The Colusa County Board of Supervisors’ decision to revisit the salaries of the District Attorney’s Office investigators will come too late to keep the investigative unit intact, officials said.
District Attorney Matthew Beauchamp last week lamented the loss of Investigator Chris Liston to another agency as a result of the pay inequities in county law enforcement.
Liston’s last day was Nov. 20, and his departure to Butte County came just weeks on the heels of Investigator Sara Martin’s departure to the Colusa Police Department.
Beauchamp predicted the outcome after the board essentially demoted the investigators in April when they bumped the salaries in the Colusa County Sheriff’s Department as a retention strategy to keep deputies.
Investigators require significantly higher education and training than entry law enforcement positions, and were historically paid about 10 percent more money.
“The fact that we had a failure to have a salary adjustment some months ago has devastated the law enforcement arm of the District Attorney’s Office,” Beauchamp told the board, at their Nov. 24 meeting.
Liston was with the District Attorney’s Office for five years. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to being an investigator, he was assigned to the Colusa County Sheriff’s Task Force, where he engaged in traditional policing, including drug interdiction and the dangerous business of executing search warrants.
Investigator Liston was also a state certified firearms instructor who assisted other agencies, including the Williams Police Department, in qualifying their officers with their duty weapons, and was trained in the protocols in the event of an officer involved shooting anywhere in Colusa County.
Liston recently spent four weeks training at the Secret Service National Computer Forensic Institute in Hover, Ala. The training involved highly technical evidence extraction from cellular phones seized in criminal investigations.
Prior to Liston’s forensic training, law enforcement in Colusa County had to go to larger counties, such as Yolo County and Sacramento County for assistance in the extraction of cellular phone evidence.
Martin’s and Liston’s departures have left Beauchamp with just his chief investigator, who is busy with trial preparations.
“We’ve had five homicides since 2017 and a couple of those are getting close to trial,” Beauchamp said.
Beauchamp added that without sufficient and highly trained investigators, his office would not be able – anytime soon – investigate Grand Jury complaints of criminal corruption, alleged voter fraud, which the Colusa County Election Department recently referred, and background checks.
“All of those specialty areas we won’t be able to assist with,” Beauchamp said.
With the loss of Liston, Colusa County also lost about $37,000 in equipment that the Secret Service gave to Colusa County at the end of his cellular extraction training.
“When Sara Martin left, she took with her about $30,000 from an NDIC grant,” Beauchamp said. “She’s now a Colusa Police Department lieutenant and I’m happy for her. At least she is local.”
Beauchamp said with the loss of valuable resources, the DA’s office is handicapped.
Additionally, Beauchamp said none of the candidates that have applied for an investigator position are qualified, and that one – an applicant from Georgia – is not POST certified (peace officer basic training). One has not been a peace officer for more than a year and failed to pass the probation period at his or her last agency, and a third had failed to pass the probationary period at his or her last two agencies.
“I don’t think the county will want me hiring people that are going to be a problem for the county,” Beauchamp said. “I think it would be a potential liability.”
Beauchamp said even if his office could hire an investigator, it would be likely that they would not be up to speed for many years, and certainly to the caliber of the two investigators the county lost when the Board of Supervisors failed to approve the appropriate salary adjustments to retain his staff.
Beauchamp said he can’t even look to the Sheriff’s Office, which has long been his most reliable pool of candidates, because the transfer would amount to a demotion and salary cut, rather than a law enforcement promotion with a pay increase to match.
The Board of Supervisors plan to discuss the investigator positions fully at their Dec. 15 meeting.
“We’ve done a full salary study, benefits included, and we will present that to the board, along with the qualifications, as compared to other counties,” said Interim Human Resources Director, David Prentiss.