A Redding Police Department investigator has been charged with six criminal misdemeanors after he allegedly used the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) to have a male rival’s brand-new Dodge pickup towed and impounded.
The RPD inspector, Joshua Siipola, allegedly accessed the CLETS database five times to look up information on Michael Peters, the ex-boyfriend of Siipola’s fiancé, Summer Gagnon. Peters and Gagnon broke up nine years ago, but share joint custody of their 9-year-old son.
While searching the database, Siipola discovered Peters’s driver’s license was suspended for multiple DUIs and allegedly used that information to engineer a traffic stop at the location where Peters and Gagnon exchange custody of their son. Peters’ pickup truck was towed and impounded as a result.
That’s according to an investigation conducted by Anderson Police Department Lt. Stephen Blunk on file with the Shasta County Superior Court. The incident occurred earlier this year on Feb. 15, President’s Day. Siipola, who earns $87,380 annually as an RPD inspector, is currently on paid administrative leave and faces trial by jury on Aug. 10.
The Redding Police Department has not responded to multiple inquiries about the case from this reporter.
According to the Electronic Freedom Foundation, there were 143 violations of the CLETS database in 2017, resulting in the termination or early exit of 22 law enforcement employees.
“In 2017, 22 law enforcement employees across California lost or left their jobs after abusing the computer network that grants police access to criminal histories and drivers’ records, according to new data compiled by the California Attorney General’s office,” EFF reported. “The records obtained by EFF show a total of 143 violations of database rules—the equivalent of an invasion of privacy every two and half days.”
Lt. Blunk’s detailed report on Siipola’s alleged criminal transgressions is a cringe-inducing warning to would-be privacy invaders that it is a small world, after all.
On March 2, RPD Lt. Chris Smyrnos contacted Lt. Blunk and informed him that a complaint from a citizen (Peters) that he was being harassed by Siipola might have merit: According to CLETS database logs, Siipola had accessed the system five times searching for records on Peters between February and April of last year.
CLETS is shared by law enforcement agencies across California; all Shasta County law enforcement agencies access it via the same records management system.
“After you log into the system, using your unique identifier and password, you are taken to a couple of different screens before you enter the system,” Lt. Blunk notes in the report. “[One] screen outlines all the code sections that apply when you use the State Link (CLETS) System illegally. The first sentence tells the user that the information is restricted and the records are on a ‘need’ to know to perform your assigned responsibilities. Each user has to choose between ‘Accept and Continue’ or ‘Decline and Exit.’”
In addition, Lt. Smyrnos provided Lt. Blunk with evidence that Siipola had acknowledged RPD policies in 319 Standards of Conduct and 806 Protected Information that regulate the use of private data by police officers. Siipola was aware he was dealing with sensitive private information, but allegedly broke the laws regulating it anyway, according to Lt. Blunk’s report.
Using CLETS, Siipola discovered that Peters had multiple previous DUI convictions, was required to have an ignition interlock device installed in any vehicle he drives and was currently driving on a suspended license. According to the report, months later Siipola learned from Summer Gagnon, Siipola’s fiancé and Peters’s ex-girlfriend from nine years ago, that Peters would be picking up his son at 7 a.m. on President’s Day. They were to meet at their usual spot at the Shell gas station located at the intersection of Old Oregon Trail and Old Highway 44.
On President’s Day, after RPD’s 6 a.m. briefing, Siipola called RPD officer Devin Ketel on his personal telephone. According to the report, “Siipola started the conversation off by saying he had some confidential information for him (10-12 info).” Siipola told Ketel “there might be a newer white Dodge pickup or a Toyota truck at the Shell gas station off Old Oregon Trail at 0800 hrs.”
Siipola gave Ketel “the driver’s name and told him the driver had a suspended license for driving under the influence multiple times over.” Siipola asked Ketel to stop the driver and have his vehicle towed and impounded.
Ketel told Lt. Blunk that he didn’t question the request because Siipola is an investigator for the Shasta Interagency Narcotics Task Force.
“Ketel said it was not out of the ordinary for Siipola to call him and give him information about a vehicle to stop due to the nature of Siipola being in SINTF,” the report said.
According to the report, Gagnon dropped off Peters’ son at the Shell station shortly after 7 a.m. Peters, his son and his girlfriend Briauna Red went to a nearby coffee shop for coffee and a snack. Peters noticed that a police cruiser was parked nearby at the Rare Air trampoline park as they were leaving. As Peters, his son and Red began their drive back home to Cottonwood in Peters’ brand-new Dodge pickup, the police cruiser got behind them and pulled them over just as they hit the Highway 44 on-ramp.
Officer Devin Ketel got out of his cruiser and asked Peters if he knew why he was being pulled over. Peters said no. Ketel informed him that his pickup lacked the requisite mudflaps on the rear tires. When Ketel asked Peters for identification, Peters told him he’d left his wallet at home. Ketel told Peters that according to his records, Peters’ driver’s license was suspended. Peters argued that his license was no longer suspended, but issuance of his reinstated license had been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ketel asked Peters to get out of the truck. Peters complied and Ketel patted him down for weapons as two more RPD officers arrived at the scene.
If the name Devin Ketel sounds familiar to A News Café readers, it’s because he’s also key principle for Gover Ranch Wedding and Event Center in Anderson, which hosted a fundraiser for the Red, White and Blueprint on July 2. The RW&B is one of several groups promoting the recall of three members of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, for the bogus claim that the supervisors caved to the whims of Gov. Gavin Newsom during the pandemic.
As ANC’s Shawn Schwaller reported earlier this week:
“Revenue for the Ketel-owned company that runs the ranch, is more than $65,000 per year. As a police officer in Redding, [Ketel] makes $90,000 per year, not including benefits. Ketel is also the son of Kathryn Stainbrook, a vocal member of the recall movement who was reportedly slapped by a gay man named Bradley Hart in June while collecting signatures at the Old Shasta Post Office in Shasta. Hart was arrested within a few hours and spent the night in jail.”
At any rate, the Gover Ranch Wedding and Event Center is popular in Shasta County. It is a small world after all, and as it turns out, Peters’ current girlfriend, Briauna Red, recognized officer Ketel because she’s planned several weddings at the Gover Ranch, and had interactions with Ketel there. According to the Lt. Blunk’s report:
“Peters said Red recognized the officer as ‘Ketel,’ as the Gover Ranch owner. Peters said Red began talking with officer Devin Ketel, as she had planned weddings at the Gover Ranch. Peters said Ketel acknowledged to Red he is the owner of Gover Ranch. Peters said Ketel then asked why they were playing that card on him. Peters said he and Red were just asking as Peters also grew up in the area around the ranch. Peters told Ketel that he and Red were not trying to play a card.”
Peters had recently purchased the Dodge pickup and the dealer had transferred his personalized yellow-and-black license plates—which read WELDRFL, “welder for life”—from the Toyota he’d traded in to the Dodge. Ketel removed the plates, but later reattached them when Red showed him the paperwork from the dealer, which was still processing the transfer. The report states that Ketel also ticketed Peters for not having an ignition interlock device, but crossed out the infraction when Peters pointed out the IID was installed in the new truck.
Red had a valid driver’s license and asked to drive the truck home, but Ketel said that was impossible without special permission from a supervisor. The Dodge was towed and impounded, and Peters, his son and Red were forced to find another ride home. According to the report, when they arrived home, Peters and Red “had a conversation after the fact about how odd the traffic stop was.”
“Red stated the night before [the traffic stop], Gagnon texted Peters and asked whether she (Red) were picking up Peters’ son, or if he was,” the report continues. “Red said Gagnon usually contacts her with the pickups and drop-offs. Red stated that Gagnon’s fiancé [Siipola] is in law enforcement and is friends with Ketel. Red said Gagnon and Siipola have had their pictures taken out at Gover Ranch. Red said there were weird coincidences about the whole event.”
The next day, Peters went to the DMV. Sure enough, his paperwork had been delayed by the pandemic and he was able to get his driver’s license reinstated. Next, he retrieved his truck from the impound lot, where his fees were waived since his license was valid. Then he called RPD and lodged a complaint against Siipola.
Peters returned this reporter’s first phone call and said he was concerned that RPD was pushing to keep Siipola on the force. Peters has since failed to return multiple calls.
When Lt. Blunk asked Ketel if he contacted Siipola after the traffic stop, Ketel replied no, that Siipola contacted him.
“Ketel said Siipola asked him how it went, and Ketel noted that the passenger [Red] knew him. Ketel said he asked Siipola what was up with that, and Siipola replied ‘really?’ Siipola then told him about his relationship with Peters and explained that Peters is his current girlfriend’s ex-husband. … I asked Ketel how this made him feel, and he said it put him (Ketel) in a shitty spot. Ketel said in his mind he conducted a legal traffic stop and cited for the violation.”
According to the report, the next time Siipola called Ketel, he informed him that Peters’ 9-year-son had put two-and-two together, linking Siipola and Ketel with his father’s traffic stop.
“Ketel had allowed Siipola and his current girlfriend (Gagnon) to come out to the ranch and take family pictures, and they brought the juvenile,” Lt. Blunk reported. “I asked Ketel what he thought after learning all this news; Ketel said that he didn’t like that as it put the kid in a situation that he now has a poor visual of police officers. Ketel said the juvenile now sees issues between his mom and his dad where his mom’s new boyfriend is essentially putting ‘hits’ out on his dad.”
Ketel noted that there could have been an altercation during the traffic stop, implying that someone might have been seriously hurt or even killed. He also agreed that accessing CLETS to investigate a family member is wrong “because that would be mixing your work access with your personal business.”
“Ketel said it was not unusual to share information with another officer, but the big picture is now regrettable,” the report continues. “Ketel said it’s ‘101’ on how not to use our information system.”
Ketel told this reporter he couldn’t comment because he has to testify at Siipola’s trial.
Siipola has been charged with one count of disclosing DMV information to another in violation of Section 1808.45 of the Vehicular Code and five counts of an authorized person furnishing information in violation of Section 11142 of the Penal Code. All six counts are criminal misdemeanors.
When contacted by this reporter, Siipola’s attorney, Eric Acevedo from South Lake Tahoe, could not comment on the upcoming case, other than to say Siipola’s trial by jury is now scheduled to begin on Aug. 10.