Mike Geniella’s incisive voice and watchful eye have been aimed at Mendocino County for many decades as a long-standing reporter for the Press Democrat and the spokesman for Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office. Now retired, Geniella finds the writing habit hard to shake. We’re excited to host a column from him sharing his thoughts, comments, and concerns about life here in Mendocino County.
It felt like witnessing a public execution without knowing what the condemned man did.
The sudden downfall this past week of popular Ukiah Police Chief Noble Waidelich rocked the community and local law enforcement. Waidelich was first placed on paid administrative leave, but just three days later he was fired without any public explanation of his alleged misconduct.
There are still no official reasons given other than a vague pending ‘criminal investigation’ by Sonoma County authorities, and unspecified department ‘policy violations’ that were cited by city officials in their sudden announcement Friday that Waidelich had been stripped of his weapon, vehicle, and badge.
It was a stomach-churning end to the career of a Police Chief who less than a year ago was touted as a personable young guy who could lead the 18-officer department out of a troubled stretch.
‘Nobey’ was a local boy from Potter Valley who started his law enforcement career in 2005 with Ukiah police and rose through the ranks before being named Chief last Fall. He was earning $187,000 per year in his new post.
Why Waidelich was abruptly fired Friday is still unknown. The facts are few. The questions are many.
Waidelich is silent, and so is his attorney, retired Judge James King.
Little is known about the ‘criminal investigation’ Sonoma County authorities are conducting into Waidelich’s conduct. Nor what ‘policy violations’ city officials claim are unrelated to the probe but were enough to warrant the police chief’s abrupt termination on Friday.
Ukiah City Manager Sage Sangiacomo said in a bombshell announcement that “recent events” show that “this individual is not a good fit for the City.”
Without any elaboration, Sangiacomo declared, “Our community deserves better; the good men and women who do this work every day with integrity deserve better.”
Later city officials insisted unspecified ‘policy violations’ were enough to fire Waidelich without them knowing any results of the pending criminal probe by Sonoma County authorities. That investigation was triggered on Monday of last week when a complaint was made to Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall, who because of his department’s close ties with Ukiah police, asked for an outside review.
Just like that, after a stellar career in local law enforcement, Waidelich was dismissed as ‘not a good fit for our city.’
When city officials named Waidelich to the chief’s position in November, he was touted as the guy who could turn around the troubles the department had experienced in recent months: the arrest of a recently promoted police sergeant in a sex case, and the beating of a naked mentally ill man.
In Waidelich’s background, however, lurked a past run in with domestic abuse allegations. City and county law enforcement leaders were aware of them even if the public, in general, was not.
The abuse accusations surfaced in 2015 from a former county probation officer, Amanda Carley. She was at the time Waidelich’s live-in partner in a home they had bought together.
Despite the abuse allegations, Waidelich’s law enforcement career continued to flourish. He emerged cleared of any suspected charges and continued to rise in the ranks until he was appointed police chief.
Former girlfriend Carley suffered a sharply different fate. She was stripped of her law enforcement duties, her abuse claims were dismissed as impossible to prove, and worst she was branded a liar.
District Attorney David Eyster, who sees himself as the county’s chief law enforcement officer, declined to file any charges in the case, and he openly castigated Carley for her changing stories to investigators over an extended period. Eyster eventually took the draconian step of listing Carley on the so-called ‘Brady List,’ a roster of unreliable law enforcement officers who are blocked from testifying as witnesses in court cases.
Carley’s career collapsed. She left town but Carley clings to her hopes that a civil lawsuit accusing county officials of retaliating against her for making her abuse claims will still prevail despite setbacks. It is now scheduled for trial in September. Through a legal technicality, Eyster has been dismissed from the lawsuit because he successfully argued on appeal that his actions as District Attorney were protected under law.
Waidelich in the meantime moved onto a new marriage and family, and for several months enjoyed the prominence of his new position as the community’s Police Chief.
Now his life too is in disarray. His career is seemingly over.
Sonoma County authorities say it may be two weeks before the outcome of the investigation into Waidelich’s alleged misconduct is known. In the meantime, Police Captain Cedric Crook is the interim police chief.
Sonoma County authorities say the results of their investigation will be referred to DA Eyster for review, and possible prosecution.
Eyster, given his past ties to the tangled abuse case involving Waidelich and Carley, should consider turning the results of the Sonoma investigation over to an independent agency for review and a decision on whether prosecution is warranted.
Public trust needs to be met, and not just internal City Hall and law enforcement procedures.