INDIO – A former Indio police officer is suing the city of Indio for alleged age discrimination, claiming that he and another officer were passed up for consideration for the police chief position by city officials who thought they could better control a younger candidate.
Representatives from the city could not immediately be reached for comment on the lawsuit filed by Henricus “Henk” Peeters, who was a commander with the Indio Police Department for 22 years. He is now a captain with the Palm Springs Police Department, where he’s been employed since last October.
Peeters alleges that after former Indio police chief Richard Twiss announced his retirement early last year, Peeters and another commander, Johnny Romero, were the “qualified successors” for Twiss’ position.
However, then-Mayor Glenn Miller advised Twiss not to consider either officer, after Twiss recommended both men for the job, according to the lawsuit.
“Miller expressed his belief to Twiss that both plaintiff and Romero were too old to become the next chief of police and that Miller and the Indio City Council also did not want either plaintiff and Romero to become the next chief of police because Miller did not believe the city council could control them,” the suit alleges.
Peeters claims Twiss agreed with him that age discrimination was at play and brought up those concerns with then-City Manager Dan Martinez. But despite a determination that the comments should preclude Miller from participating in the selection process, Miller, current Mayor Elaine Holmes and Councilman Michael Wilson formed an ad hoc committee to decide who should be given the position and “held a secretive and illegal meeting” in March 2016, during which the discriminatory remarks towards Peeters and Romero were reiterated, the suit alleges.
Both officers were outside the top three prospective candidates following the selection process.
Peeters alleges that Twiss documented his knowledge of the age discrimination, but that in the official evaluations, he was ordered by Martinez to redact information regarding his belief that Peeters and Romero were discriminated against.
Peeters then chose to leave the department for Palm Springs, as “he could not continue working in an environment where he would not be given the same opportunities as other employees and where members of the city might attempt to compromise his integrity and judgment as an executive staff member,” the suit says.
In June 2016, the city announced that Michael R. Washburn, a 30-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department, had been offered the chief’s position. He was sworn in two months later.