Discharge Of LA County Police Officer Reduced To Written Reprimand With Full Backpay

After a fifteen-year career, an LA County Police Officer was terminated, on May 10, 2005, for alleged violations of conduct towards others and poor judgment involving two separate incidents in March of 2004 and the issuance of a restraining order restricting the carrying of a firearm while off-duty. Attorney Andrew M. Dawson litigated this matter. The Hearing Officer reduced the officer’s discharge to written reprimands with full back pay. This is one of many discipline cases that has recently been overturned since the arrival of Chief Margaret York.

Below is a summary of what the Hearing Officer decided after 18 days of hearing: 

On March 12, 2004, the officer witnessed a citizen park his vehicle entirely in a red zone. When the citizen exited the vehicle, he told the officer in a loud voice, “If you give me a ticket, I’m going to make a complaint.” Upon the officer’s approach and attempt to get information from the front of the driver’s side window, the citizen walked up on the officer and “was in his face.” The officer relied upon his training, in attempting to maintain control of the situation, by holding up his hands to stop the approach. Shortly thereafter, the citizen’s wife approached the officer from the rear, and he warned her to not interfere or else she could go to jail. Another officer arrived on scene who moved the citizen onto the sidewalk and instructed the officer to continue to write the citation.

The citizen complained to the department and claimed he was legally parked, which was in direct contradiction to both officers’ testimony. Chief York acknowledged during testimony that “verbal judo” could be utilized during an incident to control a situation involving an irate citizen. Testimony further showed it was the citizen and not the officer who was loud, waiving his hands, and confrontational. A witness was concerned enough for the officer’s safety to call for the assistance of another officer due to the actions of the citizen. Chief York did not appreciate nor recognize the fact that the citizen was illegally parked and became confrontational, because he did not want a ticket. At most, the officer failed to move expeditiously the citizen and his wife to the sidewalk for their safety, but this was only a minor violation of departmental policies.

The other allegations arose from a second incident, on March 24, 2004, relating to another vehicle parked in a red zone. When the driver that parked in the red zone proceeded to leave the vehicle and enter the building, the officer approached him and asked for his license, registration, and insurance. The citizen stated the vehicle belonged to his mother; thus, he did not have insurance, registration, or a driver’s license. The officer requested the keys to the vehicle while he went inside the building to run the vehicle information and to allow the citizen to contact his mother. An ambulance subsequently was called for the citizen, because he became very upset and experienced signs of a panic attack. The citizen’s signs of physical distress subsided, and he declined any further assistance and/or medical transport. The officer then requested the citizen accompany him to the police office. A Deputy Director of DPSS stated the citizen should not have been moved to the police office and requested the keys that the officer had previously taken from the citizen; the officer refused both requests.

The department alleged almost identical facts between the March 24th and March 12th incidents by claiming the officer flailed his arms when initially confronting both citizens in the two incidents. Evidence showed and Chief York actually admitted there was a cut and paste error in the department’s investigative report and the claims of the officer flailing his arms in the March 24th incident were false. Rather, evidence showed the initial contact the officer had with the citizen was professional. Additionally, the citizen chose to accompany the officer to the police office and was not complaining of any physical distress once he was moved to the office. The arbitrator acknowledged Chief York was confronted with the complaint made by the Deputy Director of DPSS and that she wanted to maintain positive relations with DPSS, but this cannot be undertaken at the expense of employee rights. The officer was conducting a stolen vehicle investigation and his superior officer was aware of his actions. The officer was never ordered to terminate his investigation nor explain himself. The arbitrator agreed that the officer’s actions with the Deputy Director may have been impolite, but he was not wrong for not complying with his demands.

The department claimed the officer’s restraining order regarding his ability to carry a gun off-duty was too burdensome for the department; thus, was a basis for the termination. Yet, testimony revealed Chief York did not look at the specific burdens of the restraining order and rather testified to only possible burdens the department could face. In fact, evidence showed there was no additional burden to the department, since, at the officer’s current assignment, there were three secure places for him to store his duty weapon when off-duty and sergeants were always present at the beginning and end of the shifts to provide access to his duty weapon. Similarly, shotguns were assigned along with ammunition during each shift; thus, the checking in and out of the officer’s duty weapon would not have placed any additional burden on the department, as was claimed by Chief York.

During the hearing, Chief York acknowledged as did others that had she known all the facts surrounding the issuance of the citations, she would have to re-evaluate the officer’s actions. Also, testimonial evidence of Chief York and additional information received during the hearing showed the Department was not burdened by the restraining order and could not serve as a basis for their termination; thus, the only basis for termination were the two incidents occurring in March of 2004.

Conclusion

The Hearing Officer found the department’s discipline to be excessive and reduced the termination to written reprimands with full back pay. The LA County Civil Service Commission adopted the hearing officer’s decision to reinstate the officer with full back pay. The officer was pleased with the outcome of the case and is thankful for the constant support of his association (LACPOA), the LDF, as well as his attorneys.

 

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