Arcata names new police chief

Arcata city manager: Past lawsuit investigated by city and found to be 'without merit'

Chief Brian Ahearn (City of Arcata — contributed)
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Arcata on Thursday announced its new police chief: Brian Ahearn, a 30-plus year veteran of the San Diego Police Department.

“I am excited to begin my service as Arcata’s chief of police,” Ahearn said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to supporting the men and women of the Arcata Police Department on a daily basis and working closely with members of the community, students, city leaders and staff, and other local law enforcement and public safety agencies. Together, we will help maintain a safe environment for all who live, work and visit Arcata.”

Ahearn will officially take over interim Police Chief Richard Ehle on Friday and his contract will be ratified during a special council meeting on Friday at noon.

“I am confident that Brian Ahearn is a great match for the City of Arcata,” Arcata Mayor Sofia Pereira said in a statement. “His experience with issues unique to coastal communities, university town partnerships, deep understanding of public safety challenges, and background in employee training and mentoring will help make the Arcata Police Department stronger, more innovative and better able to serve Arcata residents and businesses for years to come.”

Ahern served for more than three decades with the San Diego Police Department in a variety of roles, most recently as captain, according to the resume provided by the city of Arcata.

In 2015, during his tenure with the San Diego police, Ahearn was named in a lawsuit alleging abusive behavior.

City Manager Karen Diemer defended the selection of Ahearn on Thursday, noting both an internal investigation by SDPD and a third party hired by Arcata which found the allegations to be “without merit.”

The lawsuit filed by San Diego Lt. Natalie Stone in September 2015 and dismissed in 2017 by the San Diego Superior Court alleged Ahearn contributed to a “hostile work environment.”

The suit described Ahearn as being abusive and prone to outbursts. While Ahearn was not one of the parties being sued, he was named in the complaint.

“I was uncomfortable working with his outbursts, which frequently involved loud yelling, pounding his hands on desks and flailing hand gestures,” Stone wrote. “The hostile environment caused me to have medical issues related to stress.”

Ahearn did not respond to a request for comment.

Stone, who filed the lawsuit alleging the behavior, said she was punished with an unwanted transfer and the equivalent of a demotion for raising concerns about Ahearn.

She said she was “told the transfer was because she and Ahearn could not get along,” the San Diego Tribune reported on Sept. 21, 2015.

When asked about the decision to hire Ahearn in light of the allegations, Diemer said he was upfront about the allegations “from the very beginning.”

She said she took the allegations “very seriously.”

Diemer said that until the allegations were made in 2015, Ahearn had led an “extensive, solid, impeccable career,” of over 30 years. She added that it isn’t uncommon for career law enforcement officers to have allegations made against them at one point or another.

Ahearn was the leading candidate in multiple stages of the selection process, Diemer said. Diemer said the third-party investigator hired to look into Ahearn’s background returned with one of the strongest candidate recommendations he had given in his career.

When reached for comment today by the Times-Standard, Stone offered her reaction to the hiring of Ahearn.

“I am surprised anyone in law enforcement would hire him,” she said, declining to comment further.

The attorney who filed the lawsuit did not return a call for comment.

One former colleague applauded Arcata’s choice.

“Arcata could not be in better hands,” said former Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills, who worked with Ahearn in San Diego. “(He is) literally the hardest worker I’ve ever met in my entire life.”

Of the allegations, Mills said he had never seen Ahearn “come unrooted,” adding he “is a straightforward, honest guy who is in control of his emotions.”

Mills said Ahearn is one of the best listeners he knows and that he “can help find a path forward that includes everybody.” Mills emphasized that is something that is important to the diverse population of Arcata.

Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.

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