The law firm of Curiale Hirschfeld Kraemer tracked information suggesting that district attorney Mike Ramos had sexual relations with at least four employees who currently or formerly worked in his office, according to information gathered for a report tendered by that law firm on January 12 and released by the county January 27.
The report itself together with information cross-referenced by the Sentinel and augmented by the law firm’s investigative work product that included interviews with district attorney’s employees which were not included in the report either confirmed or otherwise indicated that Ramos’ liaisons with women linked to him in previous public reports could in some fashion be substantiated.
The report was compiled by Glen Kraemer and Reed Schaper of the Curiale Hirschfeld Kraemer law firm, which was paid $140,000 for the work. The firm was retained by the county upon the recommendation of human resources director Andrew Lamberto and county counsel Ruth Stringer.
The county board of supervisors commissioned the report after Cheryl Ristow, an evidence technician with the district attorney’s office, lodged a sexual harassment complaint against Ramos in August.
Ristow has been on stress leave since July and has not been cleared to return to her assignment in the sexually violent predator/mentally disordered offender unit. She maintained in her complaint that she was retaliated against after the Sentinel published, on May 29, an article reporting that Ramos had engaged in affairs with or made unwanted sexual advances to eight woman who worked in the district attorney’s office, as well as with San Bernardino County Public Defender Doreen Boxer and Suzanne Hunter, a training consultant for the California District Attorneys Association. The office employees named in the article were Ristow, who was identified by her previous name, Cheryl Barnes; deputy district attorney Ann Marie Duncan; Kelly Snelling, who worked as Ramos’ campaign manager and treasurer; deputy district attorney Jane Allen; deputy district attorney Beth Houser; deputy district attorney Denise Yoakum; Brenda Rossi, a paralegal; and Megan Wagner, an investigative technician.
Ristow claimed that following the article’s publication, she was subjected to repeated disciplinary action as Ramos and several of the office’s employees grappled with bringing the scandal pertaining to his womanizing under control. She was targeted in this fashion, Ristow alleged, because Ramos believed that she would prove a weak link in the effort to keep Ramos’s various paramours from confirming the existence of, and providing to various media outlets details about the affairs.
While the investigation Kraemer and Schaper undertook cut a wide path and churned up considerable ground and minutiae with regard to the relationship between the district attorney and Ristow as well as several of the other women identified as his lovers, the charter of Curiale Hirschfeld Kraemer was to produce a report that would minimize the county’s liability with regard to Ristow’s claims. Accordingly, the final report Kraemer and Schaper delivered had a focus that was considerably narrower than the breadth of its inquiry and the attendant facts that inquiry uncovered.
“Whether Ramos did or did not have welcome – or unwelcome – sexual relationships with the females identified in that [May 29, 2009 Sentinel] and subsequent articles and blogs is irrelevant to whether or not he, or individuals at his request or suggestion, retaliated against Ristow, adversely affecting the terms and conditions of her employment. [T]he scope of our investigation was appropriately limited to a determination of whether Ristow suffered adverse employment actions committed or condoned by supervisory representatives of the county. We were neither tasked with, nor would we have accepted, an unfocused inquiry into their rather salacious allegations made in the subject May 28, 2009 Sentinel article.”
The article in question was actually published on May 29.
The officially released report and conclusion offered by Kraemer and Schaper in large measure downplays the retaliation Ristow claims to have suffered at the hands of those acting on Ramos’ behalf.
In this way, a substantial amount of the report devotes itself to Ristow’s extended absences from the office during and after her lunch hour on at least two known occasions, once prior to the article’s appearance and another such absence after the article was published. The report further documents that Ristow violated the department’s dress code by sporting a nose piercing and on occasion failing to adequately cover two tattoos. Moreover, Ristow, who worked at the district attorney’s office on Hospitality Lane in San Bernardino, which is relatively close to the Riverside County border, was upbraided by one of her supervisors for having utilized her county-issued vehicle for crossing into Riverside County to have lunch.
Kraemer and Schaper noted that several of those interviewed made reference to statements by Ristow, in the aftermath of the publication of the May 29 Sentinel article, that evinced “her attitude progressively getting worse,” or indicated she was growing “very emotional, volatile and antagonistic,” was “looking for a reason to go off work because of stress,” and “was making everyone uncomfortable with her demeanor.”
Among the office employees who offered statements to Kraemer and Schaper indicating that Ristow had engaged in activity that was contrary to office policy, inappropriate, disruptive or which in some other fashion merited discipline were investigative technician Bianca Ralston, supervising investigator Bill Sellers, deputy district attorney Denise Yoakum, chief of investigations Michael Smith, and deputy district attorney Diane Harrison.
In the conclusion to their report, Kraemer and Schaper state, “Ristow did not produce any evidence, nor did we uncover any information, that suggests (1) that Ramos ws materially involved in [initiating an] investigation motivated by retaliatory intent [or] improper retalitaion, (2) that there were individuals who were similarly situated (regarding their workplace misconduct or performance) but who were treated more leniently by these supervisors, or (3) that [Ristow’s office colleagues and supervisors] engaged in other, ancillary acts that would indicate any form of bias against Ristow.”
In delivering a legal document designed to meet the goal of limiting the county’s liability, Kraemer and Schaper nevertheless provided information that paradoxically would support the conclusion that members of the office, in particular Sellers and Smith, undertook an effort to “make book” on Ristow after the publication of the May 29 article.
Most, though not all of the documentation which Kraemer and Schaper cite with regard to Ristow’s misdeeds which became the focus of the disciplinary action against her is dated after the article’s publication.
Similarly, a significant number of the complaints quoted in the report relating to the deterioration of Ristow’s attitude are cited in the context of her expressions of anger and frustration, as well as a feeling of abandonment by Ramos, in the aftermath of the publication of the article disclosing her sexual relationship with the district attorney.
And despite Kraemer and Schaper’s assertion that making a determination of whether an affair actually transpired between Ristow and Ramos was beyond the bounds of their assignment, passages of their own narrative as well as the citation of statements of several witnesses either inadvertently, indirectly or directly suggest that Ristow’s insistence that such an affair took place has a basis in fact.
In asserting that there is no basis for Ristow’s assertion of sexual harassment, Kraemer and Schaper cite as supporting data their acceptance of the assertion that Ristow “acted out concerning the denial of the affair.”
Ristow claims that her affair with Ramos began in 2003 at the California District Attorney Investigators Association conference.
Kraemer and Schaper acknowledge in their report that more than five years before the Sentinel article was published, reports of a relationship between Ristow and Ramos had been spreading through the district attorney’s office.
“There is little question that immediately following the 2003 California District Attorney Investigators’ Association conference at Lake Arrowhead – in September, October and November of 2003, there were a number of conversations among investigative technicians who attended the conference and other technicians who had not related to hearing directly from Ristow that she had spent the night with Ramos at the conference,” Kraemer and Schaper wrote. “There were, of course, no witnesses to any intimate behavior, but it was notable that the story was contemporaneous with the event, and several employees related that Ristow was quite open about it even though Ristow did not consistently assert that the story was true. Indeed long before the Sentinel article was published, many employees had either heard directly from Ristow or from others in the office as to both the existence of an alleged relationship and some indication that it had lasted for some period of time and had ended.”
Elsewhere in the report, Kraemer and Schaper write,”Ristow alleges her affair with Ramos began on September 15, 2003, while both were in attendance at the California District Attorneys Investigators’ Association Conference held in Lake Arrowhead at the UCLA Conference Center. Ristow claims that their intermittent sexual relationship began that evening, and lasted through February 2005; she alleges that she ended the relationship because he was not going to leave his wife. Ristow states that at their ‘break-up meeting,’ she asked Ramos if she should leave the department because of discomfort, and he said ‘no’.”
According to Kraemer and Schaper, Ristow told them that on the day before the Sentinel article was published, “On May 28, 2009, I received a phone call from [deputy district attorney and Ramos confidant] Michael Fermin; I called him and he asked me to call Mike Ramos. I called. He (Ramos) said that he is being named in a “local rag” and that my name is being placed in the article along with other women. I said ‘I did not get the benefit of the allegations,’ or something like that. During the conversation he said, remember what we talked about – we just don’t talk about this.”
Ristow claimed that members of the district attorney’s special response team – i.e., prosecutor’s office investigators – provided security or stood as a watchout during Ramos’ furtive trysts with her. She also claimed that their sexual encounters often took place in the DA’s office.
Kraemer and Schaper said that they inquired directly with Ramos about “the nature of any relationship with Cheryl Ristow.”
They reported that “Ramos stated that his recollection of his first communication with Ristow was at the 2003 California District Attorney Investigators’ Association conference at Lake Arrowhead. Ramos recalled nothing more than the fact that Ristow was present at the function and was helping with administrative duties (check-in of attendees and the like.) He denied any physical relationship with Ristow.”
According to Kraemer and Schaper cell phone records for both Ramos’ and Ristow’s county-issued phones showed “sixteen (16) outgoing calls from numbers assigned to Ramos to claimant ([i.e., Ristow] between October 2, 2003 (the first such call noted) until October 4, 2005; [and thirty-three (33) outgoing calls from claimant to Ramos between December 10, 2004 and December 15 2005.[and] five (5) incoming calls from claimant to Ramos, and two (2) calls labeled as “call wait.”
Ramos claimed that the calls between them related to his efforts to help Ristow place her daughter into a school in the Redlands School District, where he had previously been a member of the school board.
Through cross-referencing of materials and interviews with investigators, members of the district attorney’s office and other county officials, the Sentinel has learned that Kraemer and Schaper accrued, but chose not to utilize in the completion of their report, statements that lend further credence to Ristow’s assertion of a sexual relationship with Ramos.
According to a source involved in the investigation, Ana Ambriz, who currently works as a secretary to the office’s gang unit and who was a former clerk in the sexually violent predator unit, along with investigative technicians Jody Lonegran, Jan Barandon, Megan Wagner and Brad Borrero either gave, or were in a position to provide, statements to Kraemer and Schaper that would have supported Ristow’s contention that she had a lengthy relationship with Ramos.
Furthermore, the Sentinel has learned, Kraemer and Schaper, were provided with information to the effect that Ramos had affairs with Anne Marie Duncan, Brenda Rossi, and Beth Houser.
Ristow this week told the Sentinel that Kraemer and Schaper “left way more out of the report than what they put in,” including material and statements that would corroborate her statements. “I know what the truth is. So does Mike Ramos,” she said.
She said that Ramos’ claim that the phone calls placed between them pertained to efforts on his behalf to help get her daughter into the Redlands School District were a fabrication. She acknowledged that one phone call – but only one – dealt with that request. The lion’s share of their phone calls were made, she said, prior to her moving to Redlands in June of 2005 and well before her daughter matriculated into the Redlands Unified School District in August of 2005.
Ristow said she was initially very angry with the Sentinel for identifying her as one of Ramos’ paramours in the May 29, 2009 article. “I made a mistake in getting involved with him. I thought I had put that behind me and out of the blue I had to live through all of that again,” she said.
She said she was furious Ramos did not do anything to protect her, and instead encouraged her to cover for him.
“When I got through to him on the phone, he told me basically you are going to lie for me,“ she said.
She said she became involved with Ramos in 2003 in the aftermath of the breakup of her marriage. She said Ramos invited her into his cabin at the Lake Arrowhead resort during the conference there and tearfully told her that he was locked in loveless marriage. Ramos subsequently told her that he loved her and that he intended to divorce his wife after their youngest son graduated from high school.
She ended the affair when she realized he was conning her, Ristow said.
“He’s a sex predator of the worst kind,” she said. “He goes after vulnerable women. The relationship was consensual. I was his employee. He was the district attorney. He should not have put me in that position.”
Ristow said she met her current husband around the time that she broke it off with Ramos and was contentedly moving on.
“I never looked back until the article came out,” she said.
Her life has been a nightmare ever since, she said. “This has really hurt my husband,” she said. “He is an incredible man. He has stood by me the whole way.”
She said that Ramos is a serial womanizer and that eventually he will be exposed entirely. She said the county is courting disaster by trying to keep a lid on the scandal instead of realistically confronting the problem.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “If other women could speak up about what happened to them with him without fear of retaliation or humiliation, they would be coming out of the woodwork,” Ristow said. “Someone had to go first and I guess it was me.”
Ramos told her about his affair with Beth Houser, Ristow said.
Despite the report and its dismissive tone, she said she was not going to relent.
“I have an attorney and I am going to fight this the whole way,” she said. “Mike Ramos thinks this is over. Well, I have news for him. It has just started.”