This project is a collaboration of news organizations throughout California coordinated by the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley and the Bay Area News Group. Reporters participated from more than 30 newsrooms, including MediaNews Group, McClatchy, USA Today Network, Voice of San Diego and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.
Robin Hayes was pulling her car into the San Diego Police Department’s Mid-City division to begin a shift one night in 2010 when she recognized someone who should not have been there. Her ex-boyfriend, Kenneth Davis, was a sergeant, but he didn’t work in that part of town.
She’d become increasingly alarmed by his behavior since she’d ended the relationship several weeks earlier. They’d dated on and off for years. Days before, he’d accused her of wrecking his marriage, which prompted her to start keeping a log of his phone calls and messages.
Alone in the parking lot after hours, Hayes felt afraid. The gate to the station closed behind her. She took her gun out of the holster and let it rest on her right hip as she drove up to greet Davis, who was filling his tank with gasoline. She worried the two of them might get into a shoot-out because he’d threatened to kill her if she ever left, she later told a court. Davis, in an interview with VOSD, denied he ever threatened to kill Hayes.
At the time, Davis told Hayes that he’d left a bag in her locker with gifts that she’d previously given him. Clothes, a watch, a little decorative box. She wondered whether it was a bomb but opened it anyhow. She threw most of it away and told him — again — that he needed to back off.
He didn’t. The following night, around 1 a.m., Davis turned up outside Hayes’ ex-husband’s home, where she was staying, and left a series of voice messages while he was supposed to be on duty elsewhere. He was angry and crying, vowing to confront the ex-husband one minute and asking her to marry him the next. It went on for almost an hour.
“You are killing me,” he said. “I can’t believe you had to hide this.”
Hayes was too scared to sleep, she would later testify, worried once again that there might be violence. Her ex-husband called her the next day to say he’d seen Davis’ car drive by the home. He’d also paid a visit to her old home in Ocean Beach, a spot “dear to me,” he texted.
Still, she was reluctant to file a complaint with the same department that employed them both and reluctant to open herself — and her relationship — up to scrutiny in public.
Reporting a police officer for a crime is no small matter, and Hayes’ case shows that it’s not necessarily any easier when the victim is herself a cop.
Female cops who complain about harassment defy the widespread perception within police departments that victims of domestic abuse are weak and submissive, said Diane Wetendorf, a counselor and researcher who specializes in officer-involved domestic violence. Like men, though, women are expected to abide by the code of silence that has long permeated police culture.
“Breaking the code is really big because it puts her in jeopardy with the whole department, not just the abuser,” Wetendorf said generally of cases involving female officers. “She’s seen as someone not trusted to have their back. That puts them in danger on the street.”
It also means putting the career of another cop at risk. And to some extent, it means putting one’s self and one’s credibility on trial too.
That’s what happened in this case. But bringing criminal charges in the first place required another female police officer — one of rank — to intervene and ensure the whole affair wasn’t brushed aside.
Even after a prosecutor forced Davis into a courtroom to explain his behavior, the debate would center on whether Hayes had been blowing things out of proportion — whether she was, in the words of her colleagues, attorneys and the judge, a “drama queen.”
By no means would Davis walk away unscathed. But it was Hayes’ career that soon came to an end.
Davis’ attempts to reach Hayes didn’t stop after he appeared outside her ex-husband’s house. Days later, Hayes asked Ross Stone, a senior sergeant, to quietly talk some sense into him.
Stone urged his friend to “move on down the road,” as he remembered later on the stand. At the time, he didn’t consider the matter a “criminal thing,” but his opinion would soon change. Davis promised to stop contacting Hayes but asked Stone to pass along an envelope first. Stone didn’t know what was inside, but he agreed. It was a love poem, and it read in part:
“Even now I cannot fake / I see Robin and double take / Please come back I know there’s fear / I promise to always hold you dear.”
After learning what was in the envelope, Stone told Davis again to knock it off. He was livid that Davis had dragged another officer — Det. Bruce Pendleton — “in the middle of this shit” and put all their careers in jeopardy.
He advised his friend in an email, which Hayes later included alongside her request for a restraining order: “If I’m not getting to you, do me a favor, stop using people and getting them involved in something you know is wrong and I’m not going to candy coat it, criminal in nature. I’ve done all I can to help you.”
Davis apologized, and Stone forwarded the response to Hayes. One day later, she replied that her best friend had seen Davis’ vehicle drive by her house in La Mesa, where Hayes was staying.
Pendleton later encouraged Hayes to give Davis another chance and said Davis had wanted him to pass along gifts. Davis had written another poem and purchased a bottle of wine that they’d once tasted together on a date.
Hayes replied that she loved Davis but couldn’t trust him, Pendleton later testified. It was an understatement. She would soon be living out of motels, under different names, because she was worried Davis might find her. She didn’t even tell her best friend where she was staying then. Her 17-year-old daughter, she said, was afraid to spend time with her.
It was only when another cop — Lt. Natalie Stone, who was unrelated to Sgt. Ross Stone and who specialized in child abuse and domestic violence — got involved that things started to change. Earlier in the summer, as it became clear that Davis wasn’t going to leave her alone, Hayes had turned to social media out of desperation.
“No means no,” she wrote on Facebook.
After seeing the cryptic post, Natalie Stone had asked Hayes if she needed help. Hayes explained that Davis wouldn’t let their relationship go, but asked the lieutenant to stay out of it.
Stone respected her friend’s wishes, but it wasn’t long before her suspicions were raised again. Several days later, Hayes was scheduled to look for kids violating curfew near Cherokee Elementary School, but she asked Stone if she could stay indoors instead. She didn’t want to be out on the street by herself, she said.
Stone had heard enough. She got on her radio to find Davis, but he wasn’t working that evening. She eventually caught up to him and said she knew about everything — the poems, the gifts, the incessant messages and drive-bys.
“He got belligerent and hostile with me and started to say, ‘Well, two years ago,’ and I just shut him off,” Stone remembered in court. “And I said, ‘Look, no matter what happened two years ago or in your relationship, she’s clearly saying that it’s done now, and you need to stop. You know your career is on the line. Your reputation is on the line.’”
“I told him very directly,” Stone added, “‘if you ever see her on the street or somewhere, you need to turn and walk away.’”
Davis responded that he was incapable of doing that because Hayes would someday want him back.
Shortly after, Stone pulled Hayes aside and asked her point blank if she was afraid of Davis. Her lip was quivering, Stone remembered, as Hayes responded, “Yes.”
Stone let her captain know that Hayes would be filing a complaint against Davis and insisted on joining the interview as an advocate. Hayes was entitled to one, but the captain refused.
He wanted to hear from Hayes, alone.
Teresa Santana was skeptical, too, when the case came across her desk at the district attorney’s office — she was a prosecutor with nearly 20 years’ experience on domestic violence cases — but she found the evidence overwhelming.
Investigators determined that Davis had accessed a regional law enforcement database and looked up the personal information of both Hayes and her ex-husband on multiple occasions that summer. They also verified the log that Hayes had put together detailing her interactions with Davis.
“I saw the entire relationship,” Santana said.
While investigators were still evaluating Hayes’ claim, an assistant chief ordered Davis to stop contacting Hayes. In October 2010, several weeks later, she filed for a restraining order against Davis, but a judge denied it. Worried that the denial might embolden Davis, Santana filed four charges — one count of felony stalking and three counts of misdemeanor harassment — in early 2011.
Despite the evidence, she knew she would have a tough time with some of the members of SDPD. The tone of the cops who’d been interviewed by investigators suggested that they weren’t going to completely cooperate, Santana said.
She’d regularly relied on Pendleton as a witness over the years. At times, however, he played into the defense’s hand by talking about how much he liked Davis and how he appreciated Davis for his integrity.
After 23 years on the job, Davis was a popular guy. He’d worked the gang unit and helped train new recruits, including female officers. As Santana and others remember it, the attitude around SDPD was that Hayes had been overly sensitive to his ongoing advances.
One of Davis’ attorneys, James Bishop, asked Pendleton: “Have you characterized Miss Hayes as a drama queen?”
Santana objected and the judge shut down the line of questioning.
Davis himself had referred to Hayes as “high-drama” in family court when the restraining order came up for a hearing the previous fall, and said “she would create any excuse just to get my attention.”
Davis’ defense continued to play up the idea that Hayes was the real problem. Attorney Ward Clay argued that because Davis had no history of violence, he wasn’t a credible threat, and his behavior hadn’t actually risen to the level of stalking.
“The most we have here is a heartbroken paramour who is trying to get her just to talk to him,” Clay said.
Judge John S. Einhorn wasn’t buying it. He found there was enough probable cause to let the felony stalking case proceed. Yet he, too, fell into the defense’s framing of the situation as he explained his ruling.
“This woman,” he said, “whether she’s a drama queen or not, was peppered with way too much too many times, such as to reasonably put her in fear for her safety.”
The defense also played up the cop-versus-cop dynamic of the case, reminding Santana that Davis might lose his job if he was found guilty. Police departments — and the military — have been known to apply this pressure. Supervisors, Santana said, tend to tell the DA’s office that they expect to fire the police officer accused of a crime “if there’s any kind of conviction, even with a misdemeanor.”
Santana interpreted those statements as threats and didn’t like how they could discourage victims from participating in criminal cases. But she ran a plea deal by Hayes, and Hayes agreed to it.
By pleading to misdemeanor stalking and harassment, Davis was allowed to keep his job. The stalking charge should have triggered a 10-year federal ban on possessing firearms, but the court gave him a pass. California law allows cops who’ve been convicted of certain domestic violence-related crimes and who can successfully argue that they need a firearm for their livelihood to continue possessing one.
Davis was ordered to counseling and placed under a less severe restraining order. He could continue to talk to Hayes — he just couldn’t be mean. SDPD wound up demoting him to patrol officer but he continued training recruits.
After his probation ended in 2014, Davis built a fire in his backyard and burned his copy of the criminal case files, he said. Those records had been a constant reminder of a mistake he’d made — a source of shame and humiliation.
It wouldn’t be his last.
“I got reassigned. I got dinged. But my sucker never went in the dirt,” Davis said. “I went on to train officers, get awards. I was still cleaning up and doing my job and I had good results and I really enjoyed it. But I … made another bad decision.”
By 2015, Davis was dating another cop. They’d been engaged about a month when, he said, he went to her house and found her with another man — another police officer. Davis and the man got into an argument at the door, and the man called SDPD, complaining that he’d been threatened.
Davis accused his ex-fiancée of inappropriate behavior too. He claimed, for instance, that she had struck him and vandalized his motorcycle, but no charges were ever filed. Rather than go through another round of internal investigations, Davis retired.
“I already had that stink on me,” he said. “I had a bad pattern of behavior and that was my dysfunctional relationships with police women.”
At times during an interview with Davis, he expressed remorse. But he also thinks he was treated unfairly.
On the one hand, he is disturbed by the way he frightened Hayes and said he was likely experiencing an emotional breakdown at the time — fresh off a divorce, an empty nester, a bachelor living in conditions that he described as “squalor.”
“I’ve never thought of myself as a bad person and I guess I’ve done some bad things,” he said. “But the emotions I feel about that, like now, they trouble me. I don’t lose sleep, but from time to time when I’m by myself, I’ll sometimes think of that incident and think you could have been on the department a few more years; you could have gone out in style and had the traditional ‘we’ll miss you.’ But in this case, it was, it’s time to go because it’s time to go.”
At the same time, Davis doesn’t believe Hayes was beyond blame, and he views his prosecution as overly harsh and at least partly motivated by optics.
He was among a group of SDPD officers charged with various domestic violence and sexual assault-related charges in 2011.
Several months before that, a man murdered his 19-year-old wife, Diana Gonzalez, on the campus of San Diego City College. The man had been arrested a month earlier for allegedly assaulting Gonzalez and holding her captive, but prosecutors declined to file charges.
Santana said the suggestion that the Gonzalez case had influenced her decision to charge Davis was “bullshit.” The two cases were nothing alike.
Davis said he received offers to join police departments outside San Diego County after he retired from SDPD, but he declined. He wanted to move on with his life, and he didn’t believe he was fit — mentally and physically at age 52 — to be a cop anymore.
“I had the cockiness and the arrogance of a police officer who had all these awards and accolades and that can inflate your head,” he said. “It’s almost like a drug for getting recognized for a really good job and this knocked me down a few pegs and I have a lot more patience now, a lot more compassion, a lot more humanity that has been instilled in me. And if that was the price, maybe I’m grateful for being thrown on the coals like that.”
Hayes, too, was done with policing.
Davis and others say she probably would have made rank — she’d been studying for the sergeant’s exam — but she didn’t stick around that long. The perception that she was trouble never completely dissipated, and those who’d known both her and Davis broke into camps. People picked sides. And the tension within the department seemed to wear her down.
She declined to be interviewed for this story, but Santana offered a glimpse into Hayes’ state of mind during those final days on the job.
“She felt not very supported or not very wanted, like something was lost,” Santana said. “And she loved her job, let me tell you. She loved being a cop. And at that point she was disillusioned.”
In 2012, about six months after Davis pleaded guilty, Hayes left SDPD. She eventually moved out of state.