Inglewood Police Officer Suspended for Doing the Right Thing
ANDREW M. DAWSON
Dawson & Riley, LLP
A night of celebration resulted in a traffic accident and unwarranted suspension for an off-duty Inglewood police officer (“appellant”). The appellant was responsible and took all of the proper precautions when he went out to celebrate with friends for his birthday. After having some drinks at a restaurant and ensuring that a designated driver was driving, the friends left to meet up with another friend. On the way, they were involved in a traffic accident. The appellant, in accordance with Department policy, contacted the on-duty watch commander, reporting the accident and that the Gardena P.D. had responded. No arrests were made as a result of the accident and no further action was required. However, the Gardena P.D., two months after the incident, contacted the Inglewood P.D. and made accusations against the appellant, claiming that he was evasive and uncooperative during the stop. Based on this information, the Inglewood P.D. suspended the appellant for violations, which included conduct unbecoming an officer, failure to report, and carrying a firearm after consuming alcohol. Dawson & Riley, LLP successfully represented the appellant throughout the litigation, wherein the entire discipline was overturned by the arbitrator.
On June 26, 2013, the appellant went out with friends to celebrate his birthday. The appellant admitted that he had a few drinks; however, he was responsible in ensuring his friend, a law enforcement officer from another agency, would be the designated driver. The appellant’s friend drove the appellant’s vehicle and was involved in a traffic collision. Two Gardena police officers and eventually a sergeant arrived on scene and determined that the accident was in the CHP’s jurisdiction. While waiting for CHP to arrive, the Gardena officers approached the appellant and his friends to find out what happened. Despite the fact that the airbags were deployed and the vehicle was eventually towed from the scene, the Gardena officers never offered to obtain medical aid, nor inquire as to whether the occupants were injured. The appellant and his friends were clearly disoriented as a result of the accident; however, the Gardena officers accused the appellant of being uncooperative and evasive during the incident. This characterization of the appellant by the officers was unsupported by the CHP officer who later arrived on-scene and stated that the appellant was very quiet and answered all of the questions asked of him.
Despite the corroboration by the CHP officer regarding the appellant’s demeanor, the Inglewood P.D. relied solely on one of the Gardena officer’s testimony at the hearing and accused the appellant of being uncooperative and evasive. What is even more surprising is that the Gardena P.D. has a policy mandating audio recording for contacts such as this, and the Department represented that no audio existed of the incident. One would certainly expect that if the appellant’s behavior was so egregious, the Gardena officers would have recorded the incident or reported it to the sergeant on scene; however, they did neither. It was not until one of the officers went to another Gardena P.D. supervisor, who coincidentally was the appellant’s supervisor on a task force that was housed at Gardena P.D., and reported the alleged behavior of the appellant. This information was then eventually relayed to Inglewood P.D., resulting in an Internal Affairs investigation.
At the hearing, the only evidence to support the allegation of the appellant being uncooperative and evasive during the incident was the testimony of the Gardena officer. The officer testified at length about the interactions he had with the appellant; however, during cross-examination, the arbitrator held that the officer “experienced difficulty with his recollection of the June 26, 2013, encounter with the appellant.” Overall, it was deemed that the officer was not a credible witness. Given that the charge of conduct unbecoming relied solely on the officer’s testimony, the charge was overturned.
The Inglewood P.D. also accused the appellant of failing to report, because he allegedly failed to report sufficient information for the Department to investigate. The evidence proved that the appellant notified the on-duty Inglewood P.D. watch commander that an accident had occurred, that the appellant had been drinking but was not the driver, and that Gardena P.D. was the first on-scene. The on-duty watch commander determined that there was nothing more to report up the chain of command because he did not believe there was any misconduct. The arbitrator held that the appellant reasonably complied with the policy by reporting the information and was not required to give any further information to the Department.
Moreover, the appellant was accused of violating policy for carrying a weapon after consuming an amount of alcohol that adversely affected his senses and judgment. The Department relied upon the subjective opinion stated by the CHP officer (who never testified at the hearing) during his IA statement regarding the appellant’s alcohol intoxication and the appellant’s admission that he had been drinking to support the accusation. However, there were no field sobriety tests ever conducted or blood or breath tests to support the accusation. Moreover, as held by the arbitrator, the appellant had enough sense to call his on-duty watch commander to report the incident and seemed coherent and calm during the call. Additionally, the CHP officer returned the firearm to the appellant when he left the scene, so the CHP officer could not have been that concerned regarding the appellant’s judgment.
The arbitrator held that all of the allegations and the suspension must be removed from the appellant’s record and that he be made whole in wages and benefits. The arbitrator’s decision was also adopted by the city manager. The appellant is grateful to Dawson and Riley, LLP and PORAC LDF for the continued support against these meritless accusations by his own Department and the Gardena Police Department.