HESPERIA • What Hesperia Unified School District police chief Mike Graham did with a memo from his boss — and why — could determine the rest of his career.
Graham was suspended in August after more than 10 years with the HUSD police and a year of public battles with Superintendent Mark McKinney and school board president Chris Bentley. At Graham's request, his termination hearing is being held in public, with a final decision from the school board-turned-jury expected Monday.
At the heart of a two-day hearing last week was a July 18 memo from McKinney to Graham, outlining a more restricted mission for the HUSD police — most of whom had previously worked for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department or other law enforcement agencies.
The directive "was a pretty drastic departure from what our procedures had been," according to officer Bill Holland, who testified on Thursday. The department was no longer to make felony arrests, wasn't to use police vehicles and wasn't to transport prisoners to jail, according to Holland.
The district later rolled back or did not implement all of the proposed changes.
According to attorney Paul Coble, who represented the district's case against Graham, the chief held up the memo as being "absurd," showing it to his officers, members of the sheriff's department and journalists. The Daily Press obtained a copy of the memo.
"It appeared to me that this was a roundabout way to make me look bad and undermine my direction," McKinney said during testimony on Wednesday.
No witnesses testified that they had heard Graham speak derisively about the memo during the hearing Wednesday and Thursday.
"Did anyone describe the directives of the memo as 'absurd?'" asked Graham's attorney, Russell Perry.
"Yes," responded Holland, who also serves as a Hesperia city councilman.
"Me," Holland said.
Graham said he intended to fully comply with the July 18 memo, even if he disagreed with it. However, he said Thursday the contents of the memo couldn't be private if he was going to carry out the directives in it — especially since the things the HUSD police would no longer be allowed to do would, in theory, need to be taken over by deputies from Hesperia's sheriff's station.
But Graham didn't have much time to comply: Two weeks after sharing the memo with sheriff's deputies, Graham was placed on administrative leave.
The five members of the Hesperia Unified school board will vote on Graham's appeal of his termination. They will begin deliberations in closed session at 4:30 p.m. Monday.
Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com.