minded reactions to a biracial sexual relationship.
Hanley and the new chief go way back -- the two worked together in Atascadero, where Hegwood resigned as police chief in April 2004 despite being cleared of rape allegations.
Hanley suggested that Hegwood be tapped for King City this week after the department lost about one-third of its officers. Six King City officers were arrested Tuesday as a result of an investigation into widespread corruption in the department. Among the arrested was acting Chief Bruce Miller.
Hanley said he would like to lay to rest the controversy that, thanks to the evergreen nature of news online, follows Hegwood everywhere.
"The poor guy gets battered with it anytime he does anything," Hanley said.
Hegwood, who was on the job in King City on Wednesday, did not respond to The Herald's request for an interview.
In a written statement, he said his goal is to lead the department "with a focus on community service and professionalism."
Hegwood has already had a close view of King City's police troubles.
He was hired to help conduct an internal affairs investigation inside the department within the past year, Hanley said, and also came in to conduct team-building training.
He takes over as even more agencies are looking at the King City Police Department. Besides an ongoing investigation by the District Attorney's Office into corruption allegations that led to Tuesday's arrest, the department is being investigated by the FBI after several thousand dollars that officers seized from bank robbers went missing.
The Monterey County Sheriff's Office is also investigating the department, but Sheriff Scott Miller said that's mainly under the auspices of the district attorney's probes.
"The DA's office is still the lead agency and we're here to help," Miller said.
In addition, a retired officer from Santa Barbara County has been called in to conduct an internal affairs investigation, Hanley said.
The rape allegation
Hanley spoke Thursday about Hegwood's 10-year-old Atascadero controversy.
Few specifics about the allegations were published at the time, largely because news media have policies against reporting sexual assault claims unless criminal charges are filed.
But the story came out after Hegwood himself mentioned it in connection with his retirement in April 2004.
According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, a woman alleged on Feb. 20, 2004, that Hegwood raped her.
The San Luis Obispo County district attorney's office determined that the woman changed her story over time and did not have physical signs of rape, the paper said.
Former Sheriff Pat Hedges told The Tribune that detectives found no crime was committed based on statements from an independent witness.
"Any contact was consensual, and there was no indication of any criminal wrongdoing," Hedges said.
Hanley said the incident involved a woman who had separated from her husband and was staying with a female friend.
She invited Hegwood over to spend the night and he did, Hanley said.
After she got back together with her husband, he said, the woman told him she'd had sex with Hegwood because she had too much wine.
"He marched her down to the sheriff's office," Hanley said, and pushed her to press charges.
But the woman's female friend later told detectives the liaison was consensual, and charges were never filed, he said.
Despite being cleared, Hanley said Hegwood "fell on his sword" and resigned "to protect the department."
Hegwood said in a written statement at the time, "This has been a trying time for me personally. While I remain committed to law enforcement and believe I have much to offer professionally, I have decided it is in the best interest of the city and police department that I continue my community service in a different venue."
Hanley eventually followed with feelings of bad blood over how Hegwood was treated.
"He was a black man having sex with a white woman," he said, adding that he believed that fact was behind some council members' urgent calls for Hegwood's resignation.
"Unfortunately," he said, "the world is still that way."
The Atascadero incident was not the first time a racial controversy surfaced in Hegwood's career.
He resigned as Rialto's police chief in 1998 after a no-confidence vote from the officer's union. But it was also the day news broke that he had prepared a confidential report about department racism to help a former police dispatch supervisor sue the city. Hegwood was adamant his departure was not connected to the news stories.
Short stay expected
The new chief is being paid $7,000 a month for his King City work. Hanley said that's far less than other California interim chiefs are paid, which can be as much as $12,000 a month.
Hegwood is expected to stay on the job at least a few months, when another interim chief is likely to be hired before a regular chief can be found.
A seasoned veteran of the vagaries of small-town political wars, Hanley said he's hesitant to ever use the word "permanent."
Hegwood's most recent job before coming to King City was as a criminal justice instructor at San Luis Obispo's Cuesta College.
According to a King City news release, he began his law enforcement career with the Department of Defense Police at the Naval Weapons Station in Seal Beach. He worked as a patrol deputy at the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and later with Los Angeles City Housing Authority police.
He's written research reports for the U.S. Department of Justice and was awarded the Governor's Award in Organizational Achievement.
He is a "strong advocate" of community-oriented police, the press release said -- an approach he may need to lean on now that he faces the shattered trust of King City residents.
Asked if even the hint of controversy might hamper Hegwood's relationship with King City police and residents, Hanley said, "I think so highly of Dennis that when people meet him, I think they'll agree."
"It may turn out that I'm naive," he said. "But I hope I'm right."
Julia Reynolds can be reached at 648-1187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.