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By Royal Calkins
Carmel Police Chief Paul Tomasi promised an “independent” inquiry when he announced hiring a private investigator to assess the domestic violence call to the home of Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal’s brother.
He wouldn’t say who the investigator was at first. When pressed, he identified him as Bill Uretsky, a well-known figure in Peninsula security circles.
Which brings up a problem.
If Tomasi wanted an “independent” investigation into the Carmel Police Department’s handling of a case with connections to the sheriff, he probably shouldn’t have hired an investigator who worked for the department for 24 years and who hosted a campaign fund-raising event for Steve Bernal.
Uretsky worked for the Carmel department until 2000, retiring as a lieutenant. The fund-raiser at his Corral de Tierra home occurred in May 2018 during Steve Bernal’s successful re-election bid. It was also sponsored by grower Jim Fanoe and the JRG law firm, which specializes in ag and cannabis matters. An invitation for the event promised a violinist and a tequila bar.
The underlying issue to be explored by Uretsky is why Carmel police made no arrests or took other precautionary action after responding to the May call alleging domestic violence at the home of Mike and Maureen Bernal. They concluded no crime had occurred although the woman making the 911 call reported that Mike, the sheriff’s brother, had lifted Maureen by the throat and was “beating” her, and although Maureen Bernal had cuts and a bleeding scrape on her shin.
In cases of suspected domestic violence, state law strongly encourages law enforcement to arrest the “dominant aggressor” if his or her spouse or domestic partner has suffered a visible injury or appears to be in imminent danger.
Based on Maureen Bernal’s injuries, it appears her husband was likely the dominant aggressor, according to narrative in the police report. Responding officers concluded that there was no evidence of domestic violence, however, and failed to confiscate the husband’s guns as seemingly required by state law and Carmel Police Department policy.
Signaling recognition that something was amiss, Chief Tomasi told Monterey County Weekly this week that he had initiated an internal affairs investigation as soon as he read the report, dated May 15, weeks before the first news reports on the matter.
Tomasi, other Carmel officials and Uretsky did not return calls and emails late Thursday after Voices discovered Uretsky’s display of support for Sheriff Bernal. The Bernals have been invited to make public comment but both have declined so far. Steve Bernal has not returned any of this writer’s calls for the past two years.
UPDATE: City Administrator Chip Rerig said in a phone message Friday morning that he could not comment on the matter because he would be the city’s appeal officer in case the internal affairs investigation results in discipline. He added that he did not know who the city had hired for an outside investigation.
Tomasi has declined to release the two-page police report on the incident, a recording of the 911 call or body cam footage, but Voices of Monterey Bay obtained a copy of the report and reported on its contents last weekt. Efforts to obtain a recording of the 911 call are ongoing.
According to the report by an officer Johnson and approved by Sgt. Ron Pfleger, the 911 caller said she saw Mike Bernal start “beating” his wife when the two women returned to the Bernal home from an outing.
The report said responding officers found Maureen Bernal inebriated, semi-conscious and fully clothed in a bathtub, with the water running. An officer also noticed two scrapes on Mike Bernal’s face that Bernal declined to discuss. The report doesn’t say why his wife was in the tub.
The report says officers handcuffed Mike Bernal, who also had been drinking, as soon as they arrived but he later became resistant. After he reportedly locked himself in a bedroom, Carmel police called the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department for backup. A sheriff’s sergeant and deputies responded, according to the Carmel police report and sheriff’s deputies, but Monterey County Undersheriff John Mineau said via email Wednesday that the department had no written record of the incident.
The police report said the officers were not arresting anyone because neither of the Bernals was cooperative and Maureen Bernal said she felt safe being left with her husband, “who agreed that he would take care of her.”
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