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By PORAC | June 1, 2014 | Posted in PORAC LDF News

Inglewood Police Chief Refuses to Settle and Loses Entirely

Dawson & Riley LLP

Inglewood Police Chief Mark Fronterotta had the opportunity to settle, on multiple occasions, the demotion and suspension of one of his detectives. However, he simply refused. His unreasonable refusal not only damaged the morale of the employees but was also to the detriment of the residents of Inglewood, who had to fund the continual, nonsensical litigation of this matter. Attorney Andrew Dawson successfully represented the detective throughout months of litigation, wherein the entire discipline was ultimately overturned by the arbitrator.

The Department initially imposed a demotion and 10-day suspension for four allegations of misconduct stemming from an incident on June 22, 2011, when the detective attended a divorce proceeding during work hours. The detective coupled the attendance of her divorce proceeding with filing a case at the courthouse. The Department alleged that the detective was previously warned by her sergeant in May 2011 that she was to notify him when she had to attend family court during work hours and that her subsequent failure to notify him on June 22 constituted insubordination.

On the day of the incident, the detective’s sergeant attempted to locate the detective, but was told by her partner that she had gone to Downtown Los Angeles to file a case. Shortly thereafter, the sergeant received a text message from the detective’s ex-brother-in-law, who also worked for the Department, that the detective was at family court attending a divorce proceeding. This prompted the sergeant to exchange text messages with the detective regarding her location, and he was eventually directed by his lieutenant, now an acting captain, to go to the DA’s Office to find out where the detective was. The sergeant arrived at the DA’s Office but was told that there were no Inglewood officers in the office that morning. The sergeant then tried to call the detective but was unable to establish a connection. The sergeant proceeded to the family court to obtain information about the detective’s divorce proceeding that morning. Shortly thereafter, he received a message from the detective with the name and phone number of the DA with whom she was working on the case. The sergeant called the DA, and the DA stated that the detective had not met with him that morning. When the detective returned to the Department from the courthouse, she submitted a leave request for the two hours of time that she had attended her divorce proceeding, which was later confirmed with documentation the sergeant obtained from the court. The following day the sergeant followed up with the DA again, and the DA stated that he met with the detective after he had spoken to the sergeant the previous day. In addition to the alleged insubordination, the Department alleged that during the text messages with the sergeant, the detective misled her sergeant as to her whereabouts. Additionally, the Department alleged that her attendance in family court violated Department policies relating to attending personal business on duty and failure to devote time and attention to service.

After two days of hearings, the testimony of the City’s witnesses was inconsistent with what the City had alleged. In fact, the sergeant’s testimony established that he had not previously given the alleged warning to the detective, and he did not view her behavior as insubordinate. Rather, the testimony showed that on the prior occasion when the detective went to family court while on duty, the sergeant merely asked her to let him know as a matter of courtesy when she was outside the city. He never notified her that her failure to do so would constitute misconduct; she merely needed to turn in a chit for the personal leave time and he would decide on a case-by-case basis whether it needed to be submitted. As the arbitrator held, the sergeant’s response to the detective “after the May incident did not constitute a warning or even a reprimand.… Telling her it would ‘be nice’ to let her supervisor know in advance that she’s going to divorce court is a far cry from giving her notice that failure to do so would constitute misconduct warranting discipline.” This also is consistent with the practice of other detectives, in that it is common for detectives to attend to personal business while on duty without giving advance notice.

 Based on testimony, the parties were strongly encouraged to try to settle the matter, despite prior unsuccessful attempts to settle. The City eventually admitted it did not have the evidence to prove that the detective was insubordinate or gave misleading statements. Despite their admitted inability to prove the two most serious charges, the Department still refused to agree to a reasonable settlement. As such, the parties were forced to reconvene the hearing.

 Upon reconvening the hearing, the Department withdrew the two most serious allegations and the demotion. However, the Department continued to maintain that the 10-day suspension was reasonable for the alleged attending of personal business while on duty and the failure to devote time and attention to service.

The Department also failed in proving a violation of these charges. The sergeant clearly did not view the detective’s conduct on June 22 as a violation of any Department policy or order, as he believed “the matter was concluded when she turned in a chit for her time at court.” Additionally, evidence was presented that it was common for detectives to attend to personal business on duty without prior notice. The arbitrator ruled that the two remaining charges were simply not true; therefore, the entire discipline had to be overturned. Hopefully, in future cases, the Police Department will be more cognizant of trying to reasonably resolve these matters in order to reduce litigation costs, especially given the current fiscal conditions.

About the Author

After a successful career as a law enforcement officer, Andrew Dawson was licensed to practice law in California in 1992. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from San Jose State University with a special major in law enforcement and received his Juris Doctor degree from Pepperdine University Law School.

Dawson specializes in defending police officers’ rights, and has successfully litigated wrongful termination, suspension and demotion cases involving allegations of excessive force, dishonesty, sexual harassment, misuse of property, Department policy violations and criminal law matters. He has represented officers involved in internal affairs investigations, attending 1,000 internal affairs interrogations.