Ex-Wapato police officers accuse former mayor of corruption

Ex-Wapato police officers accuse former mayor of corruption
Yakima Herald-Republic

A group of resigned Wapato police officers say the department has lost 14 employees under what they describe as the corrupt leadership of Juan Orozco, who was elected city mayor in December 2017.

Orozco has since resigned as mayor to be appointed city administrator.

In an open letter to the community, the officers blamed the former mayor for resignations in the police department, which has left it understaffed.

The letter says there are only five law enforcement personnel left in the department – one detective, two full-time police officers, one temporary provisional officer and one sergeant acting as chief.

“This level of staffing will not support safe 24-hour police coverage for the City of Wapato. The staffing levels places the citizens of Wapato and the police officers in a highly dangerous situation,” says an open letter from the former officers.

Most recently, three senior officers resigned because they felt “compelled by their personal ethical standards and conscience,” the letter says.

The letter says since Orozco’s election as mayor, he has made multiple efforts to threaten, harass and intimidate the employees of the Wapato Police Department. He’s accused of trying to use police officers as “personal enforcers” to target council members and citizens in a similar manner.

“Specifically, Mayor Orozco has directed targeted enforcement action against his personal enemies or those that refused to support his policies and actions,” the letter says. “Those that speak against him or his administration can anticipate some type of retaliatory city action.”

The alleged retaliation included contacting the employers of those who oppose him, filing unfounded complaints and attempting to get them disciplined or fired.

The police officers who resigned say they felt forced into the position of making unethical decisions, which inhibited their ability to honor their oath of office.

Furthermore, the letter says Orozco has threatened employees who have tried to exercise their rights of collective bargaining. It says he misinformed the public and made false statements about the condition of the Wapato Jail, including its financial status.

It says he has made statements to the press and citizens on social media about what he has saved the city financially, but has refused to provide documents that refute his statements.

When Orozco resigned as mayor, the letter says he signed a seven-year contract to make $95,000 a year as city administrator. This does not include a $500 monthly fuel stipend and a take-home Yukon Denali.

“Now … he will continue to have the same authority, but will be receiving a significant pay raise and protections by the city,” the letter says.

The resigned officers said they believe the manner in which he was appointed was illegal. It claims the decision was discussed behind closed doors, and the contract was written and agreed upon prior to a public meeting.

“We can no longer sit back and ignore these actions. We are no longer willing to work for the City of Wapato under these conditions, along with the false narrative that continues to be provided to the media and the citizens of Wapato,” the letter says.

The resigned officers thanked the previous administration as well as the citizens and businesses of Wapato for allowing them to serve the community for many years.

The officers who signed the letter include former sergeant Larry Ehrhardt, former officers Randy Sperle, Jacob Murphy and Andreas Eismann, former corrections sergeant Keilen Harmon and former corrections officers Esteban Salas, Nicholas Nanez, Karlo Stephas, Louis Santana and Ray Hernandez.