MARTINEZ -- A Danville man says he was bullied by co-workers and ultimately fired from the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office in retaliation for coming forward against a well-liked deputy who prosecutors allege was paid in guns and drugs to set up men for drunken driving arrests.
William Howard said he was given no reason as to why he was fired last week after 19 years as a reserve Sheriff's deputy, and believes he was sacrificed for being a whistle blower.
"The system is geared toward punishing people that speak up," Howard said. "In all the training they say, 'Do the right thing,' but they never tell you how to go about it. The reality is they don't really want you to do it."
In an email to this newspaper Wednesday afternoon, Sheriff David Livingston said he could not comment on the circumstances surrounding Howard's departure for confidentiality reasons but dismissed the notion that he lost his job in retaliation for speaking out on the "Dirty DUI" scandal.
"Mr. Howard's claim of being a 'whistle blower' is nonsense," Livingston said. "This case was well under investigation when he finally came forward to explain his involvement."
Howard's statements to investigators last year were included in a Sheriff's Office affidavit related to the arrest and criminal indictment of former Danville officer Stephen Tanabe, who has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial in federal court to conspiracy and extortion charges. Prosecutors
As a Sheriff's reserve deputy, Howard worked as either an unpaid volunteer or received a small per diem. He was working as a cover officer for Tanabe on Jan. 14, 2011 when, according to the affidavit, Tanabe received numerous phone calls from a "P.I. friend" about a man who was drinking at a Danville wine bar.
Soon after, Tanabe stopped and arrested Livermore winemaker Mitchell Katz on suspicion of drunken driving in what he told Howard was a "Dirty DUI," according to the affidavit. Katz was never prosecuted for the arrest and is now suing Tanabe, Butler, Howard, the county and Danville in federal court.
A month later, Butler and then-Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team Commander Norman Wielsch were arrested on suspicion of stealing and selling drug evidence. The same night, Howard said the normally cool Tanabe came to his house in a "very agitated" state and asked him to stash a padded case that he later discovered contained an illegal firearm.
"My mind was kind of spinning," Howard said. "I realized then there was serious stuff going on as far as illegal activity."
His next work day, Howard said he reported his experience with Tanabe to his supervisor. After a long internal affairs investigation, Howard said he was cleared of any personal culpability, so he was surprised when a commanding officer called him in to a meeting and told him, "If you were a regular, I would fire your ass."
The Navy veteran was then removed from his regular assignment on the Marine Patrol and sent to an undesirable civil post handing out eviction notices. Other deputies in the department either distanced themselves from him, or were outwardly hostile, calling him a snitch. He became known as "the Dirty DUI guy."
"I was being ostracized, no question about it," Howard said. "There were people who absolutely didn't want to work with me. No one was speaking up, 'Leave the guy alone, he did the right thing.'"
When he complained about the way he was being treated in April, Sheriff David Livingston told him to "develop a thicker skin," Howard said. He's at a loss how, in an era of budget cuts, and with a stellar work history, he could be let go without explanation.
"I figured over 19 years, volunteering more than 800 hours a year, I have gifted Contra Costa County more than $1.760 million in work product -- and this is the way that I'm treated," Howard said.
Said Livingston, "Since we are no longer using his services as a volunteer deputy, he appears to be lashing out with these outlandish claims."
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.