Harvey Woo, a retired lieutenant with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, has been conditionally hired to lead the embattled police department of the Twin Rivers Unified School District, two trustees said Wednesday.
Trustee Michael Baker said the board discussed Woo for about 20 minutes Tuesday night before voting 4-3 in favor of hiring him. Support came from trustees John Dexter, Cortez Quinn, Bob Bastian and Walter Garcia Kawamoto.
Woo will not become police chief until he clears a criminal background check, a standard procedure for such a job offer, according to Baker and Dexter.
Efforts to reach Woo on Wednesday were unsuccessful. His proposed salary was not available.
Dexter said hiring an interim chief was one alternative under consideration at Tuesday night's meeting. But it made more sense to hire Woo for the post outright, he said, because of positive feedback on his candidacy.
"The problem is, it's hard to find a quality person who wants to run a school police department," Dexter said.
Woo was vetted by two interview panels one with law enforcement members and the other with senior level management from the district, he said.
"They both had rave reviews for him," Dexter said. "When you have a panel that says it's a great candidate, I feel very positive."
Baker said he opposed Woo's hiring because he was concerned about discrepancies over the salary range among the various advertisements for the position. He also wanted to broaden the candidate pool. Woo, he said, was one of three finalists.
Even so, Baker said he is ready to support Woo "and continue heading this police department in a positive direction."
The chief's job has been vacant for several months as the department has faced a series of public setbacks.
Five men sued the district last year, accusing officers of brutality and false arrest in 2010. They said former district officials had fostered a toxic climate, and Twin Rivers ultimately paid $650,000 to settle the case.
Separately, the district reached a $36,500 settlement in December with Christopher Breck, the former police chief, who had been placed on paid administrative leave while under investigation for misconduct. His department faced allegations of excessive car towings to raise revenue and storing unregistered weapons in the evidence room.
Breck earned $116,000 a year as police chief, a position he held since 2008, when Twin Rivers formed in a merger of four north area school districts.
In August, acting Police Chief Scott LaCosse resigned almost eight months after signing on to reform the department in January 2012. He and his lieutenant, who also quit, disagreed with board trustees over changes the police leaders wanted to make.