OROVILLE (CBS13) — A lawsuit was filed Wednesday against the California Department of Water Resources as evidence starts unfolding into the disaster that forced nearly 200,000 people from their homes in February.
The complaint claims the state water department and its supervisors were reckless, as they intentionally ignored necessary maintenance of the dam. In addition, it says higher-ups were stealing supplies, harassing employees and trying to silence those who complained.
A culture of corruption and decades of fraud and mismanagement is what an 800-page lawsuit filed by the city of Oroville claims caused the Oroville Dam spillway crisis, and it’s blaming the Department of Water Resources.
“What they did was put profits over safety,” said attorney John Cotchett. “They thought they were the mafia that could get away with anything.”
Among the evidence are so-called daily cover-ups. One part of the lawsuit claims, “On many occasions, this branch would mark projects or tasks as complete when they had not even been started, and reports were filed indicating that they were done.”
“They thought they could just say ‘no, we don’t have to do that maintenance,'” said Cotchett.
The suit also outlines cases of racism. In one instance, it claims a noose was hanging in a meeting room after a black employee spoke out about maintenance issues. It goes on to say a white DWR employee told an African-American employee that “this job is not like picking cotton.”
Women were also harassed, according to the complaint, which stated they were exposed to graphic images and called derogatory names. Cotchett says one female maintenance worker was even reluctant to speak with him.
“She said, ‘I worry about my life.’ ”
Some supervisors and employees are accused of “stealing state equipment and supplies for their own personal use. ” In one case, attorneys say supplies were supposed to be delivered to the dam but were instead sent to a garage in Oroville where they were later sold.
The DWR denied CBS13’s request for comment, citing pending litigation. Meanwhile, the city of Oroville is not sure yet how much money it is seeking in total. Attorneys say more lawsuits from farmers, business owners and residents in the area are on the way, with some expected to be filed next week.