Analysis: Harassment Settlement Agreement Was against Yolo County


In early February, the media reported a settlement agreement in a harassment case against Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto.  The settlement was $98,000 to former Deputy Victoria Zetwick under the condition that there be no further suits or contact with the media.

The case was dismissed via summary judgment in 2014, but reinstated in 2016 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  At that time, Ed Prieto, the sheriff, remained dismissed from the case and what was reopened was the workplace lawsuit between Ms. Zetwick and Yolo County.

As County Counsel Phil Pogledich confirmed to the Vanguard, “an outside law firm retained by our local agency risk management authority (YCPARMIA) handled all aspects of the defense and settlement of this case.  My office had no role in the settlement or the litigation.”

He added, “Sheriff Prieto was dismissed prior to the settlement and the County was the only remaining defendant at the time of the settlement.”

The settlement itself was to come directly from the county’s joint powers risk management agency, YCPARMIA (Yolo County Public Agency Risk Management Insurance Authority).  No county money was to go to the settlement.

As the agreement put it, “In order to avoid the substantial expense and inconvenience of further litigation, the Parties now desire to finally settle all claims asserted in the Complaint, as well as all issues that were raised or could have been in the lawsuit, as well as any claims or potential claims arising from any transactions or occurrences between PLAINTIFF, Prieto and DEFENDANT COUNTY.”

As part of the settlement, the county was to order retirement badges, for Ms. Zetwick and her husband, from the sheriff’s department.

Once the settlement was tendered, Ms. Zetwick agreed to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice from the courts.

The matter was deemed confidential “to the extent authorized by law, and will not be discussed with anyone other than persons necessary to effectuate the settlement, spouses, accountants, attorneys, County Board of Supervisors, the Board of Directors of YCPARMIA or as otherwise required by law.”

They further agreed not to “contact the press or any other media in regard to the lawsuit or the settlement,” and will not “make reference to the case, ZETWICK’s claims, any of the Sheriff’s past
relationships, or the settlement on any internet site, including social media, and will not make any statements to anyone, including media or members of the public, about ZETWICK’s claims, the case, the settlement, any of the Sheriffs past relationships, or any issues related to disputes between ZETWICK, and COUNTY other than either simply say the matter has been resolved.”

If the parties are contacted by a third party regarding the case, “they agree they will not make any statements to said third party other than to say the matter has been resolved.”

The county is of course a public entity and “is statutorily required to allow public access to certain COUNTY documents and information. Nothing in this Agreement shall prevent COUNTY from complying with public record disclosure requirements under the California Public Records Act including release of this document if required.”

In light of the pending contested election for Yolo County Sheriff between Ed Prieto and Undersheriff Tom Lopez, it seemed important to clarify some of the aspects of the settlement – first of all, that Sheriff Ed Prieto was no longer a party to the suit at the time of its settlement.  The settlement was agreed to by the risk management agency.

While it is standard to not admit wrongdoing, in this case, the case was settled strictly on a risk management basis.  The agency deemed the time and expense of going to trial – even if successful – to be more expensive than their ultimate settlement agreement of $98,000.

The settlement precludes Ms. Zetwick from making statements on the case or contacting the media, or even posting about the case on social media.  Or even posting about other alleged relationships on social media or the internet.

In effect, the settlement agreement figures to at least partially remove this issue from the sheriff’s race, although it is less clear if the sheriff would be able to respond to allegations as, once again, he is not a party to the settlement.

“Prieto subjected plaintiff to unwanted hugs and kisses,” her lawsuit stated. “Plaintiff estimates that over the course of 14 years with the Sheriff’s Department, with Prieto as sheriff, he has hugged her at least 100 times.

“Each time was awkward, unsolicited and unwelcome for the plaintiff.”

Sheriff Prieto through his attorney denied the allegations, calling the hugs “platonic” and “no different than the type of hug one might give or receive with a grandma or friend.”

The suit appeared dead in 2014 when a U.S. District Court judge found that Ms. Zetwick “did not put forth sufficient facts to support her claim.” However, that was reversed in November 2016 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal.

The sheriff, as it turns out, has been subject to a number of complaints, but none of them have been substantiated.

In 2014, a Grand Jury report likened Sheriff Prieto’s office to “the wild, wild west,” finding a years-long record of intimidation, harassment and nepotism.

However, that report was heavily accused of embellishment, and of failure to substantiate the most serious charges. It was criticized as well by the Board of Supervisors, with Supervisor Matt Rexroad stating it was unclear from the report whether a number of the statements made by the Grand Jury had been factually proven or whether these were simply allegations.

“This thing is written so poorly that I can’t tell whether …” he started. “There’s certainly enough in here for my mind that gives us every reason to go in and look at this operation very carefully.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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8 thoughts on “Analysis: Harassment Settlement Agreement Was against Yolo County”

  1. Sharla C.

    Prieto is a hugger. He admitted to hugging and kissing her, but that it wasn’t in a sexual nature.   She didn’t like or want the hugs and kisses and never claimed the touching was sexual.  He’s the patriarch. She’s one of the women in his patrarchial world.  In reality, he’s the supervisor and she’s the female employee.  I have to believe that the employee didn’t like or want these unprofessional expressions of affection and that they may have been demeaning to her in the male dominated world of law enforcement.  Yolo County is sued, because nothing was done to curb the supervisor’s behaviour toward the female deputy working under him.  I’m glad that it was worked out in a satisfactoy manner for the employee.

    1. Ken A

      Before Tia complains about the “county culture/atmosphere that allows this kind of inappropriate professional conduct to continue unchecked” she can tell us about some group that has eliminated “inappropriate professional conduct”. Last week Tony Mendoza became the third member of the CA legislature to resign after allegations of “inappropriate professional conduct”.  Last month it came out that Hillary Clinton advisor Burns Strider was doing a lot of “inappropriate professional conduct” and I can’t think of a single RELIGION that has not has not had a leader forced to step down after  “inappropriate professional conduct”.  If Catholic, Jewish, Mormon and Protestant churches can’t stop “inappropriate professional conduct” from the guys that sign up to “teach morals and values” it seems like even the best Sheriff will have a tough time stopping this in a workplace full of high t alpha males who sign up for a job where they hope to get the chance to rush in to a schools and kill anyone trying to harm kids.

    2. PhilColeman

      Tia, this is rote rhetoric, disingenuous, and your suspicions are accurate. The money comes from somewhere, YCPARMIA is not an acronym for the United States Mint.

      YCPARMIA is a coalition of public entities who share resources and liability judgments. YCPARMIA gets its money from the participating government agencies. You know where they get their money.

      Each participating agency in YCPARMIA pays in accordance with a formula, including agency size and past history of successful suits against them. The more bills you send to YCPARMIA, the bigger bill you get later to maintain membership.

      Contact the County Counsel and ask him, again, if there was no cost with this settlement now that you know, “the rest of the story.” Also, County Counsel farmed out the attorney costs and that firm did not work for free. You’re paying for two sets of attorneys looking at the same case.

  2. Tia Will

     I’m glad that it was worked out in a satisfactory manner for the employee.”
    Although I am also glad it worked out in a satisfactory manner for this employee, I have some questions and reservations.

    1.”The settlement itself was to come directly from the County’s joint powers risk management agency, YCPARMIA.  No county money was to go to the settlement.”

    Surely the YCPARMIA is not a charity that works for free. Where does its funding to pay off this settlement come from ? I am hard pressed to believe that no taxpayer money is involved at any level.

    2. It would seem that this one employee’s case was resolved to her satisfaction. Perhaps we should be addressing the county culture/atmosphere that allows this kind of inappropriate professional conduct to continue unchecked. At the very least, we should encourage our employees to act immediately by addressing the issue of unwanted physical contact directly with “the hugger” on first contact, or with HR directly if they are uncomfortable or unsuccessful with directly addressing their supervisor for fear of retaliation, which yes, is common when confronted.


    1. David Greenwald Post author

      The way it works is YCPARMIA is an insurance pool, so they collect money from member organizations and in effect insure against lawsuits, legal expenses, and settlements. I’m not an expert on how it works, just how it works in very general terms.

    2. Howard P

      Agree… as long as you concede that it is not just males who are culpable… seems there is at least one female state legislator who has been accused…

      I know of at least one female/female harassment that occured, but the victim couldn’t deal with the same sex thing, and pointed a finger at a male co-worker… who was totally innocent…

      The victim was indeed harrassed on sexual basis, but the “perp” she identified was wrong gender, and definitely the wrong person…

  3. PhilColeman

    “In effect, the settlement agreement figures to at least partially remove this issue from the Sheriff’s race, although it is less clear if the Sheriff would be able to respond to allegations as once again, he is not a party to the settlement.”

    True, Prieto was not a party to the subsequent settlement. He was dismissed as a defendant, and there is nothing partial or conditional with that ruling. The Sheriff can accurately say his role received trial and appellate court scrutiny, and found to be blameless.

    Since Ed Prieto was not a party to the settlement, it’s quite clear he’s not bound by the settlement’s confidentially clause. So Ed could speak openly about the case, but there is no incentive for him to do so. It still happened on his watch, and leaders can get blamed if the office floor has a dropped piece of paper on it.

    Sheriffs and law enforcement heads everywhere possess many embarrassing secrets on numerous people of prominence and otherwise, but remain discreet unless and until it becomes an obligation to one’s oath of office.

    The more politically intriguing scenario is the dialog between the Sheriff and Under-Sheriff during this litigation. They surely shared strategies, which could now be disclosed by either party were it found to enhance their chance winning the upcoming election. Assuming both men have a brain that aided them to achieve such high organizational standing, neither will travel this road. This is throwing mud, and getting most of it on yourself.

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