Chief Scott Pickwith’s decision to terminate a La Verne Police Officer for unsubstantiated dishonesty allegations was overturned. With the assistance of Dawson & Riley, LLP, Appellant was able to convince the Hearing Officer that his termination must be overturned since there was no intent to deceive by Appellant’s misstatements.
Appellant was terminated primarily for an incident involving a sexual assault investigation that occurred in September of 2014. Appellant was initially assigned to taking care of the victim during the sexual assault investigation and accompanying her to the hospital for a SART examination. While at the hospital, the Department’s sexual assault investigator came to the hospital to relieve Appellant and take over the investigation. According to Appellant, he spoke with the sexual assault investigator and explained he did not have the 293 PC form with him, and she said she would take care of issuing it to the victim. The seual assault investigator when questioned about why she did not do the form claimed that it was never discussed with Appellant. In fact, when she went to the hospital to relieve Appellant, she claimed that during their discussion she did not discuss with Appellant regarding the status of the investigation at all. The sexual assault investigator’s version of the conversation is highly unlikely given that a prudent investigator would have inquired as to the status of what had been done prior to taking over for Appellant. Based on his conversation with the sexual assault investigator, Appellant check marked on the police report that the victim was provided a PC 293 form.
Shortly after the incident, the Department’s Records Manager received a Public Records Act request regarding the sexual assault investigation. The Manager noticed that the police report indicated that a PC 293 form was issued but she could not locate the form. The Manager had conversations with the City Attorney and consulted with upper management regarding the issue. Pursuant to discussions she had with upper management regarding the discrepancy, she called Appellant on a recorded line and questioned him about the form, arguably in violation of Appellant’s Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights. At that time, it became apparent that the sexual assault investigator had never issued the form as Appellant thought she would. However, in the end, the Department made sure the victim was served with the form and the report was never publicly released.
The Department alleged that Appellant was dishonest when he marked that the 293 form was issued and that he violated PC 293 by not issuing the form. As Appellant explained during his IA interview and testimony, he checked the box indicating the form was issued based on his belief that the sexual assault investigator was going to take care of it. However, the Department accused him of lying about the conversation with the sexual assault investigator and chose to believe the sexual assault investigator’s version of events, which as outlined above was not believable.
Additionally, as to a violation of PC 293, Appellant was not the only one who was responsible for issuance of the form. PC 293 also mandates investigating officers – the sexual assault investigator and her partner who also met with the victim – to also issue the form. However, the Department never disciplined either of them much less notice them as subjects in the investigation. Not surprising was that the IA investigator for this case was the Detective Bureau sergeant and was the one ultimately responsible for any alleged misconduct by his subordinate detectives.
Moreover, when the Department contacted the victim regarding the IA investigation, the victim praised Appellant’s actions and empathy toward her during a very difficult time. She also tried to discuss how discourteous and unprofessional the sexual assault investigator was during the investigation. The IA investigator told the victim that they would discuss it after they finished the interview regarding Appellant’s actions. The recording stopped and supposedly a new recording was made of the complaint by the victim of the sexual assault investigator. Appellant’s counsel made numerous requests for the complete interview of the victim. However, the Department’s counsel stated that the interview of the victim complaining about the sexual assault investigator was never recorded and thus did not exist. However, during the hearing, testimony proved that it was recorded, but that the Department destroyed the recording, arguably in violation of Penal Code section 135.5. Not only did the Department destroy evidence of the victim’s complaint of the sexual assault investigator, the Department chose never to conduct a full investigation into the alleged misconduct of the sexual assault investigator, which was far more egregious than Appellant’s marking of the box relating to the PC 293 form.
A number of issues came out during the hearing regarding the sexual assault investigator’s mishandling of the investigation. She signed the probable cause declaration under the penalty of perjury, which contained inaccurate information, but she was never accused of dishonesty much less questioned about it. She planned on questioning the suspect without first having spoken to the victim, until she was corrected by a supervisor. She failed to record her field contacts with the suspect or the victim. When she conducted the follow-up interview with the victim, she forgot a notepad, a recorder, and her business cards. Due to her unpreparedness, she wrote her contact information on the victim’s morning after prescription, which appalled the victim. Overall, prior to being questioned as a witness in Appellant’s investigation, she knew that the victim had already voiced dissatisfaction regarding her actions and arguably had a motive to try to minimize any additional accusations of her mishandling the investigation.
In addition to the alleged dishonesty regarding the PC 293 form, the Department also accused Appellant of lying about being directed to turn off his recorder when the SART nurse arrived to begin the SART exam of the victim. This was based on one statement by the nurse wherein she stated that she would not normally make a physical gesture towards the officer. This was the only statement by the nurse that was provided to Appellant. During the course of the hearing, evidence came to light that the nurse was actually interviewed by the Department three times – not once – and the Department failed to disclose this information to Appellant or his counsel. In fact, in the second interview that was never disclosed, the nurse admitted that she may be confused between this incident and another SART exam she had done on a different date.
In a last desperate attempt by the Department to throw the book at Appellant, the Department accused Appellant of dishonesty for a battery investigation he conducted in March of 2014, nearly one year after the incident. The Department had received multiple requests for the photos that were taken during the incident and that Appellant had referenced in his report. However, the Department never questioned him until nearly a year later and after the third request was received. By that time, Appellant did not have a specific recollection regarding that particular investigation. The photos were not booked into the Department’s database and could not be located; thus, the Department accused Appellant of dishonesty for stating in his report that he took pictures and booked them. However, there was one key fact that the Department chose to ignore – the one page of the report that they claim Appellant made a false statement on was unsigned. That is not a mere coincidence. Unfortunately, since the Department did not ask Appellant about it when they first received the request or the second request for the photos, he could not remember specifically what happened. He did say that he remembered one report that he wrote has to be amended because when he went to download the photos the photos were corrupted. He said it was possible that this might have been the report but could not say for certain. Regardless, there was no intent to deceive by Appellant stating that photos were taken if they were not. It was a mistake. Moreover, the Department was not that concerned about it for nearly a year and only once they wanted to bolster its intent to terminate Appellant by trying to show a pattern of alleged dishonesty.
The hearing produced evidence that Chief Pickwith was quick to rush to judgment of Appellant for his alleged misstatements while ignoring the misstatements of numerous other personnel, including him. If the same standard that had been used on Appellant was used on everyone else, then a handful of Department personnel should also have been terminated. In fact, Chief Pickwith in his Notice of Discipline claimed inaccurately that Appellant had certain sustained allegations in a prior IA, which was proved to be inaccurate, and also accused him of having a written reprimand for an investigation that he was never notified of, which was arguably in violation of Appellant’s Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights. Thus not only do you have multiple personnel making misstatements during this investigation, but also admitted destruction of evidence by the Department; however, the only one disciplined was Appellant.
Thankfully, the Hearing Officer was able to see through the Department’s biased and unsubstantiated investigation. The Hearing Officer agreed with Appellant’s counsel that Appellant had no intent to deceive. Granted the statements were inaccurate, but they were not dishonest. Thus, the termination was excessive and should be overturned. Appellant is grateful to the Legal Defense Fund and his attorneys at Dawson & Riley for clearing his reputation and hopes to be able to return to work as a police officer.