In June, Detective Eric Walterscheid stood behind the podium before the El Monte City Council's last meeting to honor Officer Carlos Molina. Walterscheid bestowed upon him the prestigious Police Officers Association’s Officer of the Year award for 2020.
“He’s been with us for 21 years," Walterscheid said. "I remember when he first walked into the detective bureau — his leather was squeaking. I read his reports. I said, ‘Go into detectives! You’re an excellent investigator!’ He never looked back.”
While a dozen officers in the room said nothing, others looked on in disbelief that Molina was chosen for the award given the fact that before he received officer of the year, Molina hadn't worked in the last 19 months.
According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Tom Madruga, a contract attorney for the city pointed out that Molina has been on paid administrative leave from September 2019 to April 2021. He was given an award for a period in which he essentially spent on vacation — earning over $200,000 for not even lifting a finger in official police capacity.
As the Tribune reports, Molina was under investigation for how he handled his last case involving child abuse:
Molina, a detective at the time, was placed on leave because he spent a year working on a child abuse investigation that yielded little work product, sources close to the investigation said on condition of anonymity. Additionally, he charged the city for 42 hours of overtime pay — equating to more than $4,400 — during that period.
Moilna was probing the alleged physical abuse of 23-month-old Britalin Vasquez at the hands of her mother, Donica Vasquez, and stepfather, Oswaldo Eduardo Chan. Molina’s investigation spanned from Oct. 24, 2018, to Oct. 1, 2019, when the case was yanked from him and turned over to Detective Pedro Yanez.
Yanez closed the case in 44 days, submitting it to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office on Nov. 13, 2019. Prosecutors subsequently filed felony child abuse charges against Chan and Vasquez.
Britalin Vasquez, now 4, suffered bone fractures and burns, a district attorney’s spokeswoman said. Chan and Donica Vasquez will next appear in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Pomona for a pretrial hearing on Aug. 9.
Meanwhile, the administrative investigation was launched into Molina’s handling of the case. Although he was allowed to return to the force after 19 months off the job, he was reassigned as a patrol officer. The administrative investigation is still pending arbitration, according to sources close to the case.
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According to the report, some of the officers thought Molina's officer of the year award was merely a bad joke to possibly embarrass police chief David Reynoso.
“I feel (Molina) received the votes as a joke or a way to send a message of dissatisfaction,” Sgt. Jimmie Pitts said in an email sent to the entire City Council the night before the June 29 council meeting, according to the Tribune.
Pitts tried to get the council to stop the award pointing out that it would be a “disservice to the members of the EMPOA, the City Council and city residents if the awards ceremony moved forward.”
“If the public or media learned that the City Council publicly recognized a police officer who did not work a single day in 2020, but was paid his full salary for the entire year, it could bring unneeded negative attention to our EMPOA, City and Police Department,” Pitts said in his email.
Well, now we have learned this and the Mayor, council members, and police union look rather silly for refusing to listen to Pitts.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that City Councilman Martin Herrera shared Pitts concerns but was also ignored.
“(Molina) did not perform anything in 2020, so how does he get awarded (officer of the year) when there were other deserving officers,” Herrera said. “I think it’s an affront to the city administration and to the council itself. I think the board is being antagonistic, just to be contrary to the city manager and police chief. Why else would they do something like this?”