Tony Beard, the long-time head of the California Senate's in-house law enforcement unit, announced his retirement Tuesday following the revelation that he withheld information from Senate leader Darrell Steinbergabout drug use by a Senate sergeant.
Steinberg fired the employee, Sergeant-at-Arms Gerardo Lopez, after The Sacramento Bee raised questions about court testimony that describes Lopez having cocaine and marijuana in his system the night he was involved in an off-duty gunfight that left three people injured and one man dead.
Steinberg said he first learned of Lopez's toxicology report last week from The Bee. But before he fired Lopez late Thursday, Steinberg said he met with Beard, who confirmed that he had known that a toxicology report showed Lopez had consumed illegal drugs the night in December 2012 when he participated in a shootout outside his Greenhaven-area home.
"He thought at the time that he couldn't disclose the information because he heard it through the process of a confidential investigation," Steinberg spokesman Mark Hedlund said.
"He understands that he made an error in judgment on that."
Beard's departure from the $171,480 per year job marks the end of a 46-year career in the state Senate, including 34 as its chief sergeant-at-arms. Beard, 64, is stepping down immediately as the chief sergeant-at-arms and will begin his retirement later this summer, Hedlund said.
In a letter to Steinberg, Beard said he had "always acted with integrity, dedication and the utmost loyalty to the state Senate and the people of California. To leave a lifelong career is not an easy decision. But nature itself suggests to us when it is time to go. A new eye is needed. A fresh start is necessary."
The criminal case stemming from the shooting outside Lopez's home is heading to trial next month in Sacramento. Prosecutors consider Lopez the victim of a home invasion and are charging three men with robbing his house. Testimony in a preliminary hearing revealed that the shooting happened after Lopez and his wife, Jennifer Delao -- who is a secretary in Steinberg's policy unit -- had invited friends over for a party after a night out at a bar.
Steinberg issued a statement:
"Tony Beard has served California's Legislature with great distinction and honor for more than four decades. Throughout his tenure as Chief, he has raised the standards of the Senate Sergeants-at-Arms office and brought more diversity to his staff. His exemplary service deserves recognition and celebration, which we will do at the appropriate time.
"With Tony's pending retirement, I am asking that effective immediately, Deputy Chief Sergeant-at-Arms Katrina Rodriguez become the interim Chief until such time as the Senate Rules Committee elects a new Chief Sergeant-at-Arms."
Steinberg met with reporters after Tuesday's announcement, saying, "I am dealing with the business that I need to deal with here." See video below.
Editor's note: This post has been changed to correct a grammatical error.
PHOTO: Tony Beard, the state Senate's chief sergeant at arms, escorts FBI agents to Senator Ron Calderon's office in the Capitol on June 4, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas.