The makeup of San Francisco’s most prominent law enforcement group changed Wednesday when the head of the police union resigned over claims that he misused association funds while on medical leave.
Tony Montoya stepping down as president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association marks the end of a tenure that began four years ago when he first sought to rehabilitate the union’s tumultuous relationship with City Hall.
Montoya resigned after rumors surfaced that he took a union vehicle with him in January when he moved to Nevada—and used a POA credit card to fill up the tank. Montoya told The Standard that the rumors are true, but nothing about them violates established practice or policy.
Montoya—who made clear he was speaking in his personal capacity and not on behalf of the union—said he was essentially accused of theft or embezzlement. “These are very serious allegations and if they were occurring someone should have made a police report,” he said. “That never occurred.”
As president, Montoya changed the tenor of the police union. While by no means a champion of reform, he struck a more conciliatory tone than his predecessors, whose outspoken style and hardline stances earned them a reputation for undermining change.
His departure comes as political winds begin to shift in favor of police after years of public scrutiny and calls to defund law enforcement in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
Within hours on Tuesday, voters ousted District Attorney Chesa Boudin—a progressive prosecutor whose investigations into officer misconduct put him at odds with police—while SFPD secured near-unanimous support for hefty wage hikes from the Board of Supervisors.
Joe Clark, a member of the POA board representing Tenderloin Station, characterized Montoya’s resignation as an extension of those victories.
“Between the Chesa recall being successful, Tony stepping down from the presidency and the BOS almost unanimously approving extra money for us, it’s looking like the pendulum is starting to swing back in our favor after a very long past 4-5 years,” Clark wrote in an email to POA members.
The “next big dominos to watch fall,” he continued, are the police contract negotiations and “the possibility of a new chief in the next fiscal year.”
Police Chief Bill Scott, who joined SFPD in 2017 as an outsider from Los Angeles, has led the department for longer than the average chief. While Scott has long been dogged by rumors of his departure, the chief said as recently as March that he had no intentions of retiring soon.
Montoya became president of the police union in 2018 on a promise to abandon the association’s “bombastic style.” He won a second term in 2020 despite internal criticism that his approach wasn’t working.
Rumors of financial impropriety began to spread after Montoya moved to the Las Vegas area in January and took a POA-owned Ford Fusion with him. Montoya said he used his union credit card to buy about $150 in gas.
Montoya went on medical leave the next month. Though he declined to say why, he said he left on the orders of two different doctors. He planned to retire in early July before deciding to return in recent weeks. His comeback had nothing to do with the wage hikes officers just secured, he said.
His anticipated return spurred a series of internal meetings in which members pushed for Tracy McCray to finish his term. She served as vice president under Montoya and as acting president in his absence.
Clark wrote that “multiple insinuations of financial improprieties were hinted at” during those meetings, describing one such klatch as “an absolute dumpster fire.”
“I believe it is in the association’s and Tenderloin Station’s best interest that Tony not come back at all,” he wrote. “I’ve gotten a lot of feedback thus far on the issue and not a single Tenderloin officer has voiced any support for Tony.”
Montoya said he continued to work remotely and take meetings on behalf of the union while on leave. Other union presidents have kept their vehicles while on leave, he added. But Montoya still returned the vehicle in March in response to the rumors.
“The work could be done whether it was in my home in Nevada or at the POA,” he said. “No person has told me where I abdicated my duties because I didn’t.”
But former police union head Gary Delagnes said Montoya taking the POA car to Nevada didn’t pass the smell test.
“It was completely and totally inappropriate if not criminal,” Delagnes said. “I think people have been indicted for less.”
Delagnes, whose blunt style Montoya sought to move away from, said Montoya lacked the strong leadership qualities needed to make the police union a “viable organization again” following some hard years.
“It’s not going to work for the police union to try to be nice and say we don’t want to fight with people,” Delagnes said. “That does not work in San Francisco. You’ve got to fight for everything that you get. It’s a war out there.”
Delagnes said McCray has potential to lead the union forward.
In an email notifying members about Montoya resigning Wednesday, McCray wrote that “questions were raised about what activities Tony was allowed to do, as well as if he could do any of his presidential duties” while Montoya was out on leave.
“The issues have been settled and no findings of impropriety have been found to have occurred,” McCray wrote. Montoya is expected to “continue his service to the Police Department and we look forward to his full participation as an active member of the POA,” she added.
McCray did not respond to requests for comment. POA spokesperson Tom Saggau also demurred, calling the situation an “internal union matter.”
McCray is expected to finish out Montoya’s term ending next February. She named Kevin Worrell as her vice president, according to Montoya.
Montoya said he plans to return to Mission Station as a patrol sergeant.
“The damage to my reputation is irreparable,” he said. “The damage has been done, but I’m not going to make hay out of it.”
Michael Barba can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org