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Senate’s security officer resigns amid controversy

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POSTED May 6, 2014 6:55 p.m.

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — The Senate’s chief security officer abruptly resigned Tuesday from a post he held for 34 years after he withheld information about drug use by a staff member from the chamber’s elected leader.

Chief Sergeant-At-Arms Tony Beard knew one of his officers had tested positive for using illegal drugs but kept silent, thinking the information he received was confidential, said Mark Hedlund, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Steinberg fired the officer, Gerardo Lopez, last week after he learned of the drug test, which surfaced as part of an investigation into an off-duty shooting at a private home. It was first reported by The Sacramento Bee.

Beard was told as part of a confidential personnel investigation that Lopez had tested positive, Hedlund said. “But he didn’t have anything to back it up or any evidence. Since he was told that in confidence, it wasn’t something he would be able to disclose. In hindsight, he realizes that was an error in judgment,” Hedlund said.

Lopez’s mother, Dina Hidalgo, is in charge of Senate human resources and his wife, Jennifer Delao, is a secretary in the pro tem’s policy unit. However, Hedlund said Lopez underwent the same interviews and background checks as any other officer.

The resignation is the latest scandal to rock the Senate, which has suspended three Democratic lawmakers embroiled in serious legal problems. Two are facing federal corruption charges, while the third was convicted of perjury and voter fraud.

All three of the senators — Ron Calderon, Rod Wright and Leland Yee — have been suspended with pay. Steinberg, D-Sacramento, spent part of Tuesday promoting a proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Constitutional Amendment 17, that would call on voters to let the Legislature strip suspended lawmakers of their paychecks.

Beard said in his resignation letter that he is stepping down immediately from his $171,480-a-year job as chief sergeant and will retire in August. He said he will help with the transition to a new chief sergeant.

“To leave a lifelong career is not an easy decision,” Beard said in his letter. “But ... A new eye is needed. A fresh start is necessary.”

Hedlund said Steinberg took action as soon as he found out Lopez tested positive for drugs.

“Obviously it’s not up to the standards we expect of law enforcement,” he said.

Beard declined to be interviewed and referred to his resignation letter, Hedlund said.

Hedlund said Beard had been contemplating retirement sometime this year after 47 years working for the Senate, the last 34 as chief sergeant. His family had served the Legislature for more than 100 years, when Beard followed his father as Senate chief sergeant.

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