California

Lawsuit’s explosive claims of paranoia, retaliation and discrimination rock San Joaquin DA

Stunning allegations in a lawsuit by her deposed second-in-command – including paranoid fears about lip readers, FBI wiretapping, drones and moles – have rocked the office of San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar.

The lawsuit was filed June 27 by veteran San Joaquin County prosecutor Ronald J. Freitas and released this week by the DA’s Office in Stockton. In it, Freitas paints a disturbing portrait of a leader who perceived threats and political rivals at her back; chronically abused employees to the tune of more than $100,000 in cash settlements; and installed potential competitors for her DA’s seat, including Freitas, into plum jobs in DA leadership and on her election campaigns to protect her power.

But Freitas said Salazar, once his underling and now the county’s top prosecutor, singled him out in 2018 in a months-long effort to force him to resign or retire.

A 30-year veteran prosecutor and the county’s former assistant district attorney, Freitas, 57, was once a close ally of Salazar’s. She elevated Freitas to the spot before she demoted him and shipped him off to the DA’s Lodi bureau in 2018, Freitas details in the suit.

Coercion, retaliation, harassment and discrimination, defamation and false imprisonment are among the litany of claims alleged. Freitas seeks unspecified damages in the 24-page lawsuit filed in San Joaquin Superior Court.

“The District Attorney denies all allegations and unsubstantiated characterizations made in the lawsuit,” San Joaquin County District Attorney’s officials said in a four-paragraph statement dated July 2. The DA’s office had not formally been served with the suit, according to the statement, calling it “an internal employment matter.”

According to the lawsuit, after Salazar was sworn in as district attorney in 2015, she was uneasy and her paranoia grew: Lip readers could decipher her words, she feared. FBI agents were tapping her phones, she told her friends. Hovering drones armed with cameras and recorders could capture her conversations. Moles were in her midst, she complained. Her office crawled with listening bugs. Sweep them out, she ordered staffers. Political rivals inside and out were scheming to take her seat.

Freitas alleged Salazar remarked at his “conservative thinking” and told him in March 2018 to “take (his) 30 years with the County and get out!” Freitas said he refused and Salazar only turned up the heat.

Three hours after Freitas filed a federal fair employment complaint, Salazar placed the veteran deputy DA on administrative leave, seizing his keys, computers and phones and blocking his files, effectively walling Freitas off from the office he worked for three decades, he said.

Then, he said, she called the police.

Freitas alleged Salazar summoned an armed officer to detain him in his office “for a substantial period of time” while Freitas signed a memorandum that placed him on leave before ordering him out of the building.

Freitas detailed the moment in the suit: “The officer was wearing a badge on his chest and was carrying handcuffs and a loaded pistol with the hammer cocked back. The pistol was holstered on his hip with several extra magazines of live ammunition,” the complaint read. “When Plaintiff asked the officer why Plaintiff was being placed on administrative leave, the officer answered, ‘Tori wants you to think about some of the things you’ve been told.’”

Salazar’s office in the statement said she will respond to each of the claims “at the legally appropriate time.”

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Darrell Smith covers courts and California news for The Sacramento Bee. He joined The Bee in 2006 and previously worked at newspapers in Palm Springs, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Marysville. A Sacramento Valley native, Smith was born and raised at Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville.
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