Hughson Public Works Director David Chase was allowed to surrender on charges he deleted files from the city's server. Incorrect information appeared in a story.
HUGHSON — Public Works Director David Chase has been arrested on criminal charges that he destroyed city computer files.
Chase is set to be arraigned Jan. 27 on charges he accessed the city computer server from a laptop in his home, destroyed accounting files and deleted building permits.
Chase, 54, is on paid leave from the city, City Manager Joe Donabed said Friday. "There's no set time for his return."
Donabed said he could not comment further because it's a personnel matter. Chase did not return several calls for comment.
Councilman Thom Crowder said Chase's actions in July prompted his request for an investigation that instead focused on him and two fellow councilmen.
In a report issued last month, the Stanislaus County civil grand jury found that Councilmen Crowder, Doug Humphreys and Ben Manley violated the Brown Act — the state law that regulates public meetings — by conferring on issues over e-mail and plotting to remove Donabed.
It also found that Crowder violated the state Political Reform Act by trying to influence council decisions pertaining to property near his home and in misusing political influence while seeking a job.
The grand jury reported that it could not find evidence of "willful misconduct" by city administrators.
"I'm going to expect some type of apology from the grand jury," Crowder said after learning of the criminal charges against Chase. "There's bigger fish to fry."
Chase also was the subject of an investigation by the State Water Resources Control Board, which pulled his waste-water treatment plant operator's license last year after finding false information on his application.
Board public information officer David Clegern confirmed that his agency investigated Chase for falsifying the hours he spent at the city's waste-water treatment plant and will pursue disciplinary action against him. That could include suspending the license pending the completion of requirements or removing the license completely.
"But he has voluntarily agreed not to use his license at this point," Clegern said.
Chase denies accusations
Donabed said he couldn't comment on the investigation, but that a waste-water treatment plant operator's license isn't necessary for Chase's job as Public Works director and civil engineer.
Donabed also said he couldn't comment on the criminal complaint against Chase, other than to say, "I followed the process."
It's not clear what files Chase is accused of deleting, or why he might have done so.
According to a Stanislaus County sheriff's arrest affadavit, Police Chief Janet Rasmussen reported July 15 that someone had remotely accessed the server and destroyed files.
The investigation led them to Chase, who told them the three council members and some city staff were targeting him.
According to the affadavit, Chase told detectives he was out of the office when the incident occurred, and didn't remember accessing the city server from his laptop or removing files.
When investigators asked if it could have been an accident, Chase said, "I don't know. ... I've tried to investigate this whole thing in my own mind. I keep coming up against one brick wall of nonsense after another."
Chase said he knew that the city server routinely backs up computer files, so deleting them would not remove them completely.
An investigator asked Chase if he could offer any explanation why his computer deleted files from the city's server.
"I can't," Chase said. "I can't find the slightest anything. I can't. I wish I could."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.