After 16 years with the Broadmoor Police Department, former chief Dave Parenti never predicted he’d be unceremoniously dumped.
The police force, which employs less than a dozen full-time officers and patrols the unincorporated San Mateo County community three miles south of San Francisco, wedged between Skyline Boulevard and I-280, was like a “family” to him, he said in a recent interview.
On Christmas mornings, he would show up at 6 a.m. to cover his officers’ shifts so they could spend time with their families. When he was an officer short, the septuagenarian hopped into a car to work patrol himself in the community where two-thirds of the households own their own homes. He even earned the title “chief emeritus” for his years of service and dedication to the small-town police force.
Then, in June 2019, he handed the reins to former San Francisco Police Department Deputy Chief Michael Connolly, and the police department he knew transformed into a small outpost run like a personal fiefdom, with the hiring of Connolly’s old friends and alleged retaliation against those whom Connolly suspected of objecting to his management decisions. It was in this environment that Connolly fired Parenti, who had stayed with the department part-time to work cases and help with the transition. When Connolly terminated Parenti in July 2020, he allegedly accused the old chief of trying to steal his job.
Formerly the head of the San Francisco Police Department’s “Principled Policing Bureau,” Connolly became Broadmoor chief after three years of serving on the enclave’s police commission.
The position could be viewed as an SFPD officer’s public service in the community where he lives. But eventually, that morphed into a paid position, and it was after his transition from commissioner to chief in March 2019 that objections began. In a sworn complaint filed with the state Fair Political Practices Commission in August 2020, Syed Husain, a part-time reserve officer, described Connolly’s management as a “reign of terror.”
The complaint questions the ethics — and legality — of how Connolly took over as chief. And, once there, the complaint alleges, Connolly’s actions became untenable.
Husain and others allege that, as the new police chief, Connolly mismanaged department funds, created positions for his friends and gave them perks. Moreover, they contend, he retaliated against officers who blew the whistle. “Chief Connolly used taxpayer funds to pay his close friends and displayed significant favoritism toward them,” Husain alleged in his complaint filed on Aug. 10, 2020.
Speaking generally about the state of the Broadmoor Police Department under Connolly, Parenti agreed: “What’s being done in that department right now is a travesty.”
Authorities are investigating.
San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe confirmed that his office is investigating the “manner in which the police chief took office.”
Indeed, Connolly may have violated state law during a March 12, 2019, meeting in which the Broadmoor Police Commission, of which Connolly was then chairman, elected him to become chief. Critics allege that in pushing for his appointment as chief while sitting on the Police Commission, Connolly ran afoul of The Brown Act, a state law regulating government meetings, as well as political conflict-of-interest laws.
Husain alleged in his whistleblower complaint that Connolly forced a vote on the matter, even though it was not on the agenda — and did not properly recuse himself, despite having a clear financial interest in the outcome.
One month later, while already the anointed future chief and still a commissioner, Connolly voted on his future salary, as well as a 5 percent increase in taxes to Broadmoor residents. This revenue would find its way into the police department’s coffers, and would be spent largely at Connolly’s discretion.
“We continue to look at it,” Wagstaffe said, noting that his office has not yet “arrived at a conclusion,” though he hopes to reach one in a month or so.
If the San Mateo District Attorney concludes that Connolly violated the law, Wagstaffe said his office could bring criminal charges, seek to remove Connolly from his position, or refer the matter back to the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, where a whistleblower complaint about Connolly’s alleged ethics violation was initially filed and later referred to the DA.
In response to a detailed list of emailed questions for this article, Connolly acknowledged: “This is all under investigation by the San Mateo District Attorney.”
But, he added: “It would be improper to respond until that investigation is adjudicated.”
Wagstaffe, however, volunteered general thoughts about the current state of the Broadmoor Police Department and the commission that oversees it. “This commission and agency really needs … ” He paused, choosing his words carefully: “Someone needs to take a good look at this.”
“Is [the department] serving the community the best?” he added. “There’s an awful lot going on there.”
He did not elaborate, but said in an earlier interview: “There’s a lot of tension in that agency now.”
Connolly spent 29 years with the San Francisco Police Department. Less than two months after SFPD Chief Bill Scott took the reins in January 2017, he promoted Connolly from captain to deputy chief — an unusually high jump. Unlike his peers in the promotion spree, Connolly skipped the rank of commander.
Connolly headed up the SFPD’s “Professional Standards and Principled Policing Bureau,” where he oversaw the “compliance program” for the SFPD’s implementation of the U.S. Department of Justice’s 272 reform recommendations. During Connolly’s oversight, the SFPD completed a mere 4 percent of those reforms. Although the pace has sped up in recent years, the reforms are still not complete.
As Connolly remained in the highest ranks of the San Francisco Police Department, he also served as a Broadmoor Police Commissioner, elected by Broadmoor residents in January, 2016. He later served as the commission’s chair, until he took command of the Broadmoor Police Department in June, 2019. The police commission positions are unpaid, and Connolly left the SFPD in May 2019.
In his department profile, Connolly wrote that he’s lived in Broadmoor for some 26 years.
It was the manner in which Connolly became chief that prompted Syed Husain, a reserve officer, to file his sworn Fair Political Practices Commission whistleblower complaint in August, 2020. That is the complaint the FPPC subsequently passed to the San Mateo County DA to investigate.
According to Husain’s complaint, the appointment was tainted from the start.
In December 2018, Broadmoor Police Chief Arthur Stellini had announced his retirement, and Parenti was named interim chief as the department searched for a replacement. Parenti had served as chief from 2011 to 2014 and was subsequently given the title chief emeritus; he knew the ins and outs of the department.
That is when Connolly kicked off a “pressure campaign demanding that Chief Parenti recommend Commissioner Connolly, and only Commissioner Connolly, as the next Chief of Police for Broadmoor,” according to Husain’s complaint.
It is unclear if the position was publicly advertised or if any candidates responded.
But Parenti agreed that Connolly continually asked him to recommend him as chief. And, during a March 12, 2019, Police Commission meeting, Parenti relented.
Following a closed-session discussion, Connolly — who was then the commission’s chair — called the meeting back to order to address an item that was not on the agenda: the appointment of a police chief.
Parenti nominated him to take the post of police chief. Connolly did not recuse himself before the vote or leave the room, and his two fellow commissioners voted him in 2-0. Connolly then recused himself.
“But the motion has carried … for myself to be the next chief of Broadmoor,” Connolly proudly stated.
In his complaint, Husain asserts that this violated different regulations outlined in the Brown Act and state conflict-of-interest laws.
First, the Brown Act states that the commission cannot not initiate a vote on an item that is not on the agenda, which Connolly did. And second, according to California conflict of interest laws, officials cannot use their position to participate in any action in which they have a financial interest. At that time, the chief of Broadmoor earned well over $100,000 annually, and Connolly would become the beneficiary of that salary.
David Snyder, the executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said he could not comment on the purported conflict-of-interest violations. But he did note that if the commission voted to approve Connolly as the next chief of Broadmoor without having placed the item on the agenda beforehand, then it violated the Brown Act.
And honoring the Brown Act is no trifle, he said: “It’s there to prevent dark-of-night actions by legislative bodies and designed to ensure that the public has notice about what their elected representatives plan to do, so they can show up both to observe and comment about the action.”
“Otherwise,” he added, “legislative bodies can meet in secret, and decide on a controversial issue … when no one is there.”
But the purported violations did not end.
At a May 14, 2019, meeting, Connolly — who would assume the post of chief in June, and was still acting as the commission’s chair — voted on the budget that would contain his $150,000 salary. The $2.6 million budget passed. And in a subsequent item during that meeting, Connolly voted to approve a 5 percent property tax increase for Broadmoor residents that would funnel money into the police department’s general fund.
The following year, Connolly’s salary increased to $160,000. He earned that salary on top of the roughly $264,000 yearly pension he received after his 29-year SFPD career.
Broadmoor is an unincorporated area of San Mateo County with fewer than 5,000 residents. It is less than a square mile of territory ensconced within the borders of Daly City, and its ranch-style homes sell for a median price of $1.1 million. It is 40 percent white, 40 percent Asian and 20 percent Latinx.
And Broadmoor is unique: It claims California’s only “Police Protection District” — a Police Department and commission that taxes residents directly for its services.
Broadmoor is also unique because, traditionally, it receives extra help from around 20 so-called “reserve officers,” largely unpaid volunteer cops who work part-time. For the most part, they are legally entitled to perform many of the same duties as full-time police officers — such as making arrests and using deadly force — as they are trained and certified by the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission.
Despite the 5 percent tax increase that Connolly and the commission initiated in May 2019, the Broadmoor Police Department was hardly flush. Its budget is small: $2.6 million in 2019, and $2.8 million in 2020.
But after Connolly became the chief, spending increased. Although this may have been due in part to an increase in the department’s insurance premiums — over which Connolly appeared to have little control — that left little room for extra spending.
So it raised eyebrows when, over the course of a year, expenses started rolling in.
An analysis of Broadmoor Police Department financial records shows Connolly has indeed vastly outspent his predecessor, Parenti. From December 2019 to June 2020, Connolly spent $789,707 more than Parenti spent during the same period the year before, the records show.
Much of this new spending — nearly $200,000 — has gone to part-time salaries and perks for two of Connolly’s SFPD friends, who he has brought in. Within a year of becoming chief, Connolly spent more than $3,300 on new badges, including a $402 badge for himself, according to department records.
The spending also included new decals for the cars, new uniforms for the new officers and tens of thousands of dollars on repairs for the vehicles, according to department records. Some new vehicles — four Ford Explorers, together costing more than $107,000 — have raised the most questions, especially as they were claimed by officers who hardly use them for official police business.
One of the Explorers, a $24,660 purchase, went to Connolly solely for “off-duty” use. (Husain’s company, Octane Motorsport, sold that Explorer to the Broadmoor Police Department, records show.) While on duty, he drove a Chevy Tahoe, according to sources and department records.
Two other Explorers went to Connolly’s newly hired commander, Patrick Tobin — one for on-duty use, and one for “off-duty” use.
Moreover, Connolly created two top positions that went to old colleagues from the SFPD — Tobin and Ronald Banta.
Mission Local has previously reported on Tobin. He is a defendant in an ongoing lawsuit that accuses him of harassing a gay SFPD officer for his sexuality. Years before the lawsuit, when Tobin was working in the Mission, he was suspended in 2001 for intentionally dropping off two young people in rival gang territory, which led to one of the teenagers being stabbed with a screwdriver. The next day, Tobin assaulted a youth for hanging out in a park after dark.
According to Husain’s complaint, Connolly, then a commissioner, “strong-armed” then-Chief Stellini into hiring Tobin as a reserve officer shortly after Tobin’s retirement from the SFPD in June, 2017. He did this, the complaint alleges, despite the department having “significant concerns given Mr. Tobin’s very public disciplinary history.” Stellini relented, Husain alleges.
Stellini declined to comment for this article. Husain also declined to be interviewed.
On taking command of Broadmoor in June 2019, Connolly immediately promoted Tobin to the rank of “commander” — a new position that came with a part-time salary of around $60,000. Tobin received his off-duty car this February — meaning he only uses the car to drive to and from work, and sometimes weekend family outings, according to sources.
In April, 2020, Connolly then hired Banta, a former lieutenant who retired from the SFPD a year earlier. Although Banta does not appear to have Tobin’s very public disciplinary history, he appears to have played a role in covering up a SFPD lieutenant’s potential involvement in a 2003 kidnapping, the San Francisco Chronicle reported at the time.
Banta‘s part-time salary in 2020 was $52,800. It is unclear if he also has an off-duty vehicle.
The notion that anyone from Connolly’s rank-and-file would question his financial management seemed to rankle the chief.
One instance of this came on July 21, 2020, a day after Connolly fired Parenti. According to an Aug. 11, 2020, letter sent by attorney Scott Emblidge to the Broadmoor Police Commission on behalf of a client he did not name, Connolly met with two reserve officers. During the three-hour discussion, the reserve officers discussed their concerns that, since Connolly took over as chief, the reserves were being treated unfairly, along with other concerns about how he was managing the department.
Sources say that the two officers were Husain and T.J. Knivston.
Connolly purportedly observed that the issues they brought up were suspiciously similar to those under examination in a public records request Connolly had received weeks earlier from Emblidge, according to Emblidge’s letter. And, at the end of the meeting, Connolly allegedly warned the officers: “If somebody stabs me in the back, I’m going to break their arm and use that knife in unthinkable ways.”
Emblidge wrote in his letter that Connolly’s comments toward the two officers — as well as his firing Parenti a day earlier — were potentially “unlawful” and the commission should hire legal counsel and investigate.
“Is this the type of police chief you believe is the best for Broadmoor?” he wrote.
None of the three commissioners to whom the letter was addressed would comment. Commissioner James Kucharszky said he was not immediately available to comment and deferred to San Mateo’s Office of the County Council, a representative of which did not return messages.
Although he nominated Connolly for police chief, Parenti failed to avoid his wrath. Once Connolly came on in June 2019, Parenti stayed to assist with the transition and to work a few cases as an investigator.
Then, one morning in July, 2020, he showed up at work, sat down to log into his computer and discovered he was locked out. At Connolly’s request, he met with the police chief in a conference room. The chief’s two former SFPD pals, Tobin and Banta, were also present, Parenti recalls.
Connolly grilled Parenti about a letter he received weeks earlier from Emblidge requesting a wide range of department financial documents.
“I told him I had nothing to do with the request,” Parenti recalled, and Emblidge confirmed he did not in his Aug. 11, 2020 letter. But Connolly, Parenti said, did not believe him.
“You want to be the chief,” Parenti recalls Connolly telling him repeatedly during the meeting. “You want my job.”
Parenti says that, of course, he did not want the job. He had already held the position twice.
The meeting ended with Connolly firing Parenti and telling the former chief, he “could not be trusted.”
As Parenti walked out of the office, Connolly and his men inspected the items he carried out, including Parenti’s gun, which he owned. “I was treated like a criminal,” Parenti said. “I was there for 16 years and that’s the way they treated me.”