An LA County Police Officer was suspended for 10-days for affiliating allegedly with a gang member. After a 4-day hearing litigated by Andrew M. Dawson, the Hearing Officer found the Department’s discipline to be inappropriate and without foundation. This case adds to the numerous disciplinary cases that have been overturned during Chief York’s time at the LA County Police.
In November of 2005, the officer happened to run into a friend and his friend’s cousin at a local store while off-duty. They began talking, and due to the cold weather, they decided to sit inside his friend’s car to continue talking. The officer was in the backseat when a police officer approached the vehicle upon seeing the officer’s friend handling a bag of pills. His friend was arrested and admitted to dealing drugs, having a loaded firearm, and being a gang member. The officer and his friend’s cousin were detained without incident and were released when it was determined that they had no knowledge about the gun or drugs.
In accordance with Departmental policy, the officer contacted the Department shortly after the incident to advise them what happened. An Internal Affairs investigation ensued that resulted in the Department implementing a 10-day suspension for bringing discredit upon the Department for an alleged known-affiliation with a gang member. The Department’s investigation lacked any proof of the officer’s alleged knowledge that his friend was a gang member.
The officer admitted that he knew his friend when he was a young boy, approximately 6 –12 years old, when he lived in Inglewood. He did suspect that his friend was involved in gangs when they were younger, but testimony showed the extent of the officer and his friend’s relationship was riding bikes and playing video games. At around the eighth grade, the officer and his family moved out of the area to Palmdale, and he lost all contact with his friend until approximately two years prior to the incident in question. Testimony showed that the officer had no contact with his friend during this approximate 13-year gap and had no knowledge of his activities during this period. Two years prior to the incident, the officer ran into his friend in Palmdale, where his friend had recently relocated with his wife. During the following two years, they continued to see each other at family barbeques.
The only evidence the Department had regarding the gang affiliation was that his friend admitted he was a gang member to the officer on the night of the incident and the officer admitted he knew his friend was involved with gangs when they were young boys. The Hearing Officer found through Chief York’s testimony that it did not matter to the Department what the officer may have known about his friend and his involvement in gangs during the years they lost touch. Thus, the Department’s “rationale supports a form of guilt by association in the context of a child’s knowledge about another child, 15 years before a specific incident.” Not only did the Department fail to prove that the officer had knowledge of his friend’s gang involvements, they also did not prove that this information pertaining to his present-day gang affiliation even existed prior to the night of the arrest. The officer had no reason to suspect or know that his friend was involved in gangs during the time of his association with him as a police officer. Additionally, the Hearing Officer noted that even though law enforcement is held to a higher standard, it “does not compel omniscience – the ability to know all things about all people at all times under all circumstances.”
As such, the Hearing Officer found the officer to not be in violation of any Departmental policy for his relationship with his friend, of which he had no present knowledge of his gang involvement. The officer’s 10-day suspension was set aside in its entirety, which was adopted by the Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission. 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.