Former El Monte POA Vice President, Eric Walterscheid, has finally been vindicated after years of fighting trumped up allegations by the El Monte Police Department thanks to the representation of Dawson & Riley, LLP. Walterscheid was a Senior Detective and a 21-year employee of the El Monte Police Department with an exemplary service record prior to his termination by Chief Steve Schuster. His termination came after a lengthy investigation that coincidentally began shortly after he testified against the Department in its unsuccessful attempt to terminate the former El Monte POA Treasurer, who was also previously represented by Andrew Dawson, and during some political disputes between the POA and City officials.
The allegations in this matter have one common factor – Captain Santos Hernandez. Hernandez was found not credible by the Arbitrator given his “gaps in his recall and no ability to recall much of anything if his answers might incriminate him.” In fact, Hernandez repeatedly refused to answer questions at the direction of the City’s counsel and then pled the Fifth on all questions related to the conspiracy to set up the former POA President, Brian Glick, and whether the former City Manager, Rene Bobadilla, was involved in that conspiracy. Hernandez was also one of the main management employees who were involved in the former POA Treasurer’s termination. Given Hernandez’s significant involvement in this case, the legitimacy of the Department’s allegations was highly skeptical.
In May of 2010, Hernandez directed Walterscheid to write a supplemental report for a taped interview of an alleged rape victim that occurred approximately one year prior. Walterscheid was not the lead detective on the case; however, Hernandez claimed he was conducting an “audit” of open cases and in this audit happened to find that a supplemental report was not written regarding the videotaped interview in 2009. Coincidentally, the suspect in the 2009 case had just been re-arrested by the Department in May of 2010 and the Department just so happened to be doing an audit of that particular case from 2009 and directed Walterscheid, who was not the lead detective, to write a supplemental report regarding the interview.
Regardless of the motives behind Hernandez’s direction, Walterscheid wrote the report. Hernandez disagreed with Walterscheid’s characterization of the alleged victim’s statement and directed certain changes be made. The changes involved the credibility of the alleged victim, who Hernandez believed was credible despite significant discrepancies in her statements. Walterscheid did not agree; however, he made the changes pursuant to the order given by Hernandez. Upon receiving notification that the District Attorney was going to move forward with filing charges regarding the 2009 case, Walterscheid notified the DA’s Office regarding the changes to the supplemental report. Additionally, Walterscheid notified the Chief of Police regarding his letter to the DA’s Office. Despite this notification, the Department alleged Walterscheid reported misconduct of a superior to the DA’s Office in violation of Department policy. The Arbitrator found that there was nothing in the letter to the DA’s Office disparaging Hernandez or accusing Hernandez of misconduct; thus this was not sufficient to support termination of Walterscheid.
The Department next alleged Walterscheid was insubordinate in October of 2010 regarding alleged direction by Sgt. Goodwin. Goodwin claimed he directed Walterscheid two times to interview an in-custody spousal rape suspect regarding allegations that were not reported by the suspect’s wife for over one year. However, on cross-examination, Goodwin admitted he never ordered Walterscheid to go. Later that same day and not surprisingly, Walterscheid received a rejection notice from the DA’s Office, prior to interviewing the suspect. Given the DA’s rejection, Walterscheid submitted the 849 release to Goodwin for his signature. At no time, did Goodwin ask Walterscheid whether he interviewed the suspect, rather he proceeded to sign off on the suspect’s release and testified he assumed Walterscheid interviewed the suspect. It was not until seven days later that Goodwin submitted a memo to the Chief of Police regarding the alleged insubordination, and coincidentally the memo was drafted at the direction of Hernandez and just after a different incident arose as outlined below. The Arbitrator held the Department failed to prove insubordination. Insubordination requires more than just allegedly directing an employee to complete a task and that employee’s failure to complete the task; rather, the Department was required, and failed, to make Walterscheid aware of any consequences for failure to perform the directed task and to provide Walterscheid an opportunity to correct his purportedly insubordinate conduct.
In mid-October 2010, prior to the writing of the insubordination memo referenced above, Walterscheid was assigned as a lead detective to a case involving a high school principal and a minor female. The Department alleged Walterscheid violated certain investigation protocols, and based on these alleged violations, Hernandez directed Goodwin to remove him from the case. These alleged violations occurred the day prior to the memo Goodwin drafted regarding the insubordination that occurred one week prior. In response to Hernandez’s direction, Goodwin called Walterscheid into his office and questioned him without providing him his POBR rights, regarding Walterscheid’s handling of the investigation. Goodwin admitted during his testimony that he knew there was a possibility of punitive action prior to questioning Walterscheid. After questioning Walterscheid, Goodwin then notified Walterscheid of his removal from the investigation. As such, the Arbitrator held:
“Goodwin considered Appellant’s conduct in the [omitted] case to be improper and subject to potential discipline. Goodwin’s memos to the Chief and reports to Hernandez, as well as his testimony, suggest Goodwin was protecting himself. For all these reasons, termination was not appropriate based on this case.”
In order to further try to justify termination, the Department alleged Walterscheid utilized improper and inappropriate interview tactics in his interviews. Walterscheid was a Senior Detective at the Department with no prior discipline regarding his interview tactics. The Department never previously notified Walterscheid regarding these alleged improper interview tactics. Rather, it was not until he was placed on administrative leave for the October incidents, that the Department reviewed Walterscheid’s old cases and pulled interview tapes from seven different investigations and then sent them to an alleged expert for review. Not surprisingly the Department hired a purported expert who had no experience working with Los Angeles County or with the El Monte Police Department; rather, the purported expert, Ms. Lela Henke-Dobroth, she was a retired District Attorney from another county.
Henke-Doborth’s “unbiased” opinions were highly skeptical given her relationship with Charles Hookstra, the private investigator hired by the City to investigate Walterscheid. At the hearing, Henke-Dobroth denied being employed by Hookstra despite being listed on his website (www.charleshookstrainvestigations.com).
Henke-Dobroth rendered a lengthy report critiquing Walterscheid’s conduct during interviews. Not surprisingly, the Department failed to bring in anyone employed with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, who actually worked alongside Walterscheid, to support Henke-Dobroth’s baseless opinions. Rather, Walterscheid called two LA County DAs to testify regarding their experience with Walterscheid and his professionalism. The Arbitrator held that Henke-Dobroth’s opinions held little weight because she failed to reference in any way the standards and practices of the Department. The Arbitrator also questioned why the City waited several months before ever taking corrective action regarding these alleged violations. As such, he held “it appears as if the assessments were intended to build a case against Appellant rather than improv[e] his performance.”
The Department did not stop there. The Department went on to allege that Walterscheid, who was a sexual assaults detective, had child pornography on his work computer, since he maintained copies of videos and photos of an old sex assault case to utilize for ruses in future cases. The Department after issuing Walterscheid a Notice of Intent to Terminate that included charges of possession of child pornography filed a crime report against him with the LA County District Attorney’s Office. The case was rejected by the DA’s Office. Rather than remove these baseless charges in the Notice, Chief Schuster merely changed them from possession of child pornography to possession of inappropriate photographs. However, opposing counsel during the hearing continued to reference the material as child pornography despite the change in the charges and the DA’s rejection of the case. The evidence proved, and was corroborated by the two DA witnesses called by Walterscheid, that Walterscheid was known for successfully utilizing ruses with photographs of unidentifiable victims from prior investigations to get convictions on new sex assault cases. Neither of the two DAs had a concern regarding Walterscheid’s possession of these photos and videos from a previous sex assault case on his work computer, as they were well aware of his legitimate use of such materials. The Department claimed that these photos were different than other ruses he had done because they showed the victim’s face. However, Walterscheid explained that he would obviously remove the faces and any identifying features prior to utilizing the photos or videos in future cases by cropping the images. Obviously, it would have to be an unidentifiable image in order to use it as a ruse in a future case. Despite these explanations, the Department continued with these baseless allegations throughout the hearing. Moreover, the Arbitrator held: “[m]anagement had no knowledge that these materials were on Appellant’s computer and discovered them only after expanding the scope of the original IA investigation, actions suggesting Department management was intent on finding as much evidence as possible to build charges against Appellant.”
Overall, the Arbitrator in his binding decision held “the Department and City management targeted Appellant” and “the City did not have reasonable cause to terminate Appellant.” Additionally, it was “inconceivable that an experience[d] officer and detective with a clean performance and disciplinary record and high case closure rate would suddenly commit four acts of serious misconduct subject to termination in six months.” As such, Walterscheid was ordered to be reinstated to his former position as a Senior Detective and made whole with full back pay, benefits, and seniority. And, “because the Arbitrator found willful conduct on the part of the City against the Appellant, all back pay shall be with interest.” Walterscheid is extremely grateful for the representation by Dawson & Riley, LLP and the PORAC Legal Defense Fund in fighting to rectify this attack on his reputation and employment with the City of El Monte.