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D.A.'s Office says no criminal charges will be filed against BPD Assistant Chief Joe Mullins

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Joe Mullins, then a captain with the Bakersfield Police Department, speaks to students at Bessie Owens Intermediate School in 2017. Mullins, now the assistant police chief, has been cleared of criminal charges connected to an incident last year with a fellow officer.

No criminal charges will be filed against Assistant Bakersfield Police Chief Joe Mullins in connection with an alleged incident of workplace violence reported last year by a fellow officer.

According to a news release Friday from the Kern County District Attorney's Office, the D.A.'s Office, acting under supervision of the state Attorney General’s Office, "has concluded that criminal charges in this incident are not warranted, and thus will not be filed."

Mullins, one of two assistant chiefs, has been on paid administrative leave since June 30 after a fellow Bakersfield Police Department employee requested criminal and administrative investigations of Mullins following some sort of alleged contact Mullins made with the officer at a briefing attended by 30 to 40 officers.

In the release, Assistant District Attorney Joseph Kinzel, who participated in the decision not to file charges in the case, suggested the allegations against Mullins were "of a relatively minor nature."

"A full investigation of the incident," Kinzel said, "was conducted that revealed that the alleged conduct, while perhaps best avoided in the workplace, does not rise to a level meriting criminal prosecution.”

The incident centered around a briefing at BPD headquarters in June 2020, the D.A.'s release said. The briefing, attended by dozens of police officers, included Mullins in attendance and as a speaker.

A complaint was made regarding the conclusion of the briefing, at which point it is alleged that Mullins made what has been alternately described by various witnesses as a single "flick" or "jab," "tap" or "push," or "punch" motion to another BPD officer's chest, making contact and taking the officer by surprise.

The affected officer, who was standing near a wall, reported being pushed back 4 to 6 inches such that his back made contact with the wall he was standing next to, the release said. The affected officer was reportedly wearing soft body armor under his shirt at the time of the incident.

The Bakersfield Police Department requested the Kern County Sheriff’s Office conduct the investigation into the matter, the D.A.'s Office said. The Sheriff’s Office completed a thorough investigation, accounting for interviews of dozens of potential witnesses to the incident. 

On July 31, the Sheriff’s Office submitted reports to the District Attorney's Office documenting the alleged incident for review of a potential misdemeanor charge of battery.

In light of Mullins' longstanding tenure in the local law enforcement community, and consistent with past practices, the District Attorney’s Office sought additional supervision from the state Attorney General's Office in reviewing the case and making a determination of potential charges, the release stated.

"Based on the totality of the investigation, the District Attorney's Office has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Assistant Chief Mullins' alleged contact with the affected officer was malicious or done with any criminal intent," the release said. "There was indication in the reporting that the contact made by Assistant Chief Mullins may have been a misguided attempt to determine if the affected officer was actually wearing body armor."

The Sheriff's Office conducted interviews with dozens of police officers who were at the briefing. Though many officers said they did not notice the quick interaction, those who did generally described the incident as "horseplay," "playful," "joking" or in similar terms, the D.A.'s news release said.

In order for a criminal offense to be supported for battery, there must be proof beyond any doubt that the willful contact made was made unlawfully and in a "harmful or offensive manner," the D.A.'s Office said. Whether an action is done in a harmful or offensive manner is judged on whether an objectively reasonable person would conclude that the action was done in a harmful or offensive manner – not solely upon whether the affected person found the conduct offensive.

Alternative remedies short of criminal prosecution are also a consideration when considering whether criminal charges are appropriate in such cases. In this instance, civil and administrative options are available to the affected officer, including within the Bakersfield Police Department, as well as through the city of Bakersfield's Human Resources Department to address workplace disputes that do not rise to a level warranting criminal prosecution.

"Based on the totality of the circumstances, the District Attorney’s Office has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove that the alleged contact made by Assistant Chief Mullins rose to the 'harmful or offensive manner' requirement for a criminal violation," the D.A.'s Office said in its release. "Additionally, the relatively minor nature of the contact was determined more befitting of administrative or human resources intervention, rather than criminal prosecution."

Reached late Friday afternoon with the news, Mullins said he was unable to comment as an administrative investigation is still pending.

In the release, Kinzel said "the involvement of several independent agencies in the investigation and filing decision is evidence of the lengths that Kern County departments will take to ensure transparency and fair treatment to all parties involved, even when allegations are of a relatively minor nature."

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.