Sheriff's clerk wins his job back after being detained in East Africa

A 12-year employee of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department was reinstated with some back pay and benefits after he failed to return from a vacation to his native country in East Africa, newly disclosed records show.

According to the county civil-service commission, the unnamed stock clerk traveled to Africa in January to visit with family and tend to financial matters related to his former fiance. But he failed to return to work in mid-February because immigration officials seized his passport.

“When he arrived at the airport to to fly home on Feb. 13, two days before his vacation ran out, his passport was taken from him,” the commission wrote in a report released last week. “When he checked with Immigration to determine the reason for this, he was told that they didn’t know.”

The sheriff’s department stock clerk, who did not respond to an interview request sent via an intermediary, was unable to find out why his passport was confiscated and subsequently was referred to numerous government offices.

“Military officials told him that his fiance had to grant permission for him to get his passport back,” the report said. “He went to court and after two months of waiting the judge overruled this and ordered that his passport be returned.”

While stranded in East Africa, the man had his brother contact the sheriff’s department to alert his supervisor to what happened, but the clerk’s boss was not on duty and the message was not clearly translated.

The man made it home to San Diego and contacted the county on April 17. Following a meeting two days later, he was referred to the civil service commission.

In June, commission officials voted 3-1 to reinstate the employee as of February. They deemed him to be on unpaid leave between February and mid-April but ordered that he receive back pay with interest and benefits from mid-April going forward.

“This was an extraordinary circumstance,” the commission report stated. “Employee was being held hostage in his former country. Employee’s failure to report is excusable.”

Commissioner Peter Smith opposed the decision. According to minutes from the June meeting released late last week, Smith said the worker should have provided more tangible evidence of what caused his absence and should have made a greater effort to contact the sheriff’s department.

jeff.mcdonald@sduniontribune.com (619) 293-1708 @sdutMcDonald

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