FRESNO -- Former California City fire chief Justin Vincent has filed a lawsuit against city officials claiming he was pressured to be friendly to marijuana growers.
In a lawsuit filed April 21 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, Vincent accused the California City officials of pressuring him to be “business friendly” to marijuana growers by allowing them to obtain permits without meeting fire code requirements.
Vincent was hired as fire chief in May 2017. The day he was sworn in, he granted over 30 marijuana businesses conditional permits for growing facilities. The suit alleges he was offered and refused to accept bribes from local marijuana businesses owners.
When he reported this pressure to city’s human resources department, the complaint claims the city failed to document or investigate his “reports of bribery and improper pressure” from city officials.” In July 2017, Vincent presented the city council with a marijuana impact report, outlining the fire and safety dangers associated with the industry. He also included recommendations for safety measures.
City Council members and Mayor Jennifer Wood reportedly expressed concern that following those recommendations would be too costly. The suit claims Public Works Director Craig Platt told Vincent that he was going to “kill the town.” After the report and Vincent’s refusal to allow exceptions for marijuana growers, the complaint alleges that Vincent was subjected to retaliation.
Finance Director and Assistant City Manager Jeannie O’Laughlin is accused of repeatedly reminding Vincent that he was still on probation and “needed to ease up on the Marijuana industry or he wasn’t going to pass probation.” When Vincent reported this to human resources, his suit claims the city didn’t document or investigate his complaints.
In November 2017, City Manager Tom Weil gave Vincent a positive performances review that stated he “exceeds expectations” in every category. The evaluation also emphasized that he “should be cooperative in working with the Marijuana industry.” Weil retired later that month and the position was filled by Robert Stockwell who terminated Vincent in December.
The suit claims Stockwell emphasized the need “to make it as easy as possible for Marijuana businesses to start bringing revenues into the City.”
“Stockwell indicated that he did not agree that the Fire Department should require the Marijuana growing operations to put sprinklers in their facilities as required by the Fire Code,” the complaint said.
Vincent is being represented by Ronald P. Ackerman and Oshea V. Orchid of Public Employees Legal LLP in Culver City.