Senate investigations probe sergeant-at-arms shooting

lrosenhall@sacbee.comJune 16, 2014 

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, right, celebrates the passage of the state budget with his successor, Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, left, and Sen. William Monning, D-Carmel.

PAUL KITAGAKI JR. — pkitagaki@sacbee.com

The California Senate will spend more than $40,000 on private contractors to investigate security concerns raised by an in-house law enforcement officer who was found to have used cocaine and marijuana the night he was involved in a fatal off-duty shooting.

In March, attorney Sue Ann Van Dermyden and threat assessment expert James Cawood completed their investigation of issues raised by the December 2012 shooting outside the Sacramento home of Gerardo Lopez, who was a sergeant-at-arms for the Senate until he was fired last month. The investigators billed the Senate $41,486 for the work, according to information provided by Mark Hedlund, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

The results of their investigation fall under attorney-client privilege and will not be released by the Senate, Hedlund said.

"The Senate is now in the process of drafting new, updated operating procedures and codes of conduct for the Sergeant-at-Arms office," Hedlund said in a statement.

Steinberg fired Lopez after The Sacramento Bee raised questions about court testimony that showed Lopez had used illegal drugs the night he engaged in a gunfight outside his house that left three people injured and one man dead. The Senate's chief sergeant-at-arms, Tony Beard, stepped down from his position after it came out that he had withheld information from Steinberg about the toxicology report showing Lopez had used cocaine and marijuana that night. Prosecutors consider Lopez the victim of a home invasion and are charging three people with robbery in a case scheduled to go to trial this week.

The incident triggered fear among some Senate employees, as well as allegations that Lopez benefitted from nepotism in holding on to his job as long as he did. His mother, Dina Hidalgo, is the Senate's head of human resources.

The Legislature's lawyers, known as the Legislative Counsel Bureau, signed a contract with outside attorneys on May 28 to investigate the claims of nepotism, according to the information from Hedlund. That work went to Heather Irwin of the Gordon & Rees law firm. Her hourly rate is $325 but she has not yet billed the Legislature, Hedlund said.

"She was told the target date of completion was mid-June. However about one week ago, she asked for more time because she had not yet been able to complete her final interviews," Hedlund's statement says.

"We believe that will happen shortly and she will then be able to complete the report."

RELATED STORIES:

http://www.sacbee.com/2014/05/02/6374767/senate-fires-peace-officer-for.html

http://www.sacbee.com/2014/05/06/6384539/california-senates-chief-sergeant.html

Editor's note: This post was updated at 9:45 p.m. to say three people were injured in the shooting outside Lopez's home.

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