A sheriff’s deputy in the Bay Area is suing his former employer in Federal Court for retaliation after claiming he was fired once his involvement in a DUI sting was revealed. The former reserve deputy sheriff, William Howard, made statements against the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department stating the department ostracized, demoted, and fired him for informing superiors that Deputy Stephen Tanabe had coordinated a cover up with a private investigator. According to Howard, Tanabe wanted to frame a local winery owner, Mitchell Katz, for a DUI arrest and asked Howard to hide a package containing essential evidence of the case in his own home so that investigators would not be able to find it. In 2011, Katz filed a lawsuit claiming that the private investigator, Chris Butler, had tried to set him up. Katz stated that Butler’s employee invited him to a wine bar in Danville with the intent of persuading Katz to approve the production of a reality TV show of his winemaking business. Katz believes the real purpose behind the meeting was to lure Katz into getting drunk and driving under these conditions so that Tanabe could arrest him for a DUI. This charge against him would give his estranged wife leverage in ongoing custody proceedings the former couple where then dealing with. Katz also made clear in his lawsuit his belief that he was not the only individual who had been framed for DUI by Tanabe. With this information alone, the situation seems to reek of suspicion and alternative motives worth investigating.
In Howard’s recent lawsuit, he declares that Tanabe received multiple calls from his “Personal Investigator friend” during the evening disclosing information about a “suspect” under the influence of alcohol. The suspect being referred was indeed Katz. Later that evening, Tanabe stopped Katz and arrested him for driving under the influence of alcohol. About a month after the arrest, Howard claims that Tanabe showed up at his private home demanding that he hide a package that Tanabe did not want investigators to find. Tanabe didn’t want to hide the package in his own home for fear of the investigation leading authorities to searching his home as well. Howard claims in his lawsuit that Tanabe retrieved the item from his car, which was wrapped in a large black plastic garbage bag, and ordered Howard to put it in his attic. While the request made him feel “uncomfortable”, Howard took the item regardless in order to avoid confrontation or possible retaliation. After taking some time to process the information given to him by Deputy Tanabe and to determine the best course of action to take, Howard was named in a San Francisco Chronicle news article on March 9 of 2011 as the man responsible for reporting Tanabe’s corrupt actions to Contra Costa County. Upon filing, Howard received an immense amount of criticism and backlash from his peers for allegedly trying to ruin the career of a respected and congenial sheriff deputy. For the first time in 18 years, Howard was removed from work, subjected to hostile treatment, was not scheduled to work for an entire week, and was even dealt harshness by District Attorney Sean Fawell when, according to Howard, Fawell said to him, “If you were a regular, I would have fired your ass.” In the months following, the harassment ceased to end as Howard was slyly demoted, forced to work alone, had pay taken away from him, and when complaining of the treatment to District Attorney Livingston, was told “that he should consider himself ‘lucky’ that he hadn’t been dismissed.” On August 14, 2012, Howard was fired and, according to Howard, was told that “there would be no hearing regarding plaintiff’s termination, and that the decision to terminate came from the ‘highest level’ and was ‘not reversible’.”
Howard, with the help of his attorney, is pursuing damages for whistleblower retaliation, negligent hiring, negligent training, and supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Deputy Tanabe was since charged with felony extortion, wire fraud, and other criminal charges. Private Investigator Chris Butler plead guilty in May of last year to seven federal felony charges, including drug offenses, conspiracy, extortion, and illegal wiretapping. With Butler’s personal ties to Tanabe with the arrest of Mitchell Katz aware to the public, the possibility of Tanabe’s guilt became more pressing than ever after Butler’s plead. Butler also admitted working with Tanabe to stage multiple drunken driving arrests on behalf of his clients, most of who were found to be involved in custody battles or other legal disputes at the time of their arrests.