Sheriff’s candidate disputes claims In wide-ranging interview, Joe Moses denies ex-wife's claims of abuse during divorce, says Voices of Monterey Bay published inaccuracies

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By Royal Calkins

Monterey County sheriff candidate Joe Moses has denied a history of domestic abuse as documents filed in his contentious divorce plague his campaign.

In a wide-ranging interview with Voices of Monterey Bay, Moses said rumors of alleged spousal abuse were nothing more than rumors. And he claimed that Voices had published inaccurate information about a separate court case he is involved in, information that is indisputably accurate.

Moses acknowledged that his first marriage ended in a highly contentious divorce, with police being called in on several occasions, but he denied involvement in any violence.

In divorce-related papers filed in 2017, Moses’ former wife said he had stalked her in an attempt to get her to agree to reduced spousal support. She wrote that on one occasion he had “invaded my home and attacked me in front of our son.” She did not elaborate in the court papers and could not be reached for comment. According to paperwork he filed with the court, he was essentially following her in an effort to prove she was living with a boyfriend and therefore needed less money from him.

Moses said in a telephone interview that her accusations were typical of overheated rhetoric that occurs often in divorce court. In a court filing of his own in 2017, he wrote, “Both petitioner and I are guilty of having heated arguments with each other during our divorce proceedings but have not had any incidents in many years.”

Moses, a commander with the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, also said that he had been misquoted by Voices though he couldn’t point to any examples. He was encouraged to call back if he could find any misquotations but he hasn’t been heard from nearly a week later.

He claimed that Voices had made two significant errors in its coverage of a defamation lawsuit in which he is a defendant but his explanation is at direct odds with what Voices reported.

Moses is campaigning against Marina Police Chief Tina Nieto for the top spot in the Sheriff’s Office. The winner will replace Steve Bernal, who announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election after the Board of Supervisors censured him over his role in hosting a convention of California sheriffs that Monterey County taxpayers unknowingly subsidized.

Early on, Moses was considered the favorite in the sheriff’s race but his standing seemed to slip in April after an appeals court reinstated a defamation lawsuit against him and two Sheriff’s Office associates. As supporters of Bernal’s re-election effort, they had voiced embezzlement accusations against a candidate in the 2018 election. In a sharply worded opinion, the appellate judges ruled that Moses and the others seemed to be acting as law enforcement officials when they made poorly supported allegations of criminal behavior although they were actually functioning only as political operatives.

Nieto nearly won the seat outright in the June primary with just under 49% of the vote to Moses’ 25.73%. To avoid the upcoming November runoff against Moses, Nieto needed 50% of the vote plus one in the four-candidate primary.

Moses argued in the telephone interview that Voices had incorrectly reported that he and co-defendants Archie Warren and Mark Caldwell had lost the defamation lawsuit filed against them by unsuccessful candidate Scott Davis and associates Dan Mitchell and Christian Schneider. In fact, Voices correctly reported that the appeals court had sent the lawsuit back to Monterey County Superior Court for further proceedings, which are ongoing. Here is a link to the Voices story on the matter.

Moses also argued that Voices incorrectly reported that he and the other defendants had been ordered to pay the other side’s appellate costs and attorney fees in connection with the appeal.

“I haven’t paid anything,” he said.

In fact, Voices reported correctly that he and his co-defendants have been ordered to pay the other side’s appellate costs and attorney fees, which will occur at the end of the litigation. Here is a link to the Voices’ article on that subject, and a link to the appellate court ruling, which suggests the Moses camp is likely to lose if the case goes to trial. The appellate court order regarding fees is at the bottom of the ruling.

Before the appeals court ruling, Monterey County had been paying legal fees for Moses and his co-defendants under the theory that they had raised the embezzlement accusations while acting in their official law enforcement roles. After the appellate panel found that the accusations were politically motivated and perhaps defamatory, the county cut off the money for their lawyer, Elizabeth Leitzinger of the Fenton & Keller firm in Monterey. Warren and Moses are now represented by an insurance company lawyer, Billy Lance Burrows of San Jose, while Leitzinger continues to represent Caldwell.

Although Moses is in charge of the jail and has no investigative responsibility outside the jail, he still maintains there were legitimate law enforcement reasons for him and other sheriff’s officials to investigate the Davis camp and to hold news conferences to air their accusations. Asked why charges were never filed, he said the District Attorney’s Office declared a conflict because its investigators were members of the union that purportedly was the embezzlement victim. The state Department of Justice was asked to conduct the investigation but declined, saying it didn’t see evidence of a crime. The state Fair Political Practices Commission also investigated but took no action.

Moses himself raised the specter of domestic turmoil and/or violence early in the current sheriff’s campaign when he asked the Pacific Grove Police Department to provide him with copies of any police reports stemming from calls to his residence in that city while he was married to his first wife. Politicians often investigate themselves at the start of campaigns in order to determine what information their opponents might come up with.

The Police Department provided him with three reports but would not give copies to Voices because the state Public Records Act did not require their release.

Moses also declined to make the reports public. He said that would violate the privacy of his first wife and their children. He also has declined to explain why police were dispatched to his home or otherwise describe the reports except to say there was no domestic violence or other criminal behavior.

Mary Duan, a former editor and reporter for Monterey County Weekly (as well as being an early investor in and co-founder of Voices of Monterey Bay), wrote early in the campaign that the contents of the police reports had been disclosed to her. She later personally endorsed Moses’ candidacy, saying she wouldn’t have done so if she thought he had hit his wife. Months after Duan’s departure, the Weekly endorsed Nieto’s candidacy.

Duan did not respond to a request for comment.

Although Moses is in charge of the jail and has no investigative responsibility outside the jail, he still maintains there were legitimate law enforcement reasons for him and other sheriff’s officials to investigate the Davis camp and to hold news conferences to air their accusations.

Despite Duan’s comments, rumors of domestic violence continued to circulate in law enforcement circles along with talk of an Internal Affairs complaint that was never pursued. Moses confirmed in the telephone interview that one of the Pacific Grove police reports had been forwarded to the Sheriff’s Department Internal Affairs Unit about 15 years ago while Mike Kanalakis was sheriff.

Others in the Sheriff’s Office said Kanalakis decided against conducting an Internal Affairs investigation into whatever led to that police report. The former sheriff could not be reached to comment in recent days though Moses said he would ask him to call Voices.

Sheriff’s Office sources said that after the incident giving rise to that report, Moses’ then-wife drove to the Sheriff’s Office in Salinas to file a formal complaint against her estranged husband. The sources said Nancy Cuffney, undersheriff at the time, talked her out of filing the complaint, saying that the resulting investigation might have cost Moses his pension.

In a telephone interview, Cuffney would not confirm or deny that account. She said discussing such a situation would violate confidentiality provisions intended to protect department employees. Cuffney, since retired, was a highly respected undersheriff who has endorsed Moses’ candidacy.

Court records documenting Moses’ divorce from his first wife have been circulating in law enforcement and political circles for months. Copies sent to Voices confirmed that it was a highly contentious process, with Mrs. Moses accusing Moses of stalking her and a boyfriend as part of his effort to have his spousal and child-support payments reduced.

In an affidavit included in the court file, since-retired Sheriff’s Office official Jerry Teeter wrote that he had counseled Moses against conducting surveillance on his ex-wife while in his sheriff’s uniform, while traveling to or from work or while driving his assigned vehicle.

In another affidavit, since-retired sheriff’s official Kevin Oakley wrote that Moses’ wife had come to him with a complaint about Moses accusing her of having an affair. Oakley wrote that he reported the conversation to his superiors and was told to monitor the situation. He wrote that he later learned that she was having an affair and that it appeared she was attempting to “illicit (sic) an angry or passionate response from him in order to build a case against him.”

Oakley provided no dates but it appears likely that the ex-wife’s visit to his office is the one that also led to the woman’s purported conversation with Cuffney.

Oakley at one time was Moses’ commanding officer and roommate. In the affidavit, dated Sept. 10, 2017, Oakley wrote that he had never seen Moses act inappropriately and that he had witnessed a confrontation during which Moses remained calm while his ex-wife yelled at him and called police.

In the current sheriff’s race, Oakley has endorsed Nieto.

Years earlier, Moses acknowledged, he had become engaged in an angry confrontation with another Sheriff’s Office employee, Garrett Sanders, now the department’s commander in charge of investigations. Others in the Sheriff’s Office said the dispute was about SWAT team cars parking in spaces reserved for patrol cars. They said Moses became physically aggressive and was ordered to attend an anger management class.

Moses denied that the confrontation became physical and that he was ever sent to anger management sessions.

Sanders, who has endorsed Nieto, declined to comment.

“I’m not going to discuss that situation,” he said.

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Royal Calkins

About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Fresno. For the past couple of years, he has produced a local news and commentary blog, the Monterey Bay Partisan. He can be reached at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.