A night of celebration resulted in a traffic accident and unwarranted suspension for an off-duty Inglewood Police Officer (“Appellant”). Appellant was responsible and took all of the proper precautions when he went out to celebrate with friends for his birthday. After having some drinks at a restaurant and insuring that a designated driver was driving, the friends left to meet up with another friend, and on the way, they were involved in a traffic accident. Appellant, in accordance with Department policy, contacted the on-duty Watch Commander and reported the accident and that Gardena PD responded. No arrests were made as a result of the accident and no further action was required. However, the Gardena Police Department, two months after the incident, contacted Inglewood Police Department and made accusations against Appellant claiming that he was evasive and uncooperative during the stop. Based on this information, the Inglewood Police Department suspended Appellant for violations, which included conduct unbecoming an officer, failure to report, and carrying a firearm after consuming alcohol. Dawson & Riley, LLP successfully represented the Appellant throughout the litigation wherein the entire discipline was overturned by the Arbitrator.
On June 26, 2013, Appellant went out with friends to celebrate his birthday. Appellant admitted that he had a few drinks; however, he was responsible in insuring his friend, a law enforcement officer from another agency, would be the designated driver. Appellant’s friend drove Appellant’s vehicle and was involved in a traffic collision. Two Gardena Police officers and eventually a sergeant arrived on scene and determined that the accident was in CHP’s jurisdiction. While waiting for CHP to arrive, the Gardena officers approached Appellant and his friends to find out what happened. Despite the fact that the airbags were deployed and the vehicle was eventually towed from the scene, the Gardena officers never offered to obtain medical aid nor inquire as to whether the occupants were injured. Appellant and his friends were clearly disoriented as a result of the accident; however, the Gardena officers, primarily Officer Hyde (he has since promoted to Sergeant), accused Appellant of being uncooperative and evasive during the incident. This characterization of Appellant by Officer Hyde was unsupported by the CHP officer who later arrived on scene and stated that Appellant was very quiet and answered all of the questions asked of him.
Despite the corroboration by the CHP officer regarding Appellant’s demeanor, the Inglewood Police Department relied solely on Officer Hyde’s testimony at the hearing and accused Appellant of being uncooperative and evasive. What is even more surprising is that the Gardena Police Department has a policy mandating audio recording for contacts such as this and the Department represented that no audio existed of the incident. One would certainly expect that if Appellant’s behavior was so egregious that the Gardena officers would have recorded the incident or reported it to the sergeant on scene; however, they did neither. It was not until Officer Hyde went to another Gardena PD supervisor, who coincidentally was Appellant’s supervisor on a task force that was housed at Gardena PD, and reported the alleged behavior of Appellant. This information was then eventually relayed to Inglewood PD resulting in an Internal Affairs investigation.
At the hearing, the only evidence to support the allegation of Appellant being uncooperative and evasive during the incident was the testimony of Officer Hyde. Officer Hyde testified at length about the interactions he had with Appellant; however, during cross-examination, the Arbitrator held that Officer Hyde “experienced difficulty with his recollection of the June 26, 2013 encounter with the Appellant.” Overall, the Arbitrator deemed that Officer Hyde “was not a credible witness”. Given that the charge of conduct unbecoming relied solely on Officer Hyde’s testimony, the charge was overturned.
The Department also accused Appellant of failing to report, because he allegedly failed to report sufficient information for the Department to investigate. The evidence proved that Appellant notified that on-duty Inglewood PD Watch Commander that an accident occurred, Appellant had been drinking but was not the driver, and that Gardena PD was the first on scene. Although the on-duty Watch Commander determined that there was nothing more to report up the chain of command because he did not believe there was any misconduct, the Arbitrator held that Appellant reasonably complied with the policy by reporting the information and Appellant was not required to give any further information to the Department.
Moreover, Appellant was accused of violating policy for carrying a weapon after consuming an amount of alcohol that adversely affected his senses and judgment. The Department relied upon the subjective opinion stated by the CHP officer (who never testified at the hearing) during his IA statement regarding Appellant’s alcohol intoxication and Appellant’s admission that he had been drinking to support the accusation. However, there were no field sobriety tests ever conducted or blood or breath tests to support the accusation. Moreover, as held by the Arbitrator, Appellant had enough sense to call his on-duty Watch Commander to report the incident and seemed coherent and calm during the call. Additionally, the CHP officer returned the firearm to Appellant when he left the scene, so he could not have been that concerned regarding his judgment.
The Arbitrator held that all of the allegations and the suspension must be removed from Appellant’s record and that he be made whole in wages and benefits. The Arbitrator’s decision was also adopted by the City Manager. Appellant is grateful to Dawson and Riley, LLP and PORAC LDF for the continued support against these meritless accusations by his Department and the Gardena Police Department.