Inglewood Sergeant’s Suspension Is Set Aside
Posted by Kenneth Yuwiler
Sgt. Gabriela Garcia is an employee of Inglewood Police Department. To honor her former partner and co-worker who died in the line of duty, she attended one of the first police memorial ceremonies following his death. After an investigation, the department determined that Garcia was not authorized to be absent with pay and she was given a one-day’s (10 hour) suspension. After a full evidentiary hearing, an independent hearing officer determined that Garcia had approval to be absent with pay and her suspension was set aside.
The incident began when Garcia spoke to Police Chief Banks at a luncheon about going to one of the two police memorials. Garcia spoke to Banks because she knew that he was the only person approving requests to attend the memorial ceremonies in Sacramento and the District of Columbia. The reason for Banks direct involvement was that Inglewood had the misfortune to have one of its officers die in the line of duty and the memorial ceremonies in Sacramento and D.C. were the first police memorial services since the officer’s death; as a result, many of the department’s officers planned to attend. The chief determined that he alone would make the decision about who would be authorized to attend on duty.
During the hearing, Banks testified that he recalled a conversation with Garcia at a luncheon about her attendance at one of the memorials, but he did not recall the details. He also testified that he did not recall giving specific approval for Garcia to attend. On the other hand, Garcia’s recollection was specific. She recalled that she had been given approval to attend one of the memorials, but acknowledged that there was not a discussion regarding which memorial service or the specific dates or times she was authorized to be gone. Thereafter, Garcia spoke to two captains about taking the trip to Sacramento and she made arrangements with a captain to take a patrol car to the event.
Garcia went to the memorial ceremony in Sacramento with three other officers in the patrol car. She took one day of leave for travel and one for the event. At the time, Garcia’s normal workdays were Monday through Thursday. Because she did not work on Fridays, the day of the memorial, she flexed her time. Thus, she took the Thursday before for travel and the Monday before as flex time for her attendance at the memorial. Before she left, and consistent with department policy, for the Wednesday before the end of the pay period, Garcia submitted her written time card reflecting the authorized absence with pay.
While in Sacramento for the memorial, Garcia saw the chief, a captain, a couple of sergeants and others. No one questioned her presence. Garcia thought she had notified her immediate supervisor and didn’t realize that the supervisor was unaware that she had gone to the memorial until after she had left. While Garcia was at the memorial, her supervisor, a lieutenant, called the chief and asked if Garcia had permission to go. The chief apparently responded equivocally that he did not recall making an actual commitment approving Garcia’s attendance. Nonetheless, when the chief saw Garcia at the memorial, he did not make any inquiry of her.
The Inglewood officer who died had been a motor officer, so several motor officers also attended the memorial as part of the Inglewood contingent. Ironically, the department also claimed a miscommunication because those officers believed that they were approved to attend and understood that they were attending as authorized absence with pay. As it turned out, the department said they were not. Unlike Garcia, those motor officers were only required to use one of their time banks to cover the time off. None were disciplined, as was Garcia.
Unfortunately, Garcia received a notice from her supervisor recommending a one-day suspension. In addition, Garcia’s supervisor unilaterally changed her pay status from authorized absence with pay to comp time, thus causing Garcia to use 20 hours of her comp time bank for her attendance at the memorial.
Garcia requested a Skelly meeting which was held before the chief. The chief was a key witness in this, matter thus making the Skelly procedurally deficient. The chief sustained the one-day’s suspension and refused to reimburse her for the 20 hours of comp time that was taken from her. Thus, Garcia ended up losing 30 hours despite being given approval to attend the memorial ceremony to represent the Inglewood Police Department at an official function. The basis for the suspension was an alleged violation of failing to appear for a duty assignment without consent from proper authorities. As Garcia believed she had unequivocally received permission from the chief and as he was a proper authority, Garcia thought she was not absent without leave.
A due process administrative hearing was held before a neutral hearing officer, which was advisory to the city administrator. After a one-day hearing in which the chief, Garcia and her supervisor testified, the hearing officer found that Garcia had received approval from the chief to attend the memorial and that the city did not have good cause to discipline her. The hearing officer also found that she should be reimbursed for the one- day’s suspension that she served, and that she be deemed to have been on an authorized absence with pay on the two dates she claimed; that the city was to reimburse her for the two days of comp pay that was taken from her. The city administrator upheld the hearing officer’s decision, but gave the chief discretion as to whether or not to reimburse Garcia for the two days of comp pay that was unilaterally taken from her for attendance at the memorial service. Thereafter, the chief notified Garcia that he would not reimburse her comp bank. Given that Garcia’s unjust discipline was overturned and she was now being treated like many of the other officers who attended the memorial, she opted not to appeal further. Garcia is thankful and appreciative to LDF for providing her with the coverage she needed to appeal her discipline.