This Central Valley police chief forced an officer to remodel his home; now he’s California’s latest criminal cop
Pictured above: Former McFarland Chief Scot Kimble has worked for at least eight police agencies and been forced out of two. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
This story appeared in the Mercury News and other newspapers across California on Feb. 28, 2020.
By Katey Rusch (’20) and Laurence Du Sault (’20)
BAKERSFIELD — When Scot Kimble wanted to fix up and sell a house he owned in Southern California, the small-town Central Valley police chief didn’t hire a contractor.
Instead, he sent one of his officers to San Bernardino County with a tool belt instead of a holster to remodel his home, according to the Kern County District Attorney and a civil lawsuit, and then doctored city payroll records to use public money to pay for the work.
On Friday, the veteran lawman pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge connected to the allegations, first exposed last fall in “California’s Criminal Cops,” an investigative series from a coalition of news organizations coordinated by the Bay Area News Group.
The report found more than 80 officers with criminal convictions, including everything from DUI to fraud to manslaughter, still working in law enforcement in California, which is one of only five states that does nothing to revoke the badges of problem cops — even when they break the law.
But Kimble won’t be keeping his job as the city of Arvin’s Police Chief. As part of the plea deal, he agreed to resign effective March 13 and will be sentenced to three years probation.
”Today’s conviction makes clear that Kimble’s actions in this case make him unfit for duty as a chief of police in our community,” Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said in a news release after a short hearing in which Kimble’s lawyer said he had agreed to resign as part of a plea deal.
Kimble, 55, wasn’t at Friday’s hearing and didn’t return a phone call, and his attorney, H.A. Sala, left the courtroom without a comment.
The charge against Kimble comes less than a year after he was sworn in as police chief in Arvin, just southeast of Bakersfield. But the allegations date back to his time leading the troubled police department in nearby McFarland, where the news coalition’s investigation found one out of every five officers had been previously convicted of a crime, fired or sued for misconduct.
The story illustrated how officers with dubious backgrounds can continue to hop from job to job in California. That’s because the state doesn’t flag disgraced officers to potential employers, so it’s up to local police chiefs to decide whom to hire. And Kimble’s criminal case only underscores how officers’ questionable pasts get overlooked or never revealed.
Before now, Kimble had not faced criminal charges. But in his 30-year career he had been forced out of at least two jobs and worked at at least eight law enforcement agencies. Documents obtained by the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley showed a series of complaints against Kimble, including the one he was eventually convicted of on Friday.
Prosecutors on Friday revealed that McFarland’s former City Manager John Wooner had investigated and brushed off the allegations. Wooner was killed in May in what investigators ruled was an accident; his body was discovered months later in his city-owned SUV submerged in the Kern River.
“We interviewed John Wooner before he died,” Kern County Deputy District Attorney Joe Kinzel said Friday. “He acknowledged that there was an investigation done, but (that he) didn’t share it with anybody.”
Wooner also admitted concealing the internal investigation from the Arvin Police Department when it came calling for Kimble to fill its chief’s job, Kinzel said.
Prosecutors say it took a whistleblower to tip them off to the allegations.
In 2016, they say, Kimble crossed the line in his pursuit to sell a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in Ontario.
“We saw what was really a pattern of bullying or abuse of authority,” Kinzel said.
They accused Kimble of misappropriating city funds by intentionally adding unearned hours to an officer’s payroll time sheets to remodel portions of Kimble’s home. Kimble allegedly submitted bogus work hours for the officer during pay periods in July and September 2016 in the amount of $745.20.
The chief also assigned the officer to attend training courses out of Kern County for two weeks in September so the officer could complete the construction work during the evenings, requiring 25 miles of travel in a city-owned vehicle each way, prosecutors said.
But that wasn’t the only officer running errands for Kimble instead of patrolling the streets of McFarland.
“At some point he was actually pulling people off of duty to help him unload a truck,” Kinzel said, “and then padding their time sheets.”
Many of the allegations were detailed in a civil lawsuit filed in April 2018 by former McFarland Police officer Laurence Keegan. In the lawsuit, Keegan, a former contractor, claimed Kimble asked him to help the chief remodel his home in neighboring San Bernardino County.
Keegan, who was a volunteer police officer at the time, says he felt he couldn’t refuse since Kimble was his boss. Keegan claims he worked 200 hours over three years for Kimble, remodeling the bathroom and replacing kitchen countertops. The suit claims for much of the work, Kimble either didn’t pay him or paid him with city overtime dollars.
When Keegan said he told the chief the work and back-and-forth travel were becoming a burden, Kimble became upset. In one instance, he says the police chief slammed his fist on his desk saying, “I need to get this work done because I need to sell this house.”
Keegan became a permanent officer in April 2017 and alerted city officials to what had been going on, the lawsuit claims. The City of McFarland started an investigation. At that point, Keegan alleged he overheard Kimble say he would “ruin” anyone who was coming after him.
When asked about the claims in an interview last summer with reporters from the Investigative Reporting Program, Kimble insisted he knew nothing about the civil lawsuit and suggested Keegan was helping him as a friend. “That’s what people do in law enforcement,” said Kimble.
“That’s not who I am,” Kimble said about the claims. “I’m not going to force anyone to work anywhere. And I’m not going to falsify anything … period, plain and simple.”
Ultimately, Kimble sold the house in December 2016 for $420,000. He’s on the hook for $1,075 in restitution to McFarland, as part of the plea deal, and Keegan received a $65,000 payout as part of a confidential settlement agreement in the lawsuit, documents show.
Zimmer, the district attorney, said the deal was a fair one for taxpayers. “The most important thing for us,” she said, “is that he resign.”
That’s what former McFarland officer Freddy Ramirez found so striking. He used to joke that his former chief was kind of like a cat.
“It’s about time,” Ramirez said Friday. “His nine lives have finally come to an end.”
This story is part of a collaboration of news organizations throughout California coordinated by the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley and the Bay Area News Group. Reporters participated from more than 30 newsrooms, including MediaNews Group, McClatchy, USA Today Network, Voice of San Diego, and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Click here to read more about the project.