Outside investigators called in as racial strife deepens at Humboldt State’s police department

Mad River Union

Note: Following the recent statement of No Confidence signed by most of the officers of the Humboldt State University Police Department, first disclosed in late September, last week saw a fresh revelation in the leadership crisis affecting the department with the disclosure that the university has retained outside investigators to evaluate complaints by officers against Chief Donn Peterson. That announcement, below, followed the release of a statement by longtime UPD Sgt. John Packer, also found below. – Ed.


 Arcata, CA. According to officials with the Statewide University Police Association (SUPA), its officers at the Humboldt State University Police Department have cast a vote of no confidence in the Department’s police chief, Donn Peterson. Nine of 10 officers who completed the survey voted against the Chief, while the remaining voter abstained.

UPD Chief Donn Peterson

SUPA conducts annual leadership surveys at each CSU campus. The most recent nearly unanimous vote of no confidence in Police Chief Donn Peterson is in line with previous year’s results. Chief Peterson took the job at HSU after leaving his former post with Florida’s Broward County Sheriff’s Department amid scandal. Peterson still regularly spends time out of state with his family in Florida.

According to HSU Officer Billy Kijsriopas,  "Chief Peterson's frequent, extended bouts of time out of state leave the department in the hands of a Lieutenant who also spends an unusual amount of time away from campus. Our officers look to the Chief for guidance and leadership, but he has fallen short of the standards they and the University community deserve."

According to Officer Kijsriopas, absenteeism is only a fraction of the failure in leadership the Department has seen since Peterson came to HSU in January 2015. Among the Chief’s other offenses, Kijsriopas cites manipulation of crime statistics reporting, creating a hostile work environment including making racial slurs aimed at minority officers, multiple violations of the Public Safety Officer’s Procedural Bill of Rights Act and blatant violations of labor laws that include a derogatory, anti-labor letter which Peterson authored and posted publically.

Says SUPA president Jeff Solomon, “Our members in the Humboldt State University Police Department have consistently reported absenteeism, mismanagement and more in departmental leadership. When you have a department united like this, clearly there is a problem.”

When asked what steps he and other HSU officers would like to see, Kijsriopas replied, “The damage to morale and the risk to campus safety is too great – it’s past time we had a new chief.”

The Statewide University Police Association represents law enforcement officers on all twenty-three California State University campuses.

If you would like more information, please call Jeff Solomon at 916-690-7280 or email [email protected].

Statement by Doug Dawes, vice president for administration and finance

As communicated to the campus community in October, the University has retained the OIR Group (Office of Independent Review) to review the allegations and complaints against Chief Peterson. 

The OIR is an independent and respected law enforcement assessment firm. The University has been working with the OIR by providing information the firm needs to conduct a thorough and rigorous investigation. Out of respect for the process, which could take several months, I have asked Chief Peterson not to comment further until the investigation has concluded.

Statement by UPD Sgt. John Packer

My name is John Packer and I have served under seven Chiefs during my 26 years as a police officer in this community and currently serve as a sergeant at the University Police Department (UPD). I am the senior police officer in the department and have served under Chief Donn Peterson for approximately five years. I am the only American of African descent serving at University Police Department under Chief Peterson.

I am compelled to share my experiences after reading Chief Peterson’s statements in the October 11, 2019 online issue of the North Coast Journal and the October 14, 2019 online issue of the Times Standard.

Chief Peterson claimed that “Anyone who knows me knows I don’t talk politics or religion in a  professional setting or during work.” Chief Peterson’s claim is not true.

Sgt. John Packer

Chief Peterson claimed that “The racist remarks never happened in the way the officers say.” Chief Peterson’s claim is not true.

 I firmly believe that the color of one’s skin, as with all immutable characteristics, is not a predictor of behavior or intelligence or ability, etc. While I have experienced incidents of racism and bigotry during my life, it has been my practice to disregard the ignorance expressed by the person and not carry an angry sentiment with me. I do however clearly remember the times when I have been targeted by racist and bigoted intolerance related to my race and beliefs.

I clearly remember being at a scheduled evaluation meeting with Chief Peterson and Lt. Hansen. During that meeting in the Chief’s office, Chief Peterson was extremely upset to the point of using profanity directed at me. The Chief’s frustration and anger stemmed from his opinion that I did not respect Lt. Hansen, that I created division at the Department and that I fail as a leader because I am not a “follower.” At the end of the meeting, Lt. Hansen stated to me, “We’re not friends and we never will be, admit it.” I agreed with her statement. Chief Peterson followed with, “John you know you’re obligated to work as a slave unto his master.”

At the beginning of my next shift Chief Peterson approached me in the hallway outside the dispatch center and stated, in reference to the slavery comment he made in our meeting, “John I can say that because we both read the Bible.” I was speechless and walked away without responding to the Chief.

Over time Chief Peterson has made additional derogatory statements to me such as, “John you’re like dealing with the North verses the South,” and he excuses himself with follow up statements such as, “I’m just trying to find analogies that work with you.”

Chief Peterson has become more emboldened over the past four years, and moved from making private remarks in our meetings, to demonstrating obvious displays of racism and contempt towards me in whatever audience is available. What once only occurred behind closed doors, has now progressed to belittling statements in department meetings, and to outright derogatory statements at sergeant’s meetings.

Any claim that Chief Peterson’s analogies, historical quotes, nuances or his intent were misinterpreted by me or other officers is insulting and does excuse the impact or justify Chief Peterson’s actions.

John Packer





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