Termination Of El Monte Police Sergeant Overturned

After over twelve years with the El Monte Police Department, serving as the Treasurer for the El Monte Police Officers’ Association, and winning Sergeant of the Year, a Sergeant from the El Monte Police Department (hereinafter referred to as “EMPOA”) was terminated for primarily allegations of sleeping on duty and time card fraud. The Sergeant was represented by Attorney Andrew M. Dawson in the administrative matter. After a lengthy administrative hearing against the City, who was represented by Greg Palmer with Jones & Mayer, the Hearing Officer overturned the termination of the Sergeant. A confidential settlement was later reached by the parties to resolve both the administrative and civil matters.

Case Summary

Prior to the initiating of an Internal Affairs investigation, the Sergeant had actively opposed the adoption of Measure P, which was designed to address the budgetary shortfalls of the City, in a special election. Police management balked at the removal of a Measure P yard sign by the Sergeant from his front yard, which had been placed there without the Sergeant’s permission.

The Sergeant also pursued the taking of a police report regarding allegations of a sexual assault against a 15-year-old girl by a civilian employee of the Department. Police management confronted the Sergeant regarding his decision to move forward with documenting the incident in a police report, as he went against the direction he was given to “tell her whatever you have to, to make her happy and go away.”

On or about September 26, 2006, Plaintiff met with Assistant Chief Armstrong, who would later be promoted to Chief, to discuss a number of matters. He reported his concerns regarding POBR violations against officers by Lieutenant Hernandez and unlawful citizen arrests by Lieutenant Hernandez during the Measure P campaign. He also discussed his concerns regarding the Department’s handling of the aforementioned sexual assault report. During the conversation, Assistant Chief Armstrong told the Sergeant, “perhaps the message got lost when we promoted you. Although you are a technically sound supervisor, you were expected to be more of an extension of management.” The Sergeant informed Chief Armstrong that he would be seeking a position on the EMPOA Board in order to make the Department more accountable for its actions. Shortly thereafter, the Sergeant was elected as Treasurer of the EMPOA.

The EMPOA, with the assistance of the Sergeant, actively assisted in the hiring of an auditor to review the City’s financial situation based on the representations made by the City during the special election for Measure P. On January 20, 2007, the audit found the financial status of the City was not consistent with prior statements by City and Department management. The audit found no deficit; rather, it found a pattern of poor financial planning by the City.

Shortly thereafter, in April of 2007, Lt. Hernandez, the same Lieutenant previously complained about by the Sergeant, initiated a baseless Internal Affairs investigation against the Sergeant for allegations of sleeping on duty. The Department placed a GPS device on the Sergeant’s vehicle, which was contrary to what the Department had previously reported to the EMPOA in that said devices would not be utilized for disciplinary purposes.

The Department also conducted “surveillance” operations of the Sergeant on his graveyard shift over a course of several months in an attempt to catch him sleeping on duty. This course of investigative action was contrary to how other employees were treated if they were found to be sleeping on duty. Other employees were woken up by their supervisors and at most received a couple of days off after intentionally sleeping on duty on multiple occasions. Yet, the City, who was allegedly troubled with budgetary shortfalls, utilized at a minimum three high ranking officials to surveil the Sergeant over a period of several months. The Sergeant when questioned regarding the allegations months after the alleged incidents admitted it was a possibility he fell asleep due to the prescription medications he was taking for an on-duty back injury. Moreover, the evidence at the hearing clearly showed the Department had no tangible evidence, such as a photograph or video, of the Sergeant sleeping on duty.

The City also alleged time card fraud against the Sergeant based on the Sergeant’s use of “flex time.” Due to the budgetary shortfalls, the City had embraced the use of flex time, which was in essence the voluntary flexing of an employee’s regular schedule to avoid paying overtime for additional time worked by the employee. After a lengthy and document intensive review of this matter, the Hearing Officer determined that there was no time card fraud and that the Sergeant most likely put more time into the Department than he was ever reimbursed for.

After over twenty-five days of hearing, the Hearing Officer overturned the termination. Based on the Hearing Officer’s decision to overturn the termination and the pending civil actions, the City came to its senses and decided to make things right. The City and the Sergeant agreed to a confidential settlement agreement to resolve both the administrative matter and the pending civil lawsuit.

The Sergeant was relieved with the final resolution of this lengthy battle with the City and is grateful for the support he received from PORAC, LDF and his attorneys.

 

 

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