Interim Antioch city manager fires interim police chief for a few hours, one day after new interim chief announced

A copy of the letter in which Johnson (top right) terminated Morefield (bottom right) on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. 

Before new chief on staff leaving city without a police chief during that time; violated Morefield’s rights as a city employee and police officer; still police chief as of Friday, March 25

By Allen D. Payton

It was reported earlier this month by multiple sources who all chose to not be identified, and now confirmed with copies received anonymously on Thursday, March 24, 2022, that on Thursday, February 24, 2022, at 8:49 AM, Interim Antioch City Manager Con Johnson sent a letter by email to current Interim Police Chief Tony Morefield, that Morefield had been terminated. Johnson copied all five city council members, plus City Attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith, the president of the Antioch Police Officers Association Corporal Steve Aiello and Dr. Steve Ford.

It was the day after Mayor Lamar Thorpe announced the hiring of Ford as the city’s new interim police chief, but who was not on city staff at the time, as he had not yet passed his background check. That left the city without a police chief for a little more than an hour and possibly longer as it’s been reported that Johnson met with Morefield earlier that morning to inform him of the decision. (See related article)

According to the reports, immediately after receiving the email, Smith went to Johnson’s office and told him he needed to retract it. That is assumed what Johnson did in a following email at 10:05 AM the same day. But it is unclear because in that second email the interim city manager wrote he was “tracking” the letter of termination, not retracting it.

Because Johnson included Ford in the emails, they no longer have protection as a personnel matter according to an outside attorney consulted by the Herald. Yet, Smith has refused to release them to the media, even after multiple Public Records Act requests were submitted.

Also, according to the reports, the announcement of Morefield’s termination quickly spread throughout the Antioch Police Department and had also been previously announced to other department heads by Johnson.

Questions for Johnson Go Unanswered

An email was sent on Monday, March 7, 2022, to Johnson, copying the city council members, City Attorney, Morefield, Assistant City Manager Roseanna Bayon Moore and city Public Information Officer Rolando Bonilla with the following: “I’ve been informed that an email was sent out by you, as the interim city manager to council members and city staff in which you announced you had fired Interim Police Chief Tony Morefield and a follow up email in which you wrote that you were tracking those emails. Please provide copies of those emails.

Did that mean you’re tracking where those emails are sent and to whom by those who received it? Or did you intend to write that you’re ‘retracting’ the previous email? If the latter, was your action retracted? If not, what day did you fire the interim chief? (That last question has been answered as Morefield continued in his position as of Thursday, March 24).

Why did you believe it was necessary to send out such an email? Had Dr. Ford already passed his background check by then? Or were your emails sent out prior to Lamar making the announcement of Dr. Ford’s hiring at the press conference, to which at least three of the other four council members weren’t invited and who also knew nothing about the appointment? (It wasn’t clear at the time if Johnson’s emails were sent on Feb. 23 or 24).

Is that the normal procedure and standard practice for how things were handled in the City of San Francisco and/or in the SFPD while you worked there? Send out an email blast announcing an interim department head has been fired?

Why did you retract it, assuming that’s what you intended to write in your second email? Was it because it wasn’t true? Or because you had changed your mind? Did someone ask or tell you to do that?

If Dr. Ford hadn’t yet passed his background check by then, has he passed it, yet? If so, when is his start date? Also, won’t Interim Chief Morefield simply return to his role and title as a captain within the department once Dr. Ford starts?

If one of you doesn’t provide copies of the emails to me by Tuesday, March 8, 2022, at noon, please consider this is a formal Public Records Act request for copies of the two emails.

Then once I receive them, I’m sure I will have more questions.

Thomas, did Con violate personnel protections for Tony by sending out that email to others on city staff and Dr. Ford who was not yet on staff at that time?  Are you the one who directed Con to retract his first email?

How could Tony be fired without due process? Isn’t he protected by the Peace Officer Bill of Rights and as a city employee? AB301

Con, shouldn’t you have known that as a former police manager? When did you inform Tony of your decision to terminate him? Was it before you sent out the email? At what time was his termination effective? Was it announced to anyone else prior to the first email being sent out? Was another leader in the APD given the position of interim police chief between the time of the first email and the second one retracting the first? If so, when did that occur? Who was assigned that role? Was it Captain Trevor Schnitzius?”

No responses were received as of Friday, March 25 at 5:00 p.m.

Outside Attorney Says Emails Are Not Privileged

The Herald sought legal advice on the matter from an attorney who wrote the following, which was also shared via email with City Attorney Smith, Johnson, the city council members, Morefield, Bayon Moore and Bonilla shortly after 5:00 p.m. Thursday, March 17:

“In a case entitled City of San Jose v. Superior Court (2017) 2 608, the California Supreme Court said that emails sent by City Officials (in that case, they were emails generated by City Council members) which relate in any way to ‘the conduct of public business’ are required to be disclosed under the Public Records Act (specifically, Government Code Section 6252(e)) even if they are sent from the public official’s personal cell phone.  There is no doubt that the email to Acting Chief Morefield from the Interim City Manager Con Johnson concerned ‘the conduct of public business.’  Moreover, there cannot possibly be a privilege attached to the email, as it was not sent to seek advice from the City Attorney, but was essentially ‘blasted’ to a bunch of people, including the person who was supposedly replacing Morefield, who was not even a City employee at the time, and others, who had no legal right to know about this ‘personnel matter’ which should have been confidential under penal code section 832.7.  Since Johnson sent it to people with whom he shared no legal privilege of confidentiality, and who otherwise had no legal right to know what was happening to Morefield, any claim that the email was ‘privileged’ is total nonsense.”

The Herald wrote smith that the emails were expected to be received on Friday, March 18. They were not.

City Attorney Fails to Respond to PRA Request Within 10-Day Legal Limit

Government agencies are required to respond to Public Records Act requests within 10 business days. The city attorney was required to respond to the Herald’s PRA request dated March 8 by Tuesday, March 23. But no response was received from Smith even as of Friday afternoon at close of business.

Councilmembers Refuse to Share Letter, Email

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Barbanica and District 3 Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock each said they would not release the emails to the Herald. However, earlier this week, Barbanica posted a video about Johnson’s letter and email. But that has since been removed.

Johnson email “tracking”/retracting letter terminating Morefield sent on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022.

Copies of Letter and Email Received by Herald March 24

On Thursday afternoon, March 24 copies of Johnson’s letter and his follow up email were received by the Herald from someone who chose to remain anonymous. The letter reads as follows:

“To: Tony Morefield

Captain of Police

FR: Cornelius H. Johnson

Interim City Manager

Date: February 24, 2022

Subject: Letter of Termination


Captain Morefield,

Effective immediately, your employment with the Antioch Police Department as the Interim Chief of Police has been terminated. Please cease and desists [sic] with any further duties or responsibilities that are associated with the Interim Chief of Police position.

I want to thank you for your service while serving as the City of Antioch Interim Chief of Police. I wish you the best in your future professional endeavors.”

Johnson’s Follow-Up Email “Tracking” Termination Letter

In an email to Morefield, copying the same individuals, received at 10:05 a.m. the same day Johnson wrote:

“Subject: Letter of Termination

To All concern [sic]

Due to the personnel sensitivity, I am immediately tracking the letter of termination to Captain Tony Morefield.

Cornelius H. Johnson

Interim City Manager

Morefield Still Interim Chief

Asked Friday, March 25 if he was still Antioch’s interim police chief, Morefield said, “I am still the interim chief of police until such time as the city manager hires a new one.”

the attachments to this post:

Johnson email re tracking Morefield termination 022422

Johnson ltr terminating Morefield 022422 Con&Tony

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