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Paso's cop headache 

Learn about the former Paso Robles police officer they won't talk about

After more than a year, the wounds on Rodia Monterrosobragg’s arms haven’t healed.

Monterrosobragg, who likes to go by the name Rodi Bragg, still doesn’t quite understand what happened to her on a hot summer afternoon in Paso Robles. Nor does she know what she did that was enough to earn her the scars that mar her forearms. 

click to enlarge Still from video of arrest from patrol car. Note: There is no audio for the first 30 seconds of the video.
  • Still from video of arrest from patrol car. Note: There is no audio for the first 30 seconds of the video.
  VIEW ARREST VIDEO HERE

Her skin is now warped and discolored, and will likely never be normal again. Over the last year, Bragg’s been to doctors to help heal the burns she received last summer. She’s been to a therapist and was told she was exhibiting signs of anxiety, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She’s even trying to move out of the state because of the ordeal.

Her scars are a haunting reminder of what happened on July 30, 2010, and it was all because of a stolen bottle of water.

Officer Jeffry Bromby hit the lights, blared his siren, and began splitting afternoon downtown traffic in Paso Robles. On that sunny summer day, Bromby was racing his cruiser to a grocery store on a report of a shoplifter who was being combative with employees.

This is all according to a police report Bromby filed after the incident and a video recording taken from his patrol car obtained by New Times.

Bromby charged down the center turn lane as he rushed to the call, zipping around cars, at one point appearing to almost collide with an oblivious motorist. He eventually slammed his car to a halt just in front of a scene where a few store employees and a private security guard were standing over Bragg who sat on the ground, her hands pressed in front of her, pleading to the people who caught her.

Bromby got out of his car and pulled Bragg to her feet. His first words to Bragg were that he needed to place her hands behind her back and in handcuffs.

“I need my shoes,” Bragg said as she made for the curb.

Bromby had control of Bragg, with a firm grip on her wrist restraints, but he yanked her back violently.

“You know what … you’re gonna go down again,” he said.

click to enlarge A COP DID THIS TO ME:  Shortly after being arrested and charged with theft, then-21-year-old Rodia Monterrosobragg had a friend take pictures of the injuries she received from her run-in with former Paso Robles cop Jeffry Bromby. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RODIA MONTERROSOBRAGG
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF RODIA MONTERROSOBRAGG
  • A COP DID THIS TO ME: Shortly after being arrested and charged with theft, then-21-year-old Rodia Monterrosobragg had a friend take pictures of the injuries she received from her run-in with former Paso Robles cop Jeffry Bromby.

Seemingly without provocation, Bromby grabbed Bragg by the back of her neck and threw her to the ground. Even the onlookers appeared uncomfortable, tense and shuffling awkwardly as if they wanted to interfere but were unsure whether they could when a cop was involved.

At 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, Bromby is a solidly built man with a clean-shaven head, as well as about 7 inches and 70 pounds on Bragg, who was 21 years old at the time.

According to court records filed by Bragg’s public defender, the temperature that day hit 93 degrees. And Bromby had Bragg face down, bare armed, lying on asphalt that had been baking in the afternoon sun. Despite her asking to be let up numerous times, he held her there.

“OK, well maybe you’ll learn,” Bromby responded to Bragg’s pleas.

Bragg continued to squirm and begged to be allowed off the ground.

“Please—officer please—this is really hot,” she said.

“Well, maybe you would’ve not done what you did,” he told her.

Bragg screamed and cried out in pain, but she was held to the ground until Bromby’s backup, officer David Hernandez, arrived and helped to move her into the back of Bromby’s car. While Bromby interviewed the witnesses, Bragg sat in the car crying and moaning. Then Hernandez peered into the car to speak with her.

“Is that a burn or is that from right now?” he asked her, referring to her arms.

“That’s from right now,” she answered.

“Ouch.”

Bragg was eventually brought to the police station where her arms were treated by first responders, but only after Bromby had interviewed all witnesses.

Because Bragg didn’t file a complaint, there was no follow up. Without a reason to go back and view tapes—meaning a formal complaint rather than a scarred woman being brought in after an arrest—incidents like the one that happened to Bragg can and will go unreviewed.

That would have been the case with this incident, but after speaking with New Times, Paso Police Chief Lisa Solomon reviewed Bragg’s video and issued a brief statement—though no condemnation—about Bromby’s actions.

“While the use of force in this case is deemed within policy to gain control of the prisoner, it is unfortunate that it took place on a hot surface,” she said in a prepared statement. “There were other options the officer could have considered in handling the prisoner after the take-down that might have resulted in a better outcome.”

After the incident, and based on the recommended charges in Bromby’s report, Bragg was charged with theft and two additional misdemeanor charges for resisting an officer and battery. According to the report, Bragg allegedly stole a bottle of water, then wrestled with the store’s security guard when he tried to detain her outside.

Based on Bromby’s account in the police incident report he filed, he arrived at the scene to find Bragg handcuffed and arguing with the employees.

“I stood BRAGG up, telling her she would be placed in my car, and she immediately pulled away, and began to struggle with me,” Bromby wrote. “I made several verbal attempts to get BRAGG to quit fighting. She did not comply, so I placed her on the ground, face down to gain control of her and be able to place her hands behind her back in handcuffs.”

Bromby reported that while he wrestled on the ground, Bragg kicked him in the left knee and managed to break one of his fingers and sprain two others.

Though you can’t see Bragg in the video, you can hear her asking to be let up and even at one point defending an accusation that she assaulted Bromby.

“This is fucking ridiculous,” Bragg shouted shortly after she was tackled.

“You know what? You just tried to bite me,” Bromby yelled back at her.

“Well, your arm was in my mouth,” she cried.

For months, Bragg’s case dragged in court. She got a public attorney, Keith Patrick Gibson, and managed to obtain the video despite some heel dragging from the Paso Robles PD, she said.

And for months, Bragg was facing three misdemeanor charges, including for assaulting a cop. But about a month before this printing, Bragg was told she wouldn’t be prosecuted for the resisting arrest or battery charges. According to her, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office agreed to drop some of the charges because “the DA had decided that it would just be a waste of time to show the tape to the jury because it’s obvious that Bromby had been using excessive force with me.”

“The assault charge I thought was pretty bogus,” Bragg said. “I was the one who was assaulted.”

On Aug. 16, she was sentenced to 20 hours of community service for petty theft.

For a while, Bragg considered filing a complaint against the department, or perhaps filing a civil case because of her injuries. But she said she probably won’t pursue those claims, and she just wants to put the incident behind her, with the hope that her story will help others avoid the same fate.

But other people have filed complaints.

In general, if you’re a public employee your life is open to some public scrutiny. Though state laws provide protections for private personnel matters, if you screw up enough—you’re fired or have a personnel file clogged with complaints of bad behavior or unlawful activity—the public is entitled to know.

click to enlarge OFFICIAL RESPONSE:  Paso Robles Police Chief Lisa Solomon said she wants to disclose more about a former cop, but personnel laws prevent her from doing so. - STEVE E. MILLER
  • STEVE E. MILLER
  • OFFICIAL RESPONSE: Paso Robles Police Chief Lisa Solomon said she wants to disclose more about a former cop, but personnel laws prevent her from doing so.

But if you’re a cop, your personnel file is completely locked down.

The police lobby has long been able to award cops special privacy protections from public records requests, said Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. It’s been a long and frustrating battle with state lawmakers and the courts to try to open police officers’ backgrounds to public scrutiny, Ewert said. Legislators tend to back down when the police lobby claims officers’ lives could be put in danger.

Specific complaints against individual officers or the department, or even just a ballpark estimate of the number of complaints filed against law enforcement agents, will almost never reach public eyes outside of a leaked document or some other fluke.

There is, however, one slim chance to shed light on an officer’s background. If you’re arrested, like Bragg was, and if you think you were assaulted by the police, like Bragg does, you can file what’s known as a Pitchess motion. If granted, the motion (named after the California Supreme Court Case Pitchess v. Superior Court) will release information from the officer’s personnel file that might help establish a history of complaints to boost your case.

Your Pitchess motion will not be granted.

Ewert said he’s never encountered a case in which the judge granted a Pitchess motion in the last 17 years of his career. Often the water test is so high, no judge will ever order the release of personnel information about a cop.

As most attorneys do, Bragg’s attorney filed a Pitchess motion. Surprisingly, it was granted, revealing three people who had filed complaints against Bromby.

“It’s rare,” Ewert said of the case. “That’s surprising to me.”

One of the people listed in court documents told New Times Bromby grabbed her outside of a residence and arrested her for being drunk in public. She said she had been hanging out with a friend, drinking a couple of cocktails, and at one point her friend went outside to move his car. She heard a commotion outside, and when she stepped out the front door she was arrested.

“He arrested me in my front yard,” she said. “His report was kind of untrue.”

Two other names were listed in court documents, but the people who filed those complaints didn’t return repeated calls for comment.

A Google search of “Jeffry Bromby Paso Robles” turns up the website ratemycop.com, which gave Bromby one out of five stars and lists him as the only negatively rated officer with the Paso Robles PD.

One Paso Robles resident told New Times he made a complaint to the department because he saw Bromby throw a man from his bicycle. The resident said he was initially brushed off by the department, but was later told the department was looking into it.

But pipsqueak complaints from small-time offenders are probably at the bottom of Bromby’s list of problems.

One of their own

On May 13, the SLO County District Attorney’s Office charged Bromby with four misdemeanor counts of “unauthorized access of DMV information” and “unauthorized access of computer data.” He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is due in court in September.

The charges stemmed from a December 2010 audit by the California Department of Justice. According to a Paso Roles PD incident report and follow-up investigation by the District Attorney’s Office, Bromby allegedly used his Mobile Data Terminal to access the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System and run multiple searches in 2009 and 2010 on his ex-wife, his son, himself, and other unknown people who were not “associated with any call for service.” According to investigation documents, state statutes “make it illegal for any person to conduct unauthorized CLETS inquiries. Specifically, Bromby was required to acknowledge his understanding of this information annually when he was served with his performance review.”

According to a report filed by the District Attorney’s Office investigator, Bromby said he was running searches on his ex to make sure she had a valid license because he was worried about the people who might be driving around his kid. He also ran a search on his girlfriend’s ex-husband, who he believed was connected with some guys “that were slinging dope,” Bromby told the investigator. “I ran the guys and their license plate numbers so I could pass on the information to other shifts.”

Bromby started at the Paso PD in January 2007. For six months he worked as a reserve officer, essentially a part-time gig, before he was promoted to a full-time cop. But Bromby has been a SLO County cop for much longer.

From February 1995 to March 2005 he worked for the Arroyo Grande Police Department where he attained the rank of sergeant. He also worked as an officer for the SLO County Narcotics Task Force for a short time. After Arroyo Grande, Bromby moved to Atascadero, where he was an officer from March 2005 to January 2006, leaving a one-year gap between the time Bromby left Atascadero and when he started at Paso Robles.

Of course, there will never be an official reason as to why Bromby left Atascadero. He left the department after just 10 months, though personnel protections for cops make it impossible for any city official to say why.

What is certain is that Bromby is no longer with the Paso Robles PD. His name has been yanked from the police roster without a peep from the department. Given that Bromby is facing misdemeanor charges from the DA, and that his dirty laundry had been aired in court for Bragg’s case, you might reasonably assume the department fired him. You’d be wrong.

On June 30, Bromby resigned for undisclosed reasons. At the time of his resignation, he’d spent the previous 10 months on paid administrative leave. Between Oct. 28, 2010, and the time of his resignation, he collected $49,308 for 1,420 leave hours.

In fact, Bromby was able to cash in on $20,761 when he left as part of the city’s layoff prevention plan, which was an incentive offered to all employees to resign or retire prior to—you guessed it—June 30, 2011.

According to city records, Bromby’s severance package included the layoff prevention plan payoff, as well as $7,327 in “leave accrued.” Furthermore, Bromby had taken 281 hours of leave between January and October 2010, which netted $9,757 for that year.

The word “resign” is the official response from the Paso Robles PD, but he probably wasn’t sent off with a gold watch or a cake. No one in the police department can or will talk about Bromby or why he left.

“It’s not that I’m trying to withhold information,” Chief Solomon said. “I’m trying to follow the law in what I can and can’t answer.”

There likely will never be an official reason why Bromby is no longer a Paso cop. Despite formal complaints, criminal suspicions, and a fat payout when he left, there are state laws that prohibit officials from disclosing the terms of his departure.

According to Ewert, cops get special protections for their privacy beyond those for other public employees.

“The cops lobby has essentially made it secret for the public to get any information about law-enforcement officers at all,” Ewert said.

To really know why Bromby quietly shuffled out of Paso PD’s ranks, you might need to know something about a man named Norman Bateman.

The life and death of Norman Bateman

Norman Bateman loved his roses.

He built gigantic wooden boxes to house the sea of roses covering his yard at the end of a small cul de sac in a Paso Robles retirement community. His grass was usually littered with scraps of wood and remnants of handmade projects he built to contain and display his collection.

“Norm built things to hold his things,” his neighbor said.

And he used to butt heads with the homeowners’ association because of the roses; he even tangled with his neighbors when their tree crept into his collection.

“Everybody knew his roses,” the neighbor said.

Bateman was a hoarder. His house was clogged with boxes full of things he’d collected over the years. Collectible plates plastered the walls of his Paso Robles home. And he was an avid collector of train memorabilia and had a model train that chugged along a wall-mounted track.

He was also a milk-bottle collector. They were all polished and in pristine condition. He used to take his bottles to trade shows, when he didn’t have them stacked so tight in his home that it was difficult to squeeze into rooms.

But on Oct. 26, 2010, Bateman’s neighbors saw someone crawl over the roses and break into the house. They saw a man and a woman in the driveway, the man arguing on the phone with someone, demanding to be let in.

One of the neighbors, an older woman named Else, talked to the man. He told her he’d known Bateman for about 20 years and he was worried about Bateman’s things.

But neither Else nor her roommate Patty knew the man. They knew the woman, who works at a nursing home in Paso Robles and would come by every week or so to pick up Bateman’s laundry for him.

Indeed Bateman needed a lot of help. In his later years, he fell down often and needed constant help from friends and caretakers. At the time of the break-in, Bateman was confined to a nursing home and the house was empty, aside from the belongings that clogged the hallways and walls. For as long as Else and Patty could remember, Bateman was cared for by his lifelong friend, who they called “the farmer.”

But Else and Patty didn’t know the man in Bateman’s driveway. They were already wary of him, but when he hopped the fence, they called the police.

Not that it mattered. By the time the police had arrived, the man and the woman were gone. Before they left, however, Else and Patty saw the man passing bags back over the fence.

“It was bagsful—a bag full of stuff,” Patty said.

The officer who responded to the call told the neighbors someone had indeed broken through the back door.

And that was it. The officer left and the incident was so innocuous it was simply recorded as a suspicious event on the Paso PD dispatch log. Even the neighborhood homeowners’ association didn’t know someone went into Bateman’s home.

The next day, more police were there. At least two detectives came to inspect the house. They interviewed Else and Patty briefly, but the two women felt they were brushed off.

“They didn’t even really want to talk to me,” Patty said. “My roommate thought it was hinky. … I mean, you just don’t steal from old people.”

If it seems odd that two detectives were sent to follow up on a reported break-in of a vacant house in a retirement community, it was. Except that Jeffry Bromby was connected.

Bromby was placed on paid administrative leave the day after the police investigation. He never returned to work.

There aren’t any reports available detailing the suspected break-in or subsequent investigation—at least none that the Paso PD made public.

The department submitted a criminal case against Bromby to the District Attorney for charges of elder abuse and burglary, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Nothing happened.

“After review, the Office of the District Attorney declined to file criminal charges,” said DA spokesman Jerret Gran.

Despite a lack of official information, New Times was able to verify that Bromby did in fact go to Bateman’s house that day, along with his girlfriend, Jeana Mills.

In the weeks before the reported break-in, Bromby and Mills had become involved in a bitter dispute over Bateman’s power of attorney. Before they were involved, that responsibility fell on Bateman’s friend, the farmer.

But in his later years, Bateman was sick and confused. He became suspicious of the farmer and tried to shut him out. Then he approached Mills and Bromby, and they became involved.

Bromby and Mills took Bateman to a bank to transfer the accounts out of his name. They took him to a lawyer to transfer his power of attorney to Bromby, listing Mills as a back-up.

“He wanted us to take over—not take over, but help him through some things, and I guess wanted to get a power of attorney,” Mills said, adding that the bank account transfer was only temporary.

After the switch, Bateman’s friends convinced him that he’d made a mistake. His friends pleaded that he’d transferred his estate from a lifelong friend to two people they barely knew. Eventually, Bateman transferred everything back to the farmer, which was solidified in a court proceeding.

But the fight still lingers, particularly after the house incident.

Bateman died on Jan. 23 of respiratory arrest due to pulmonary embolism. He was 89 years old.

At the time of his death, Bateman was in a nursing home recovering from a stroke. His estate was estimated at about $65,000. After he died, Bateman’s nursing home was clogged with investigators from the Paso Robles PD, District Attorney, and Ombudsmen of SLO County.

None of them will speak about Bromby’s involvement with Bateman—Paso PD won’t even acknowledge whether there was an investigation due to personnel laws—but Bromby became the target of scrutiny that preceded his exodus from the department.

Today, any Bateman-related matters are essentially dead ends because the DA declined to press any charges. But Bateman’s friends still have lingering questions. One of the biggest questions is why they were never questioned by the Paso PD or the District Attorney. Bateman’s neighbors and the farmer said they were never interviewed after the incident at Batemen’s house.

Many of Bateman’s friends were nervous to speak out or file complaints because Bromby was a cop.

To date, they haven’t pursued anything further. However, one of his attorneys told New Times they plan to submit a complaint to the county Grand Jury about the seemingly lax investigation.

“It’s just a mess,” one of Bateman’s friends told New Times.

Even the coroner’s report alludes to a deep look into Bateman’s estate dispute. The coroner reported that he was contacted because of “some infighting amongst friends regarding power of attorney.” And the coroner reported Bateman was given “extra doses of his prescription cough syrup” shortly before he died.

According to the coroner’s report, the person who gave Bateman the medication was “somehow related to persons who were attempting to secure power of attorney for the decedent.” Mills confirmed that person is related to her.

The death was ruled to be natural, but was referred to Paso PD as part of an ongoing investigation. Bateman died with a codeine blood level of .19 mg/L. The coroner listed effective codeine levels as falling between .01 to .25 mg/L, and anything above .3 mg/L as “potentially toxic.”

Mills said the situation was sad. She’d known Bateman for 16 years. He came to her asking for help because he was worried his friend was stealing from him. So she decided to help. She agreed to take his power of attorney and assume control of his finances for a while.

There was no break-in, she said. Bateman asked her and Bromby to pick up a few things from his home, but they didn’t steal anything.

But if Mills and Bromby suspected someone was taking advantage of Bateman, stealing from him like he’d said, why not go to the police? After all, Mills works at a nursing home and Bromby was a cop at the time.

“I guess that’s what we should have done,” Mills said.

Mills wasn’t interviewed by the DA or Paso PD, either, she said.

Asked why he resigned from the Paso department, Bromby chuckled lightly and asked for an in-person interview, but never followed up with New Times.

No one will talk about what ultimately happened with Bromby. Chief Solomon said she’d like to tell the whole story from start to finish, but she’s prohibited from disclosing anything about an employee.

“We have thoroughly investigated all avenues in this matter and we’ve come to a conclusion with it, and I’m as frustrated as you are right now,” she said. “Because, quite frankly, I would like to share with you details that would be helpful in making that person realize that … .”

She trailed off.

“Everything was done up and up and correctly and making our community aware that we absolutely take these things seriously and follow everything through and investigate it thoroughly,” she continued. “I just can’t discuss the details; I’m precluded from doing that.”

Any documents that would be part of a theoretical Bromby investigation are now sealed. The DA sent everything back to the Paso PD, and that department won’t release anything related to internal affairs.

According to Solomon, an officer could be fired for an offense as minor as petty theft.

“They sign an oath of office, which says that they will uphold all laws,” she said. “Well, if they’re breaking the law, then that’s not upholding the law. I guess that oath of office is really their promise that they will uphold the law.”

But Bromby wasn’t fired. The department has made nothing public because doing so would be a legal headache.

One voice

So this is how it wraps up, for now at least. Bromby was hit with misdemeanor charges for allegedly disclosing information related to Mobile Data Terminal searches, a case even public officials say is kind of “boring.” He got to leave the department with a resignation on his record and a payout for 10 months of leave, plus the bonus for ducking out just before the cutoff date for Paso’s employee incentive.

But no one will ever give the full account of what happened: Why a police officer nonchalantly departed Paso’s ranks, or why he was suspected of something worth the suggestion of criminal charges, which petered out completely outside the public’s view.

The only people who know what happened are the department, which won’t talk; the District Attorney’s Office, which declined to press charges; and Bateman’s friends, who are too scared to talk.

The thing to remember, though, is that despite the limited information that did get out, nothing would have come to light if it weren’t for one woman who decided to come forward and say that what happened to her was wrong.

“I’ve never been in a fight before,” Bragg said. “I’m not a fighter, so when he started being aggressive with me, in my mind my instincts were saying to fight back, but my logic was saying he’s a cop, you don’t want to fight back.”

To the DA and Paso PD, the Bromby matters are essentially closed. He’s no longer a cop. Bateman’s estate is safely in the hands of his friends and trustees. Bragg won’t be prosecuted for bogus charges that she assaulted a cop and will serve her community service time.

Bromby is facing criminal misdemeanor charges for allegedly misusing police records, but a lot of people still feel like the official handling of various other complaints and suspicions was half-assed.

Everyone else is left wondering about all the things that will never be unveiled because Bromby was a cop—even if he isn’t anymore.

News Editor Colin Rigley can be reached at crigley@newtimesslo.com.

 

 

 

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