Embattled SRJC Police Chief to step down after controversial tenure


JoshuOne Barnes

SRJC District Police Chief Matt McCaffrey is stepping down from the post after two years in which the department dealt with multiple controversies.

JoshuOne Barnes, Investigative Reporter


Santa Rosa Junior College district police Chief Matt McCaffrey will step down after two years in which the small campus police department dealt with multiple controversies.

McCaffrey has accepted a position as captain at the Novato Police department, according to a letter SRJC President Dr. Frank Chong sent to faculty and staff. According to the letter, former interim Police Chief Joe Palla will return to guide the department through this transition.

“I want to thank Chief McCaffrey for his service to SRJC, and to let him know how much I personally appreciate all that he has done during his tenure at SRJC,” Dr. Chong wrote. He also congratulated McCaffrey on his appointment to the Novato PD.

Chief Palla said he is looking forward to returning to the department and his objective is to take a look at the entire department to see what is working and what is not. Palla said that nothing is off the table when it comes to personnel and policy decisions.

Palla said he would “never say never,” but his intent is not to become the permanent chief, only to guide the department through this transition. When asked what qualities would make a good chief of police, Palla said that the man or woman who takes over has to have the right temperament. “It’s got to be a person, I think, who is both suited technically in the law enforcement profession, but also has the temperament and the personality to interact within the college environment,” Palla said.

Lieutenant Dave Willat, who recently retired from the SRJC District Police, shared thoughts on the change. “I applaud Dr. Chong’s decision to bring Chief Joe Palla back to lead the police department,” Lt. Willat wrote. “Over the last 40-plus years I have worked for 11 different police chiefs-including Joe Palla and observed various styles of management.  Chief Palla is fair, objective, and collaborative. He understands and appreciates the culture of SRJC and how community policing should be implemented in the District.”

Willat said Palla is an expert in formulating and accomplishing reasonable goals and objectives. “He truly cares about the District and the people working in the police department.  He is honest, makes his expectations clear, [and] has a strong moral compass and sense of work ethics and leads by example.  The police department and the District are fortunate to have him back to lead the police department.”

McCaffrey joined the department in Oct. 2012 while the school was quietly dealing with the fallout from a training exercise that sent one cadet to the hospital with alcohol poisoning.

The month after McCaffrey started at SRJC, a sergeant reported to him that he thought fellow officer Jeffrey Holzworth might be stealing parking money from meters and pay stations. McCaffrey contacted Santa Rosa Police to investigate. After tailing Holzworth for three weeks, SRPD arrested him. He plead guilty last May to charges of grand theft and receiving stolen property for stealing at least $285,000 in parking revenue. He is serving a four-year prison sentence.

During McCaffrey’s two-and-a-half-years, the SRJC District Police have faced multiple scandals and investigations. These outsourced investigations into wrongdoing within the department have cost the district tens of thousands of dollars.

Former district employees who had come forward to report on what McCaffrey characterized as evidence handling issues have reported that the chief and coworkers mistreated them as a result of their whistleblowing.

Two of the three employees who were exposed to graphic images of child pornography as a result of the evidence mishandling have been forced out of the department since the incident. Joshua Richards and Vanessa Spaeth said that, despite doing the right thing, their careers were ruined after they reported discovering the images on a fellow employee’s personal thumb drive.

An investigation by Chris Reynolds, a private investigator retained by the school, cleared the district of wrongdoing, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has launched several inquiries into unfair employment practices at the department, according to parties involved in the incidents.

Reynolds’ investigation from July 2014 until Jan. 2015 cost the school $35,130, according to records obtained from the district through a California Public Records Act request.

According to sources with knowledge of the EEOC complaints, the district is being looked at for maintaining a hostile work environment, retaliation against employees and discrimination during McCaffrey’s tenure at the department.