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Fired Sutter County investigator alleges unethical behavior

March 23, 2018 GMT

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part story concerning a claim filed and allegations leveled by a former Sutter County district attorney’s chief investigator against the county.

In addition to allegations that his former employer, the Sutter County district attorney, took retaliatory actions against him for criticisms he’d made about relationships, budget items and employee treatment, Jason Parker alleged that Amanda Hopper engaged in other instances of inappropriate conduct.

Parker made the charges in a claim he filed seeking $1 million in damages for treatment he says he was subjected to in retaliation for whistleblowing. That claim was rejected by the county, but Parker’s attorney, Chris Carlos, said a second claim will be filed and that if it is rejected there will be a lawsuit.

The allegations of improper conduct come from Parker, who was placed on administrative leave last year and was officially fired, he said, as of Jan. 26. Parker is represented by Carlos, who is running in opposition to Hopper as a candidate for district attorney and who is the father of a man convicted for charges

stemming from a sex sting operation coordinated by Hopper’s staff, including Parker.

County officials, including county counsel Jean Jordan and Hopper, when contacted about the claim and several allegations, said they were limited in what they could comment on. Hopper did provide written responses to some of the allegations.

In addition to accusing Hopper of mismanaging her staff and department, Parker also recounted in the claim examples of what he claimed was unethical behavior.

Sara Easton death

Parker claims that in August 2015 – one month after he was hired – Hopper was interviewed as a witness in the investigation of the death of Sara Easton.

Easton, the wife of former Marysville Police Chief Aaron Easton, died of a gunshot wound Aug. 16, 2015. Her death was reported as a suicide, but the Sutter County coroner has not yet confirmed the manner of her death. The case has been in the hand’s of the state Department of Justice and there has been no indication as to when it might be resolved or for what reasons it has been stalled for so long.

“It was learned that Hopper’s then-husband, Brian Hopper, was sexually involved with Mrs. Easton, who turned up deceased in her own home,” it was alleged in Parker’s claim.

Parker claims that he later learned from investigators that Hopper lied during her interviews. He claims that Hopper told him information regarding her knowledge of the investigation that he later learned were lies. The claim did not specify what Hopper allegedly lied about.

Hopper denied those claims.

“Mr. Parker’s allegation is false,” Hopper said in her written statement. “Unfortunately, because this is still an open investigation, I cannot elaborate more.”

Danelle Stylos case

In August 2016, Parker was directed by Hopper and Jordan to investigate Danelle Stylos, Sutter County director of community services. “Jordan explained how she believed Stylos was committing theft of public funds amongst other crimes,” it was written in the claim.

In January 2017, Parker and the investigations unit completed the investigation of Stylos and, according to the claim, Parker told Hopper and Jordan that, while he did not have probable cause for theft of public funds, he was ready to arrest Stylos on other charges.

Stylos was arrested Feb. 2, 2017, but Parker alleges that Hopper and Jordan pushed the charge of theft of public funds.

“Mr. Parker and the investigator assigned to work this case were frustrated and believed Jordan and Hopper just wanted to further smear Stylos’ name,” it was written in the claim.

Jordan hired private investigator Kirk Trostle (former police chief of Chico) to go through years of financial records. After weeks of “a costly investigation,” according to the claim, Trostle found two discrepancies that amounted to less than $100. On June 27, Stylos was arraigned and theft of public funds was added to her charges, according to the claim.

According to the Sutter County Superior Court website, Stylos is currently facing five felony and three misdemeanor charges: voter registration fraud in May 2016; perjury in May 2016; voter fraud in June 2016; voter fraud in November 2016; perjury in January 2017; making a false statement with the Department of Motor Vehicles or California Highway Patrol in March 2016; knowingly filing false information on a concealed carry weapon application in January 2017; and petty theft not exceeding $950 in September 2016.

Parker claimed that he and the other investigator began to question the tactics of Hopper and Jordan and did not want to become involved in personal vendettas.

“Mr. Parker was astounded at the hypocrisy by Hopper for pursuing Stylos for a crime Hopper herself was committing on a regular basis,” according to the claim. “Mr. Parker had seen and observed where Hopper was directing two employees... to run her personal errands during their work hours and using county vehicles. Hopper’s use of taxpayer money to have employees conduct her personal errands is by definition theft of public funds.”

In the written statement provided to the Appeal-Democrat on Monday, Hopper said that case was referred directly to Parker by an outside agency regarding Stylos allegedly providing false address information on forms signed under penalty of perjury.

“Once Mr. Parker completed the investigation, he wanted to personally arrest Ms. Stylos and was told on multiple occasions not to do that and that we would handle the matter through her attorney of record Mr. Santana of the Santana and Carlos law office,” Hopper said. “Mr. Parker made the decision to arrest Ms. Stylos over my objection. The theft allegation was part of Mr. Parker’s investigation but was minimal. It was the fraud and perjury that was the crux of the investigation.”

Aly Yeoman case

In early April, 2017, the Sutter County District Attorney’s Office, along with other agencies, assisted in the missing person investigation of Aly Yeoman, according to the claim. Yeoman, a 20-year-old Gridley woman and Yuba College student, was missing for six weeks before her body was found in the Feather River near the Live Oak Recreation Park.

According to the claim, Parker and his team of investigators worked on the investigation until Hopper ordered them to stop one weekend, while, he claimed, there were still leads to follow up on.

“Mr. Parker tried to reason with Hopper to allow the investigation to continue but she refused,” according to the claim. “Mr. Parker sent his investigators home because he was ordered to, but knew it was wrong since Aly was still missing.”

He claimed that he had never been questioned by Hopper or given directives about his work time because he is not an hourly employee and does not get paid for working overtime. That weekend, Yeoman’s family requested to meet with Parker, and he and a Victim Services Department employee agreed to meet with the family. He later organized work on the investigation for the following week.

A week and a half later, Parker was called to a meeting with Hopper, and she allegedly accused him of insubordination for meeting with the Yeoman family and working when she ordered everyone home. Parker explained how he disagreed with her decision since there was a missing girl. He also said that he always worked into the evening and on weekends but was never required to ask her permission in the past, since he was a supervisor.

She allegedly continued to accuse him of insubordination and also accused him of undermining her authority regarding the budget. Parker said he asked for clarification and Hopper said he was making purchases without her approval. According to the claim, Parker reminded her that he did not have a budget or the ability to make purchases.

Parker also claimed that Hopper ordered him to take time off, but would not answer his question as to whether she was placing him on administrative leave.

In her written statement, Hopper said her directive concerned the physical and mental health of her employees and was not a monetary consideration.

“The man hours being put in by all the investigators was extensive,” Hopper said. “After weeks of long working hours, it became clear that there was the potential for burnout. It is my obligation as a department head to watch out for the health and well-being of my staff. I directed my staff to take the Easter weekend off and spend it with their families and to rest. That included Mr. Parker.”